Are Grading Systems Not Subjective Enough?

Are Grading Systems Not Subjective Enough?

Most students can name at least one instance of receiving a grade they believed to be unfair. The Washington Post asserts that this is because grading systems in public schools is too subjective due to the lack of a universal grading system. While this may be true, this problem carries over to colleges, where grading policies are even more varied, especially in creative fields or writing-intensive communications fields.

The debate on whether or not grade point averages and the standard A-F grading system benefit students is ages-old. Many students feel their academic experiences and ability cannot be condensed into a simple number or letter grade, especially those in fields that do not emphasize quantitative skills. For science, technology, engineering, or mathematics students, most feel that GPAs and grades are largely accurate in determining their ability. However, their GPA can be weighed down by general education classes of subjects where they are less likely to be successful in. Colleges can often waive general education classes based on major, but for some, the damage has been done. For Cory, an economics major at Temple University, his GPA will determine which graduate schools he will be accepted to, but for a journalism student like me, while a high GPA can’t hurt, employers repeatedly emphasize that my ability to get jobs and internships will be determined by writing samples, networking, and general career skills. Also, since the way both universities and high schools calculate GPA is so varied, both undergraduate and graduate admissions people have a harder time determining where each student falls on the spectrum of every applicant.

While it is fairly easy for college professors to determine effective from ineffective writing, the amount of variety in effective writing and the even wider variety in the styles that college professors are looking for in their assignments makes objective grading seem impossible. Perhaps one journalism professor at a particular college prefers a straightforward hard news style, while another one at the same school likes to see a more narrative style. The same holds true for political science and history fields where students’ opinions and perspectives may be vastly different from that of their professors. Art and other creative fields are even more open for leeway in students’ work and professors ‘individual preferences. While a more subjective grading system of written evaluations may allow for bias, this is also a criticism of the currently used systems. Professors should be held accountable for remaining unbiased regardless of the grading system they use, which is not entirely possible when preferences can play such a large role in evaluations.

If it were standard procedure for all professors to provide a written evaluation of students’ work with each assignment along with, or replacing a standard grade, this would open up discussion between students and professors on how both of them can learn and improve in their field. A professor acknowledging that a student’s work is acceptable, but outside of their preference, opens up a dialogue more effectively than simply giving the student a grade. If college classes are meant to be a give and take system of knowledge and critical thinking, simply slapping a grade, albeit a good one, onto an assignment will not aid them in the learning process. I may have gotten an A in my Intro to Journalism class, but without feedback on specific assignments to highlight my strengths and weaknesses, the grade itself will not help my writing skills. When students need recommendations for internships and similar student positions, written evaluations will allow professors to more easily recall things about them in order to write a recommendation that reflects their abilities, especially with the amount of students they deal with at any given time.

While college grading procedures don’t look like they’ll be changing anytime soon, the best thing students can do is actively ask their professors for advice and individual evaluations of their work. If they cannot help, most schools have additional writing and tutoring resources. Having work subjectively evaluated helps a student’s ability to deal with constructive criticism, and learn specific ways to improve in their field. Never be afraid to ask for advice!


Have any frustrating experiences with grading systems? Ideas for improving grading systems? Let us know in the comments.