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In Singapore, all grades are normalized using the bell curve (normal distribution), where 50% gets the "pass" grade (C+).

This means, if everyone does well, even if your exam scores are near perfect, you could still end up with just a pass grade.

It sucks for students, but this way, grade inflation just cannot happen.




You need to be careful about this. When I was in high school the state government (NSW in Australia) removed the scaling from difficult subjects. This meant that doing a subject designed for morons (for example 2U Maths in Practice - we used to call Maths in Space) would be normalised to the same mean as higher level maths (4U). The smart thing to do if you had any mathamatical ability was to enrole in moron maths since you would of course be a star and get a very high mark. A few of my smart friends did this - the problem was by the time we graduated the universities had rebelled and introduced their own scaling and anyone who had done maths in space was scaled down to nothing. More by stubbornness than genius I chose to avoid this path and selected all hard subjects which turned out to be the smart thing to do in the end.

I guess the moral here is do what challenges you and don't worry about anyone else.


I had the exact opposite situation. I was encouraged to challenge myself and take the hard courses through high school, because it would look better on my transcript. I finished with a rather low GPA (around a C+), while simultaneously having a really high SAT score (770 verbal, 710 math).

Colleges here use both to determine scholarship eligibility, and it turns out I qualified for nothing. If I had taken the easier classes and raised my GPA to meet the threshold, I would have gotten a full ride based on my SAT.

The moral here is you're damned if you do and damned if you don't.


The Australian system is very different in that we don't have the equivalent of the SAT with your entire university entrance mark determined by your final marks in your 10 best units of high school classes (there is a statewide final exam). Each subject was normalised to a mean of 60% with only 1% of marks over 90%. The universities then rescaled these marks so the mean for moron maths became something like 30% while 4U maths had a scaled mean of 80%. My unscaled mark was around 80% while my scaled mark ended up a little over 90%. My smart friends ended up with the oposite sort of mark.


Ultimately, you have to know your system and work it, while hoping the system doesn't change on you in the meantime. If your system hadn't changed dramatically, it sounds like your friends would have been the ones coming out ahead.

But I do suppose that the person who is 'cheating' the system is more likely to get screwed harder than someone doing the 'right' thing in the case of a major change. I expect that if things were changed in a way that hurt people doing what they were supposed to, there would be some transitional period, grandfathering, etc to protect them, whereas if a change hurts people who are gaming the system, it's more likely to just leave them hanging, since they shouldn't have been doing that anyway.


I agree, but as I found out by chance it is very hard to work a dynamic system prone to political change when you have to invest years into it. If your exposure is only short-term you are far less likely to get caught out by sudden changes.

The irony in all this is I ended enrolling in a science degree for which I only needed a very low mark to get into - I could have enrolled in any of my high school's subjects and it would not have mattered.


That would be the obvious moral but not the correct one (necessarily). While it might help you learn the most and receive the best education, if the results are a string of Bs and Cs, versus As and Bs if you took easier classes, it will absolutely negatively impact your job search and employer perspective of your applications.

(As an aside, this is but one of the reasons internships/coops/externships are so important for undergrads.)


> It sucks for students, but this way, grade inflation just cannot happen.

Problem is it sucks not only for students but everyone else (e.g. potential employers), too. If grades only show your relative position on a bell curve and not your absolute skill level, they cease to allow for skill level comparison between people. With bell curve grading an engineer with an C being born in a baby boomer year may be better than an engineer with an A graduating in a year with less students.


It's better in the long run as you can compere results across cohorts fairly.


> It's better in the long run as you can compere results across cohorts fairly.

But cohort size changes (the number of babies born can differ substantially year over year), which impedes comparability.


This is a far smaller problem than differing instructors, content, materials or methods between identical courses. In fact, it's part of the solution: as cohort size increases, generally there are more sections of a course taught, and "curving" allows for easier comparison between those courses. You aren't "rewarded" for choosing the easiest grader; you are scored relative to your peers.


The way it works is if the top 5% got an A you can say some one with an A grade that they where in the top 5% who took that exam in that year.


> The way it works is if the top 5% got an A you can say some one with an A grade that they where in the top 5% who took that exam in that year.

Sure, both ends of the grading scale are easy to read when using bell curve grading. The problematic part is the center (where - by definition - the majority of graduates will be found): The C grade of year X could very well be better than the B grade of year Y.

Bell curve grading seems to be the worst of both worlds - the students experience even less correlation between effort and grade and you weaken inter-cohort comparability. If grading reform is willing to lose comparability between students anyway it should move in the opposite direction and grade relative performance improvements of individual students. That is proven to result in better overall performance of students (especially for weak performers).


Depends if you think IQ improves over time (which is a big ask) what really happens is the students and schools game the system.

The point is with scoring on a curve you can say that this person scored at this point in the curve so they are comparable to some one who achieved the same 20 years ago.


> Depends if you think IQ improves over time (which is a big ask)

Intelligence development certainly is both heavily dependent on environment and can change for a given individual if the environment changes.

A quite well designed study on this topic is the Minnesota Transracial Adoption Study that shows that adopted children have an IQ more similar to their social parents than their biological parents. It further showed that earlier adoption (= more exposure to new environment) meant higher correlation.

Whats more important however is the fact that IQ as measured is not a very good indicator for future performance. Motivation, especially achievement motivation has been shown to be at least as important for a successful professional life. And achievement motivation has been shown to improve strongly when grading based on individual performance improvement, e.g. measuring the relative performance gains (see e.g. Rheinberg & Krug, 1999).


I meant as a species not an individual basis


Intelligence is only defined for individuals. There is no objective meaning for "intelligence", it's all relative to other individuals. Intelligence tests are designed to produce points on a bell curve, they don't say anything about the form of the curve itself. IQ tests have the same problems as bell curve grading in school, you can't compare results between different cohorts :)

But as it can be shown that the environment strongly influences IQ I'd say it is safe to assume that we as a species haven't yet approached the biological ceiling of our cognitive abilities. Once the environment doesn't influence IQ test results anymore, though...


> Depends if you think IQ improves over time

Intelligence pretty clearly has environmental influences and can change over time, even if the base value and/or maximum achievable level for a particular individual is genetically predetermined.

> The point is with scoring on a curve you can say that this person scored at this point in the curve so they are comparable to some one who achieved the same 20 years ago.

Comparable in terms of where they are in the distribution of people who were tested at the same time.

Not necessarily comparable in the actual skill that is being measured.

Which comparison is important depends on why you are comparing; there are times when you want the former kind of comparison, and times you want the latter. (If you keep both individual raw scores and group statistics, you can answer both questions appropriately, if you just grade on a curve and keep only the result of the curve, you cannot.)


Morale: find a class of morons, get seen as a superstar.

This may seem counter-intuitive, but there can be huge differences between classes and/or years. Same teacher, same material, seemingly similar students and widely varying results. Ask teachers and they'll confirm this appreciation. And this grading system completely ignores the fact...


"...find a class of morons, get seen as a superstar."

I am assuming there are entrance exams as well.


So half the students in each year fail and have to retake the class? That seems hard to sustain over an entire education system. Or am I misunderstanding this?


Half the students will get terrible grades, but retaking the class is required only if the grade obtained is F. If you end up with too many poor grades, you will be ineligible for honors year (4th year/senior year).


How do they fight student cartels who band together to all do the minimum possible knowing that they'll curved up?


The cartels would be self-defeating. All it would take is another 'cartel' to do slightly-more work than the other.




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