# What if... anything you do can't make a difference?

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Twilightflame
Raven

Joined: 18 Aug 2011
Age: 31
Gender: Male
Posts: 103
Location: Hell... I mean Singapore.

24 Sep 2011, 8:51 am

This is something I find rather interesting. It's not particularly amusing or anything, but kind of an interesting realisation.

My university, and many of the schools in Hell use a bell-curve grading system. If you're familiar with this, skip the definition:

Definition of bell curve wrote:

In an absolute grading system, you'll have things like the following:

90+% = A*, 75+% = A1, 70+% = A2, 65+% = B3, 60+% = B4, 55+% = C5, 50+% = C6, 45+% = D7, 40+% = E8/S, 40-% = F9/U.

The percentage here is defined as how many marks you get divided by how many marks it is possible to get if you got everything correct; i.e. 14/25 = 56% = C5.

How the grade bands here are determined is rather arbitrary honestly, but a common point is that the grades tend to follow equal mark bands, whether it be 5% or 10%, depending on how clearly students need to be distributed. Usually, the mark bands will stop being equal at the very high end, and there is no incentive usually for someone to score 100% as opposed to a mere 75% in terms of how it affects your employability/admissability to next level of study.

The drawback of an absolute grading system is that if your exam designer is from Hell, you can have the whole cohort fail an exam, and if you get a very lenient teacher/his dog set the paper instead, the whole cohort can get A1 (usually the A* range is not accessible to any normal human).

The advantage of this system is that if you work hard enough/if you're naturally good enough, it is always possible to score an A1+ grade.

In a relative, or bell curve system, your overall grade is determined by your relative performance in your batch. For example, the following system can be used:

99th percentile = A*, 90th percentile = A1, 70th percentile = A2, 60th percentile = B3, 50th percentile = B4, 40th percentile = C5, 30th percentile = C6, 10th percentile = D7, 1st percentile = E8.

The percentile here is defined by how many people in taking the same exam as you score below your mark; i.e. you're the 10th highest scorer in a class of 50 = 80th percentile = A2.

The advantage of this system is that regardless of how the heck the exam is set, you will always have people getting A, B, C, D. You can't have the whole cohort stuck at one grade. A hallmark of this system is that nearly everyone will be stuck at the B/C-ish grade. Also, at either the high or low ends, the change in grades for a small change in marks is HUGE. A single mark can mean the difference between an A1-ish grade and a B3, if the entire cohort happens to be stuck very closely together.

Going from the definition of a bell-curve grading system, it seemed intuitively obvious to me that if you happen to be stuck in a class full of idiots, you'll get an A no matter how drunk you are the night before the exam (or even how drunk you are during the exam itself!) and conversely, if you're stuck in the company of Albert Einstein, James Clerk Maxwell, Nikola Tesla and Isaac Newton, no amount of nonstop studying can save you from failing hard. Unless of course, you happen to be superior to the abovementioned people, but you get my idea - that effort only comes into play when you deal with a cohort of people approximately equal to your ability level.

However, it seemed like stating this outright (that grades may not be affected by how hard you work, but more so by simply your intrinsic ability) severely pissed off my NeuroTypical acquaintances. The very idea that there might be an element of futility in their efforts seemed to be an extremely repulsive idea to them, and they would not even consider the possibility of its truth, let alone talk about how applicable it can be, its limitations, its assumptions etc, like I would assume any good intellectual to do. I do not expect people to agree with everything I believe; not everything I believe is correct, though by this time the great majority of my beliefs should be correct the great majority of the time, given how I constantly change the beliefs I have in response to new evidence/arguments that point towards an alternative theory being more likely to be true.

And I do expect that some people in here will not agree with me either, that perhaps hard work alone can defeat odds which seem impossible to me. However, I expect that you will have good reasons for believing so, and you will be able to articulate those reasons. But this thread is not on whether futility is merely an appearance, or whether it is the truth. Perhaps it is, perhaps it is not. That would belong in the philosophy subforum, not a college life subforum.

