me, myself & andrei

23 Jan 2009
Grading in Sweden

In my previous Education in Sweden post, I was linking to another article sharing a view on the Swedish system of grading and about “the lax education philosophy”.

While, I recommend you to read the whole article, let me give you a crucial excerpt to build up my post:

[..] I have taken university classes here in Sweden. Classes in which retests were the norm. Not because it was hard, but because people would come in, read the test, and walk out. They knew that the retest would be similar and now they knew what to study. Pissed me off to no end. Mostly because I worked my ass off and studied and passed everything in the first go ‘round. But I couldn’t go back and improve my grades if I had wanted to.

You see, you wouldn’t believe how much I relate with the above.

Let me give you my side of the story, here at KTH Kista.

There are, and there will surely be, students who don’t show up for the exam. The difference from the above writing is that here you can take the test with you. So you don’t need to show up, read the test and leave. A friend can kindly share his test paper.

Now that alone is not fair and on the verge of being unacceptable, as the author brilliantly expresses.

But wait. Add to that the fact that KTH approves of students to sit the examination, and then, even if they don’t fail, sit the re-examination as well.

No, no.. wait! It’s not the re-examination grade that counts in the end. No, no! We wouldn’t want to put that much pressure on the poor thumb suckers Master students. They cannot handle that pressure. And why would we want to do that?! We will let them get the best grade of the two - the regular examination and the re-examination.

Where did the common-sense dissappear? Under what special arguments does that behavior goes under?

Especially since SU students, fellow colleagues of mine on the same campus in Kista (same building, same professors, same opportunities), go under the strict rule of “you fail, you go under re-examination; otherwise, good luck!”

I have heard today the argument that since exams are different, that’s OK. But in what way are exams different? They will test the same abilities. How is “1+1=?” different from “2+2=?” I ask. I tell you: the weather. That’s what’s different! I don’t even want to think about the re-examinations that are easier than the regular examination (like it was with Enterprise System Modeling - the re-examination didn’t test any ability to draw an REA model whatsoever, even if the course book was only about REA).

Do you have a bad day? OK. Then have the balls to stand up and don’t hand in your exam paper. At least then you will end up in the situation described in the excerpt. Still not fair, but by far closer to being fair than sitting the exam and trying to do better at re-examination. And if you have another bad day, and you get an F (fail), then just re-take the whole course next year and see what happens then.

I was going to mention later, but this post is as best as it gets. I should let you know about a very unexpected way to solve a grading situation. Say that an exam is grading each exam section from A to F. The average will give you the final grade. Say that one student gets straight As, except for one C. Final (average) grade is B. Now how does it sound if I tell you that this student, a good person without any doubt, tries to have a talk with the professor about it to see what can be done to improve the grade, which seemed unfair to him. And that then, gets as a home assignment a similar question to the one in the exam section that he previously got a C for? And that then he gets a B for the home assignment, which eventually triggers a final grade of A? Now I ask, how fair is that?

I can only draw two conclusions out of this, leaving aside my personal disapproval based on ethics:

  1. KTH doesn’t want students to be responsible, nor accountable, for what they do and for what they are.
  2. KTH wants to have students with better grades than SU and other universities, and take pride in that at any costs.

As for why I dissaprove 100% of this way of handling students’ examination, this is why: because it creates an unfair blur of students’ skills and potential, while at the same time creating an unfair favoritism (quite an oxymoron here) of students’ choices.

It blurs skills and potential, because being able to focus at a certain moment is very much a skill. The exam is a deadline. In real life, it is very rare that you get second chances. Whatever you are at a certain moment in time, that is what defines you for a certain period of time to come.

Not only that, but an employer will not know that the student got A from the first try, or A after the second, third, fourth try. They will see two students that got A for a course, and will not know who to choose for the job.

Or even worse. Those students that take accountability for their grades, and focus on acquiring some new knowledge, can be very easily discarded by students that have only one thought: high grades. The later students will spend some more time, cramming once again, just to get a better grade. Not to pass. Just to show that they can be better than what they were a couple of weeks or months before, and at the same time to show that they are better than those who have a higher goal in life than being graded.

I tell you, this is a new dawn for the academia.
KTH The Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden is telling us all that the end justifies the means.


Andrei