Following the curve

Some professors use different methods of grade curving, but students tend to like some techniques more than others.

Some professors use different methods of grade curving, but students tend to like some techniques more than others.

The methods of grade curving are as unique as the teachers who use them. Curves often depend on the class and what the teacher feels is fair. Many teachers on Main Campus use grade curving as an opportunity to further learning and give their students more opportunity for success.

Kristen Zearfoss, an undeclared freshman, said she likes when teachers curve grades.

“In my biology class, I didn’t do so well on a test, and with the curve, I got a B,” Zearfoss said. “I think in hard classes, curves are important so that students don’t feel completely discouraged.”

“Curving is a good thing,” Casse Hogan, a freshman education major, said. “Most of my [professors] don’t curve their grades, but I really wish they did. It would be nice to have that little extra help.”

What a professor finds most fair ultimately dictates what methods he or she chooses.

Dr. George Diemer, an economics professor, has a unique method for curving his grades. Based around Game Theory, Diemer has his students participate in a “Prisoner’s Dilemma” to decide the curve for each assignment.

The students pair up with one anonymous partner at the beginning of the semester. After each paper, the students have the opportunity to either pick a high or low output of scores. If both partners pick high output, they have the opportunity to gain 3 points on their grade. If both partners pick low output, they can gain 4 points. If one partner picks high while the other picks low, the high partner can get 5 points while the low partner only gets 2.5. The point values vary based on the weight of the assignment.

“I do it this way because it’s relevant to the content of the class,” Diemer said. “It has to do with economics in an interesting way. It keeps the students’ attention and gets them participating.”

Although he has changed the game over the years from being more volatile to relatively benign, Diemer said he has always used this method for curving his grades. There are some students who really appreciate his curving system, and some who do not adapt well to it.

“At first, I was nervous about the curve because I wasn’t sure what it meant,” Abby Cohn, a sophomore communications major, said. “In the end, I thought it was a great way of getting student feedback on exams.”

“I wasn’t a fan of it to be honest,” Megan Hanna, a junior education major, said. “I didn’t like how the grades were dependent on others. I didn’t always think it was fair.”

“The curve is above and beyond the regular flat curve,” Diemer said. “They never lose. They always get something for participating.”

Students who do not understand the game sometimes get frustrated if they feel their grades are a factor of luck, but that is not true. Students have the power to make the decisions. The identities of the partners are never released because Diemer said he doesn’t want their decisions to be swayed by the knowledge that they’ll have to face their partners.

By the end of the semester, the process tends to be much more cut-throat because everyone understands the game and wants those final points for their grade, Diemer said.

A new sociology adjunct professor, who wished to remain anonymous, has found a method that not only suits her teaching style, but is reasonable for her students, as well.

Her tests are comprised of a section of multiple-choice questions, followed by several short-answer questions. When grading, she goes through every test correcting each section individually. She goes through all the multiple-choice and short-answer responses and never looks at the names on the tests to keep grading objective. The professor enters all the grades from the highest to the lowest scores. The highest grade in the class becomes the A.

“I would like if none of my students got below an A on my tests,” she said.

The professor uses this method of curving to weed out difficult questions. If no one is able to answer a question correctly, she said she considers it an impossible question and takes it upon herself to change it.

She said she tries to keep her grading as fair as possible.

“If the test is worth 65 points and the highest grade in the class is a 60, I make 60 the A,” the professor said.

All the grades in the class are assigned a letter grade relevant to what the highest grade in the class turns out to be.

“If there aren’t any high grades in the class,” she added, “I believe that is my fault as the test creator.”

Kate Hartman can be reached at

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