How does grading on a curve work exactly?



It wasn’t something that happened when I was in school and I’ve heard absolutely venomous descriptions of it, but no one seems to be able to tell me how it works exactly


Take highest score from a class. Say it’s a 93. Then add 7 points to that to make it 100. Then you add 7 points to everyone else’s paper.

Depends on your exact situation. There’s an old fashion curve and a sort of new age one. The new age one may be that your teach simply takes the highest score of a test and then forces that to be 100%, thus raising everyone’s grades. There are various formulas teachers like to come up with but that’s the idea.

Alternatively there’s the old fashion version of grading on a curve. This forces a specific distribution of grades, something like 10% F, 15% D, 50% C, 15% B and 10% A. The amounts are arbitrary, but will generally be decided by the teach or administration. This grading system no longer cares how you score on tests, but cares how you score against your peers. If the whole class ends the semester with 90% or above, you won’t hand out all A’s rather you will force those with a 90% to have an F, those that did slightly better to have a D and so on until you hit your amounts. This is also works in reverse if everyone ends the class between 60% and 69%. This style of curve grading is the venomous version you’ve heard about because it’s entirely dependent on your current peers, not your own understanding of the material.

There are different types of grading on a curve… some ways I’ve seen grades curved are:

– highest grade get slid up to 100, every other grade moves up same number of points… so if top score was an 87, everybody’s grade gets increased by 13.

– Top 10% get A’s, Next 20% get B’s, middle 40% get C’s, next 20% get D’s, bottom 10% fail

– Had one professor who had 15% increments for letter grades, ie. 85+ was A, 70-84 B, 55-69 C, 40-54 D… I think I got a 53% in that class, which was far and away the hardest class I’ve ever taken in terms of testing, and don’t feel it really correlated to learnings at all. The class was a psychology/science co-listed class I took to meet a science distribution requirement, but it was SUPER specific, while most intro level classes are high level concepts. For example, there was a brain diagram on a test w/ 20 parts to label, ALL or NOTHING. I got 18 right, transposed 2 parts and got 0/20 points for that section of the exam.

When I was in school it typically means using the highest grade as a measure for an A rather than an absolute value. So if the top scoring student got 90% of questions right, then a 90% would be the same as an uncurved 100% and it scales from there. Sometimes averages of the top few scores are used so that if one student scores extremely well it doesn’t skew the curve too much.

My school takes the average, set it to 3.2 or 3.0 depends on how the class does. Then ur gpa depends on how far above or below ur from the average.

The answers before me do a good job of describing various grading curve techniques. I just wanted to add that I always saw (12 th grade and below) curve grading as more a reflection of the teacher than the abilities of the students.

In college (USA) the curve was used as a “weedout” technique as the program I was in was oversubscribed and the admins needed to get rid of a bunch of us. One could also look at it as a selection for the best of the best to keep the schools reputation high.

Adjunct checking in….

I do not curve grades as a norm. I think it awards the less prepared at the expense of the well prepared. Having said that, I do occasionally drop a question if the students are overwhelminly not scoring well on it.

It depends on the instructor, but generally the instructor will grade people not just based on their scores, but based on their scores compared to everyone else. Some curves are harsher than others. a particularly benign curve is one where all students are either unaffected or profit. for example, the top 15% get 5 bonus points, the top 10% get 10 bonus points and the top 5% get 15 bonus points, people below those levels are unaffected. A more harsh curve would not only give bonus points, but deduct from the lowest scores as well. And finally there is the harshest curve that that forces a certain number of A’s B’s C’s and so on, which may in certain cases cause someone who has a low score for the class, but not necessarily a bad one, say the average score is 80% and this student has a 75%, the curve may force their grade to drop to a low C or even a D as a result of the curve. Most professors do not use a harsh curve nowadays