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Author Topic: Guess the school: More than 50% of all undergraduate marks are now As
James Tiberius Kirk
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Just in time for Finals Week

quote:
For the first time in recent memory, the majority of grades Brown students received last year were A's, according to data from the Office of Institutional Research.

The proportion of A's given increased to 50.6 percent in 2007-08, 1.1 percent higher than the previous year and a new peak for a figure that has risen significantly over the last decade. Since the 1994-95 academic year, the proportion of A's given has increased 15.8 percent.

According to the data, students in humanities, social science and life science classes all receive A's at least 50 percent of the time, with only physical science professors giving out fewer than half A's - 47.1 of physical science students received top marks last year. The percentage of A's awarded is up across all disciplines in the last 10 years.

So I went to the wrong school?

--j_k

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Tstorm
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The more desperate the school is for money, the more pressure the administration exerts on the faculty to help retain the students.

At my workplace, we actually have a staff member whose sole purpose is retention. He works with faculty, coaches, and students to keep the students on-track. It's amazing how much it helps the school. If we keep students for longer, they're taking more credits, and that's more money for the budget.

I'm not passing judgment on the system, here. I consulted the retention guy multiple times for some students in the class I taught this semester. It probably made a difference for a couple of students.

Now, whether the students can get up off their collected butts for the next classes they take, that is up to them...

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kmbboots
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I imagine this is true at many schools. "Grade inflation" is a rather appalling phenomena, I think. Students will drop courses if it looks like they mightn't get a A. I am old enough to remember when a B was a respectable grade.
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rivka
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quote:
Originally posted by kmbboots:
I am old enough to remember when a B was a respectable grade.

So am I!
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King of Men
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Nu; my cousin once defended his lowest passing grade by saying that "2 is a quite acceptable mark".
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dabbler
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My guess is that while the S/NC ratio hasn't changed over the years, students have gotten better at choosing which classes to take S/NC. The article states that ~19% of the class grades are "Satisfactory." You can take any class S/NC at Brown. There are certainly people who take all their classes for grades, and others who take all their classes S/NC. But I have a feeling the majority mix and match to optimize their results. IIRC, you can change your status of grades vs S/NC until about a month into the class.
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kmbboots
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Back in the olden days, a C was an average grade for most classes. There were about as many Bs as Ds and as many Fs as As. By the time I was in school in the not-quite-so-olden days, this had shifted up a bit so the average was about a B- and some effort was made to keep the failures to a minimum.
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dabbler
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For the last ~40 years or so, Brown hasn't had D's or F's. If you receive a value under a C, you receive a "no credit" which is the equivalent of having never taken the class. From what I recall, a no credit stays on internal records but is not reflected on external transcripts.
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kmbboots
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Brown was an innovator in the grade inflation biz.
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King of Men
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Well, as we all know, it's innovation that drives productivity increases. I bet Brown is producing more A grades per man-hour worked than any of its competitors. You're not against production, are you?
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Shanna
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quote:
Originally posted by dabbler:
For the last ~40 years or so, Brown hasn't had D's or F's. If you receive a value under a C, you receive a "no credit" which is the equivalent of having never taken the class. From what I recall, a no credit stays on internal records but is not reflected on external transcripts.

Is this something that is becoming more common these days? My school did the same thing which resulted in my having to take Ecology twice (though the second time around, the class was held in a brighter classroom and featured alot less video-watching which I think really made the difference.) But my college was...odd, which is the nicest way I can put it. Its certainly not a grading system that any of my friends at other schools ever had to put up with.
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dabbler
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My perception was that Brown's approach to classes was considered non-traditional. I don't know if other institutions have taken a similar stance. Every once in a while there's a surge among the students to become stricter (such as dropping the pass/no-credit option).
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scholarette
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The school I got my master's at let you sign up for a class pass fail. You then could go in to the registrar's office, find out your grade and if you liked it, switch it back to normal grades. I thought that was pretty cheesy.
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rivka
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quote:
Originally posted by dabbler:
My perception was that Brown's approach to classes was considered non-traditional.

It is.
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MidnightBlue
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Professors at my school will get in trouble if they give out too many A's. They can also get in trouble for giving out too many F's, which leads to a revolving door for professors teaching intro math classes.
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dkw
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quote:
Originally posted by scholarette:
The school I got my master's at let you sign up for a class pass fail. You then could go in to the registrar's office, find out your grade and if you liked it, switch it back to normal grades. I thought that was pretty cheesy.

