grade potential -v- grade reality


Over the years i’ve heard several teachers and lecturers talk about how somebody is a certain grade e.g. a B student or should be getting 70%+. When it comes to exams, that’s what they’re expected to get. So they’re boxed in to a certain category before an exam is sat which i always found strange…

Looking at it from a student’s perspective, the first thing i do when i get an exam is read through the paper and estimate roughly what i’ll get. If the paper looks nice and i know all the answers, my mind is at rest. If i don’t know any answers, i know i have a long, hard battle on my hands to manufacture answers. I’m certainly not thinking to myself, “my average grade is ‘x’ percent, i’ll be grand”. It’s a race to 40% first and foremost. That’s the magic number because it’s the line between pass / fail.

Fear of Failure

Whilst that certainly isn’t a mentality that should be encouraged, it’s natural in my opinion. Every single thing i do in college is results based. If i fail 1 out of 48 modules over my 4 years in college, i don’t get any degree. It’s as simple as that. All 48 modules must be passed for me to ‘succeed’.

Fortune cookie says: To succeed, you must share.Creative Commons License photo credit: opensourceway

So right from the word go, we’re under a certain degree of pressure to keep up with work across all subjects. The line between fail / pass is very clear and unlike at leaving cert level, the highest grade available (as a percentage) is 70%. I know when i first discovered a ‘first’ was 70%, i was shocked. That’s the equivalent of a C1 in leaving cert higher level. Ok, so it’s not that simple but it’s certainly a new way of thinking… at leaving cert the gap between failing and an A1 (maximum grade) is 51%. In college, the gap between failing and maximum grade is 31%.

So when it comes to percentages, on paper you can get 20% less in all college subjects than you would in leaving cert subjects and come out with the maximum grade available – first class honours. So i’ve no doubt that plays a role in how people approach exams. I know i’m not as precise now with exam preparation as i would have been for the leaving cert.

Looking at my leaving cert results, i got 445 points out of 600 available. Convert that to a percentage and it’s 74%. My overall grades in college so far have averaged about 66%. So that’s only a slight drop in performance on paper.

If you were to be critical, you could argue that i chose to do my college course, whereas i didn’t have much choice in the leaving cert. Therefore i should be performing better. I’d tend to agree with that point of view but it’s not quite that simple…

Apples and Oranges

One big problem i feel that exists at all levels of education is the ability for the teacher or lecturer to explain things in a language everyone understands and with examples everyone can relate to.

Forbidden FruitCreative Commons License photo credit: mikecogh

For example, this year in certain subjects we’ve been given examples of ‘apples and oranges’ or ‘tables and chairs’ in relation to managing stock / finances etc… this is a small example of ‘not knowing your audience’. We’re in a 4th year computing course so apples and oranges don’t excite us. Talk to me about apples and oranges and whatever you’re saying will most likely be ignored.

I’m thinking about ‘google and microsoft’ or ‘twitter and facebook’. iPhone -v- Android etc… use those as examples and i’ll take notice, because this is stuff  i have an interest in. Simply mentioning those words will ‘spark’ certain thoughts. Apples and oranges mean nothing to me. I don’t even eat them or like them as fruits.

It’s almost worse when people *try* to use examples and end up showing their age or how detached from present day technology they are… i refer back to first year when i was told computers haven’t changed all that much since 1970.

So a lot of the time, lectures are wasted on me because i learn very little in them. It’s only when i’m at home cramming the night before exams that i begin to start understanding things – because i’m forced to. I have to make up my own examples, my own descriptions, in a language i understand.

Self- motivation

1 in 4 computer science students drop out after the first year. Why didn’t i? Because i told you i wouldn’t. I’d done my homework and committed myself to the degree… i’m fairly self motived. Others aren’t blessed with that same level of self motivation. There have been far more ‘gifted’ students than me over the years in different areas of IT but for whatever reason many left before they finished courses. I’m certainly not a fan of all of my modules, but i’m always looking at the bigger picture and have been since the start. No matter how much i hate a subject, i must pass it, therefore it’s as valuable as the modules i love.

At leaving cert level, the teacher acts as the whip. You can’t skip classes easily or without feeling guilty. You can’t get away with doing no homework and you can’t expect to have an easy time when you fail exams… so the teacher is the motivation, you don’t really need much self motivation to cover the basics and get a pass. You’re almost ‘dragged’ over the pass line by teachers whether you realise it or not (provided you show some level of commitment and cooperation).

It’s different in college, hence the high drop out rate. Many just fail exams and that’s that. They lose the ability to study or motivate themselves because they’ve enjoyed too much freedom in college, or aren’t used to it. There is nobody there to punish you or give you homework and make sure it’s done.

Why potential rarely gets fulfilled

It’s that combination of self motivation and little things like poor examples in class which make ‘potentially’ interesting subjects less interesting and less important in my eyes. As i said earlier i realise all subjects are equal so i’ll deliberately neglect the subjects i’m good at to try and beef up my marks in my perceived weaker subjects. What usually happens is that i’ll under-perform by about 10-20% in my best subjects and get what i’m capable at getting in my weaker subjects.

King and QueenCreative Commons License photo credit: John-Morgan

So getting back to answering the title, ‘strategy’ is the difference between grade potential and grade reality. It’s the reason why i under-perform and occasionally overperform. If i could choose what modules to sit (across all subjects and departments), i’ve no doubt my marks would increase dramatically because i’d have an interest in everything.

Because i’m so focused on results, i’m not focusing on what i’m good at which means most of the time i’m not interested in whatever it is i’m spending time doing. It’s the education catch 22 situation and it’s one of the reasons why i’m not perusing a masters (right now); because i know i won’t be interested in doing it unless i can pick and choose what subjects i take. I’ve studied enough ‘compulsary’ subjects to last me a lifetime and it’s about time i invest my time in things i like and am good at. I feel that’s where i can excel, rather than studying subjects i have no interest in just to pick up another qualification.

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