What I didn't expect is the visceral repulsion that they seemed to have towards the idea, and that's what I would like to discuss. To summarise the great walls of China above:

Tl;dr version of the thread wrote:
Why is there an intrinsic aversion towards the possibility of futility in efforts to study for academic results, equal to what I'd expect from a suggestion to perform the Mayan heart sacrifice rite on ginger kittens and praying for Quetzalcoatl to bless the examination results? Also, does anyone here also have this kind of unreasonable repulsion towards the idea, or is it a purely NeuroTypical trait?

Disclaimer: The author does not believe that ripping out the still-beating hearts of ginger kittens is a good idea. He believes that ginger kittens should be huffed instead.

:twisted::twisted::twisted::twisted::twisted::twisted::twisted::twisted::twisted::twisted::twisted::twisted::twisted::twisted::twisted::twisted::twisted::twisted::twisted::twisted::twisted::twisted:

_________________
"Mind what people do, not only what they say, for deeds will betray a lie."
- Terry Goodkind's "Wizard's Fifth Rule"

V001
Toucan

Joined: 27 Jul 2007
Age: 49
Gender: Male
Posts: 288
Location: New Mexico USA

24 Sep 2011, 11:44 am

How well do you understand the subject? does a 90 mean you know 90 percent of the subject ?
Sounds like a basic flaw in grading. A scale of how well do you know the subject from very little some and most of the subject ? And how well can you find out what you do not know and do you know were to start looking to find out ?

Twilightflame
Raven

Joined: 18 Aug 2011
Age: 31
Gender: Male
Posts: 103
Location: Hell... I mean Singapore.

24 Sep 2011, 12:06 pm

V001 wrote:
How well do you understand the subject? does a 90 mean you know 90 percent of the subject ?
Sounds like a basic flaw in grading. A scale of how well do you know the subject from very little some and most of the subject ? And how well can you find out what you do not know and do you know were to start looking to find out ?

Grading in the first place itself already doesn't reflect understanding. For the above we're just talking about the raw performance of a student in a standardised test. If you want understanding... I can tell you that out of the 152 people in my major (and we are comprised only of people within the national 90th percentile range or so, due to the high entry requirements) I'm the only student who uses understanding as a learning approach. The others are able to memorise details well enough and regurgitate them fast enough during examinations that they pass the standardised tests, and some of them are able to beat me at standardised tests in spite of that. I know a few people who passed the highest level Mandarin exams with an A, including the oral exam component, but can't use Mandarin at all in normal conversation, as an extreme case of how exams can be delinked from understanding entirely.

But whether exams in the first place test understanding or not is a completely different, and separate topic. It may be a good idea for you to create a separate topic for that, it is an important issue in education as well. This one is meant for within the category of currently accepted grading practices (justified or not), why people are allergic to the mention of futility in putting in effort for the results' sake.

The second part of the statement - that if studying doesn't affect results, why we should still study - that is also another topic entirely.

_________________
"Mind what people do, not only what they say, for deeds will betray a lie."
- Terry Goodkind's "Wizard's Fifth Rule"

Veteran

Joined: 29 Jun 2011
Age: 179
Gender: Female
Posts: 892

24 Sep 2011, 1:01 pm

I feel that from how I perform that I get caught up in other things that have to do with the subject instead of going forward in the book and learning more.

TB
Veteran

Joined: 5 Oct 2008
Age: 30
Gender: Male
Posts: 531
Location: netherlands

24 Sep 2011, 2:19 pm

Twilightflame wrote:
V001 wrote:
How well do you understand the subject? does a 90 mean you know 90 percent of the subject ?
Sounds like a basic flaw in grading. A scale of how well do you know the subject from very little some and most of the subject ? And how well can you find out what you do not know and do you know were to start looking to find out ?