At mine you could take your classes pass/fail or for credit, but it applied to all your classes, you couldn't pick and choose. You either had a GPA or not. The professors gave every student a one-page written evaluation at the end of the term whether they also got a letter grade or not, so it didn't save them any work that I could see.
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Glenn Arnold
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If retention is the goal, and Brown has improved its retention rate, I'm not sure I see a problem with it. The point is to teach, and for students to learn. Studies have shown that students will learn better if they are taught at a level where they can achieve mastery. Numerically, this generally means that students learn best when they can retain greater than 90% of the material covered. That equates to an A in most scales.

Bear in mind that pedagogy is always under development. Just because C was average in the past doesn't mean that's the way it should be.

Now some people refer to this as dumbing down education. But only 36 years ago, we didn't bother to provide education to a portion of our children because they were "uneducable," and many of those children now are educated through high school. If providing differentiated instruction at appropriate levels means that less capable students achieve at a higher level, I'm all for it.

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rivka
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What happens when they apply to grad schools (most of whom presumably will know about this policy)?
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Glenn Arnold
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Who are you addressing your question to?
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Tara
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My private high school in Baltimore had the same problem. So I wasn't crazy for getting upset over a B on a test...
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Fusiachi
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quote:
Originally posted by Tara:
My private high school in Baltimore had the same problem. So I wasn't crazy for getting upset over a B on a test...

No, you weren't crazy. You just performed worse than ~50% of the class. I should hope you'd be upset.
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HollowEarth
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Wow. It amazes me that this actually makes more people want to go there.

Look I got my degree from a respectable diploma mill!

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Lyrhawn
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We were having a discussion in one of my classes the other day about how a prof of mine had a really great crop of students in one class, and the class average was like a B+. As a result, the prof went under a review process for suspected grade inflation.

According to university policy, any given class is expected to have a certain number of A's, B's and C's, and if those numbers vary, they investigate, as the teacher is either grading too hard, or too easy. I don't know what ended up happening, but I can't imagine she was grading too easy. She has a rep for being a tough grader.

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dabbler
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It's kind of ridiculous to use the ratio of As, Bs, and Cs to figure out if a professor is grading too easily. If you teach a subject incredibly well, and 80% of the people taking the class learn the material incredibly well, then As would be appropriate. Vice versa, if you're teaching poorly you can still get an okay distribution of grades if your students are picking up the slack.

HollowEarth: There are a lot of reasons why Brown's curriculum works for education. Calling it a respectable diploma mill is undeservingly harsh.

rivka: letters of recommendation, resume, standardized test scores, and interviews just like any school. It's possible that colleges provide the grade distribution of every class you take, but I doubt it. How is an A in one class compared to an A in another class no matter what the college?

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El JT de Spang
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My school had grade deflation. My upper level engineering professors pretty much never gave out A's, a point I was quick to make when they bitched at me for not applying to grad school.
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malanthrop
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Brown is a university that is equivalent to little league tournaments that give trophies to all the teams. Brown is an affirmative action university that has almost lost it's accreditation on more than one occasion. They give grades based upon effort and class participation.
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Ace of Spades
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You know what other school has a serious grade inflation problem? Yeshiva University.
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Glenn Arnold
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Brown has the 16th lowest acceptance rate of any school in the U.S. It's incredibly tough to get in in the first place. U.S. News ranking currently places it at the 16th best university in the U.S. Given that Brown is accredited 5 different ways, Malanthrop's statement that it "Almost lost its accreditation" sounds like he pulled it out of you know where.

Ace: See my previous post. Grade inflation is only a problem if you define it to be so. As to Rivka's question, for small no-name colleges, grade inflation can make it difficult for graduate schools to make informed decisions, that's true. But for a school with Brown's reputation, it's hardly an issue.

IIRC M.I.T. has a policy of no pass/fail for freshman, which was initially instituted to combat the number of mental breakdowns and suicides due to the high academic pressures of the school. Still, a lot of MIT students wash out in their first year due to academic demand. Pass/fail may be a better solution to the problem than grade inflation, since it places emphasis on learning rather than grading, and also because it only affects the first year, so students still get a GPA based on their grades in the following years.

[ December 19, 2009, 11:40 AM: Message edited by: Glenn Arnold ]

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The Rabbit
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quote:
Originally posted by malanthrop:
Brown is an affirmative action university that has almost lost it's accreditation on more than one occasion.

