Grade Inflation

On the morning of May 28th 2014, I remember being a ball of nerves, like any typical eighteen year old in the country, impatiently awaiting my board result that was to determine the course (literally!) of my life. Post results, I was surprised by the number of students who scored over 90%. This feat was practically unheard of during our parents’ school years. Is it because we are smarter than the earlier generations or is something bigger at play here?

This phenomenon is called grade inflation, when there is a rise in grades with(out) a corresponding increase in achievement. This affliction is not indigenous. It can be traced back to the Vietnam War. In the 1970s, the American students with low grades were drafted into the army. Back in the days, your mark sheet was indeed a matter of life and death. In order to save their students from an almost certain death, the teachers often inflated their marks. Pretty harmless, right? However, in the twenty first century, this problem has taken over the world.

grade inflation1

Back home, the monotony of our education system grates on our nerves. The text books are pedantic and have no case studies as such. Or if there are any, they are enclosed in pretty little boxes which are ‘out of the syllabus’. At most, a few references to world events are peppered here and there so that the books aren’t completely bland.

The classes are extremely long, dry and uninspiring, all to drill the same old concepts, at the end of which our heads are laden with pressure, not knowledge. It takes time to go home, get our mental faculties in working order again after the wear and tear of bleary classes to take up arms (or pens in our case) to deal with the minefield of books. We are by products of a defunct education system and need mental rehabilitation to regain the analytical and creative capacity of our minds.

Exams were always supposed to test us on our ability to think. I don’t know since when they started evaluating us on our ability to recall. Such is the case with the formulaic exam papers. The exam is almost a replica of the sample paper. Marks are awarded freely. Earlier, English was the subject that deflated our aggregate due to stringent correction guidelines. Now that marks are awarded for the ‘keyword’, despite glaring grammatical errors and wobbly sentence structure, the students are in for a treat. Add to that the endless resources at our disposal: tuitions, sample papers, a host of exercise books and what not, it’s inevitable for marks to skyrocket.

Grade inflation, in addition to inflating marks, inflates our ego. It is disheartening to see our ego get bruised by a reality check (in the form of plummeting grades) in college. It eliminates the distinction between above average and average students and manifests itself in the form of sky high cut-offs. In India, since our admissions process is one dimensional, the cut-offs simply can’t be any higher.

In the U.S., Princeton University has a grade quota to deal with grade inflation. For example, under this policy only x% students would get an A+. This policy is not without inherent problems of its own. Some might argue that it is wrong to place a cap on the talent of students. At Harvard, Prof. Harvey Mansfield follows a dual track system, where he awards two grades, one for the official transcripts and one which the student truly deserves.

Studying is never fun. Period. Once upon a time, at least learning was fun, before one number determined our worth. How I wish to go back to those times!


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