Grading in the first place itself already doesn't reflect understanding. For the above we're just talking about the raw performance of a student in a standardised test. If you want understanding... I can tell you that out of the 152 people in my major (and we are comprised only of people within the national 90th percentile range or so, due to the high entry requirements) I'm the only student who uses understanding as a learning approach. The others are able to memorise details well enough and regurgitate them fast enough during examinations that they pass the standardised tests, and some of them are able to beat me at standardised tests in spite of that. I know a few people who passed the highest level Mandarin exams with an A, including the oral exam component, but can't use Mandarin at all in normal conversation, as an extreme case of how exams can be delinked from understanding entirely.

But whether exams in the first place test understanding or not is a completely different, and separate topic. It may be a good idea for you to create a separate topic for that, it is an important issue in education as well. This one is meant for within the category of currently accepted grading practices (justified or not), why people are allergic to the mention of futility in putting in effort for the results' sake.

The second part of the statement - that if studying doesn't affect results, why we should still study - that is also another topic entirely.

Ideally you study for yourself, because you want to understand the things you study. Because you do not want to be one of the majority that is incompetent at whatever it is he doesn't devote his life to but still spends most of his time doing it and doing it badly just for the pay check.

A bell curve grading system would be terrible to me, if the students put in less and less effort (which is already happening) then they would be able to lower the study's requirements for getting a certificate.
Basicly most schools cannot afford to fail students because they have to make their quota. Push out as many people with certificates as possible, even if those people are not as competent as they should be.
I have seen this first hand and it destroyed the little trust in the school system that i had left. I scored a 10 on a test (which was an easy 50 questions multiple choice test. i do not think im that smart at all.
Most students where just lazy).

They had to up EVERYONE's grade by 1 point because the scores for the bell curve where so terribly low. I endend up with an 11. This is why i hate the bell curve system. Schools are mass production facilities of unqualified individuals who lack all drive to get qualified at whatever they do. The mindset that a certificate is good enough results in people doing only the bare minimum to get that certificate, which results in schools being forced to lower the bar repeatedly.

Shebakoby
Veteran

Joined: 5 Sep 2009
Age: 47
Gender: Female
Posts: 1,759

25 Sep 2011, 1:43 am

I always thought grading on the curve was BS.

I was told the reason they grade on the curve is because some classes, ie Calculus, for instance, everybody would fail if they didn't grade on the curve.

To me that sounds like a problem with calculus (and possibly the way it's taught) more than a problem that needs to be fixed by PRETENDING that people passed when they logically didn't.

Twilightflame
Raven

Joined: 18 Aug 2011
Age: 31
Gender: Male
Posts: 103
Location: Hell... I mean Singapore.

25 Sep 2011, 3:04 am

I'd like to restate what I'm hoping to ask here...

"Why is there an intrinsic aversion towards the possibility of futility in efforts to study for academic results, equal to what I'd expect from a suggestion to perform the Mayan heart sacrifice rite on ginger kittens and praying for Quetzalcoatl to bless the examination results? Also, does anyone here also have this kind of unreasonable repulsion towards the idea, or is it a purely NeuroTypical trait?"

It's kind of a social question. While I don't find the bell-curve system fair, discussion of whether it is or not is a completely different topic.

_________________
"Mind what people do, not only what they say, for deeds will betray a lie."
- Terry Goodkind's "Wizard's Fifth Rule"

RightGalaxy
Veteran

Joined: 21 Dec 2008
Age: 60
Gender: Female
Posts: 2,870

02 Jan 2018, 5:38 am

Twilightflame wrote:
I'd like to restate what I'm hoping to ask here...

"Why is there an intrinsic aversion towards the possibility of futility in efforts to study for academic results, equal to what I'd expect from a suggestion to perform the Mayan heart sacrifice rite on ginger kittens and praying for Quetzalcoatl to bless the examination results? Also, does anyone here also have this kind of unreasonable repulsion towards the idea, or is it a purely NeuroTypical trait?"

It's kind of a social question. While I don't find the bell-curve system fair, discussion of whether it is or not is a completely different topic.

I hope they don't curve in medical schools. That's probably why every time I go to the doctor, I get worse.