How did you come up with that? Brown is an Ivy League school and has among the highest admission standards in the nation. US News ranks it as the 16th best University in the country. The Times of London ranks it as the 31st best school in the world. Graduates of Brown have exceptional acceptance rates in law, business and medical school.

*ETA: Or what Glen said.

[ December 19, 2009, 11:46 AM: Message edited by: The Rabbit ]

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Clive Candy
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Brown can get away with this because its students have high IQs. A regular good old state university can't have such a policy however because their student population isn't as bright and therefore will be more likely to be harmed by such a system.
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The Rabbit
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Clive's right on this one, even if "high IQ" is a bit simplistic. Brown, like other elite private schools, has very tough admission standards. You don't get into Brown unless you have already proven yourself to be a very bright, hard working, self motivated student.
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BlackBlade
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quote:
Originally posted by malanthrop:
Brown is a university that is equivalent to little league tournaments that give trophies to all the teams. Brown is an affirmative action university that has almost lost it's accreditation on more than one occasion. They give grades based upon effort and class participation.

For a non-racist, you bring up race an awful lot.
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dantesparadigm
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You can say what you will about my lovely university, but I'm pretty confident I earn the grades I get. I certainly wouldn't be nearly killing myself through sleep deprivation writing 140 pages worth of final papers for this semester if my professors were just going to hand out As like AOL disks.
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Irami Osei-Frimpong
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Rivka,

quote:
What happens when they apply to grad schools (most of whom presumably will know about this policy)?
They get in because quite a few people think this:

[quote]You don't get into Brown unless you have already proven yourself to be a very bright, hard working, self motivated student.[/quote

The people sitting on the admissions committee have an enormous stack of applications to wade through in addition to their own personal work to do and their teaching load. If they believe The Rabbit's quote is true, they've cut their workload in half. Everyone wins, except for the poor saps who didn't go to Brown. I'm a big believer that if you give busy people numbers-- I imagine the admissions committee all consider themselves very busy, junior faculty bucking for tenure and would really rather be home working on the book that's going to get them there or senior faculty who are too tired to think of the vagaries of specific institutional grade inflation-- they are going to use the numbers. If you give busy people rankings, they are going to use the rankings. "The Da Vinci Code" was a number one best seller, it must be a good book.

3.98 is a nice, high number. It's too easy to use the numbers and too hard not to. I don't blame Brown. The system works in their favor. If there is a problem, it's on the admissions side. There are too many administrators who believe that the system self-corrects. They are like myopic pre-2008 bankers in that respect. I'm not saying that it's a simple problem, and I don't know the answer. But I do believe that the problem is on the admissions side.

[ December 19, 2009, 05:10 PM: Message edited by: Irami Osei-Frimpong ]

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Phanto
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As a student at Brown, I work really hard. For a pharmacology class I recently took, we easily went over two hundred drugs. That said, another course I took was fairly easy to get a good grade just by showing up and doing minimal work. Some classes are easy, some are hard, but the general student body is mind-boggling awesome over all.

Yes, there is some grade inflation, but the school overall is top notch. And it's not like it's much different at Harvard.

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Ace of Spades
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quote:
Originally posted by Glenn Arnold:

Ace: See my previous post. Grade inflation is only a problem if you define it to be so. As to Rivka's question, for small no-name colleges, grade inflation can make it difficult for graduate schools to make informed decisions, that's true. But for a school with Brown's reputation, it's hardly an issue.

Yeshiva University doesn't have Brown's reputation.
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Kwea
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quote:
Originally posted by malanthrop:
Brown is a university that is equivalent to little league tournaments that give trophies to all the teams. Brown is an affirmative action university that has almost lost it's accreditation on more than one occasion. They give grades based upon effort and class participation.

Bullshit (again). Show me the proof of this.
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andi330
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I don't know about all undergraduate programs, or all graduate programs, but this I do know. One of my professors in college told me that he sat for a time on the admissions board, and that grade inflation was such an issue in high schools across the country that GPA didn't count for much with them in terms of entrance. Certainly if it was exceptionally lousy it would likely to prevent you from getting in, but mediocre and exceptional GPAs were largely discounted. Far more weight was given to teacher recommendations and SAT/ACT scores in the decision making process. Many of us also had actual interviews with one or more professors before admission, and music students (like myself) had auditions that had to be passed.

I just got into a graduate program (I start in January) and while I don't know as much about their admissions process (what weighs more heavily etc) I do know that I did not meet their required minimum for undergraduate GPA. I was about .2 short of their expectation. I got in anyway, first attempt. I suspect that my teacher (and supervisor) recommendations helped quite a bit. I know it also would not have hurt that my GRE scores were almost a full 300 points higher than the required minimum.

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Glenn Arnold
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Ace: I was referring to the previous previous post. A university's reputation is only important with respect to getting into graduate school or getting a job. I was referring to pedagogical advancements.
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rivka
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quote:
Originally posted by The Rabbit:
You don't get into Brown unless you have already proven yourself to be a very bright, hard working, self motivated student.

That's fair. And makes a fair bit of sense. I do wonder about a graduate admissions committee deciding between a candidate from another highly competitive school and one from Brown, both with college GPAs of say, 3.8. But that's a theoretical question, and may not come up that often in reality in most fields.
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King of Men
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quote:
For a pharmacology class I recently took, we easily went over two hundred drugs.
I must say that this does not strike me as work, exactly.

[Big Grin] [Razz]

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Glenn Arnold
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quote:
Yeshiva University doesn't have Brown's reputation.
Actually, Yeshiva is ranked 52nd in U.S. News' listing of top U.S. universities, compared with Brown's 16th. Brown may be ranked better, but they are in the same order of magnitude.
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Phanto
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King of Men:

It becomes work when you're discussing minute differences in different classes of, say, Na+ channel blockers in treating heart failure, and each of which can kill someone in interesting and different ways that have to do with slight conductivity differences.

Or memorizing the exact receptor differences between 10 drugs that all end in "lol": atenolol, propranolol, metoprolol, labetalol - LOL!

[Smile]

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Ace of Spades
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The chairman and editor-in-chief of U.S. News is Mortimer Zuckerman.
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rivka
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And he attended (says Wikipedia) McGill, Wharton, and Harvard. So if he has any connection to YU, it's not a direct one.

Or are you trying to claim that every Jew promotes YU?

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Ace of Spades
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He's Jewish? It's funny you should bring up his religion in a thread about academics.
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James Tiberius Kirk
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FWIW, I hadn't meant to start a discussion of Brown's merits as an Ivy League university when I started this thread.

I'd always thought that when graduate adcoms look at your resume, they take your undergraduate college's reputation into account.

quote:
"I don't think there's anything wrong with saying that 50 percent of Brown students are doing A-level work," she said.
How do you define "A-level work"? I'm used to thinking of your grade as reflective of your performance relative to the rest of the class, not necessarily related to how a student at another school might perform.
quote:
It's kind of ridiculous to use the ratio of As, Bs, and Cs to figure out if a professor is grading too easily. If you teach a subject incredibly well, and 80% of the people taking the class learn the material incredibly well, then As would be appropriate.
I've just finished a class where the cutoff for an A was (probably) in the high sixties, because the overall test average in the mid-fifties. I understand that. You could probably argue that nobody mastered the course material. Most faculty at my university will not curve an entire class' grades downward if students are doing exceptionally well. I understand that, too, but (with certain exceptions) the class will get harder next semester.

I'm completely aware that the given statistic is an average across all majors, all class years, and all classes. I imagine that there are required classes in which nearly every student gets an A simply because it's an easy pre-req that simply has to be attended and completed.

So if an A represents mastery of the course material, and 80% of students were routinely acing a given class, then I'd naturally wonder about the difficulty of the course requirements and what exactly quantifies mastery of it. I can say with a fair amount of confidence that 80% mastery simply doesn't happen very often in college level classes, no matter the school. Maybe that class -- like the pre-reqs I mentioned above -- might as well be graded on Pass/Fail basis.

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rivka
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quote:
Originally posted by Ace of Spades:
He's Jewish? It's funny you should bring up his religion in a thread about academics.

You brought up his religion. Or was there some other reason you emphasized his last name?
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rivka
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quote:
Originally posted by James Tiberius Kirk:
I'd always thought that when graduate adcoms look at your resume, they take your undergraduate college's reputation into account.

If the grad school is at all competitive, of course they will.
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James Tiberius Kirk
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quote:
Originally posted by rivka:
quote:
Originally posted by James Tiberius Kirk:
I'd always thought that when graduate adcoms look at your resume, they take your undergraduate college's reputation into account.

If the grad school is at all competitive, of course they will.
So which becomes more important: undergraduate selectivity, or a average graduating GPA?

--j_k

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