"Answer the following using full sentences."

Whilst walking away from any final exam last year, the thought that most often was running through my head was usually along the lines of, “That was bullshit!.” After hours of studying, I have been given a test that in no way represented the course material that I thought to be important, or even relevant, to the class. Although I wouldn’t say that all of my examinations were so fickle, several elements that made up my final grade remained consistent in every class.

For one, the battle between the “written curriculum” versus the “teacher’s curriculum” has always been a conundrum. While we all have an internal set of standards by which we critique others, the structure of current education (especially non-scientific and non-standardized disciplines), is far too open to the personal preferences of the instructor. An A paper in one teacher’s eyes is a B+ in another’s. Students who truly care about their grades attempt to morph their work into what they can assume their teacher will approve of. This usually takes a combination of careful questioning and analysis of an instructor’s points of critique. Even if you disagree with the “genre specific expectations” of the communications faculty and their prescribed rules on writing, simple opposition on a matter of principle will get you nowhere.

But if a teacher cannot rationally justify a grade (i.e. a missing element from a written criteria) when it comes into question, the grade should be re-examined with the student. When students are forced to pay for school, they should enter the mindset of consumer demands for quality, no longer carrying the grade school ideologies that place their self-worth at the mercy of others. Too many students overlook that a grade is supposed to represent their understanding of a concept. Of course, this is easy to forget when certain elements of a final grade are altogether meaningless.

The most arbitrary of all grades is the unholy participation and attendance mark. For some reason, simply showing up for attendance to be taken, and maybe making the teacher familiar with your face or idiotic questions, can amount to as much as ten per cent of your grade. This could be read by many as a sign of scraping the walls – searching for something to mark a student on when maybe there is a lack of otherwise meaningful course content. But if a student really missed every class for an entire semester, and yet was somehow able to make the other 90 per cent of the grade, they shouldn’t be punished, they should be given an award. Even if the student appeared flakey by missing half of the semester’s classes, being able to still pass a university course in that context is an arduous feat that should be commended, not punished.

Maybe it’s your lack of in-class participation that is causing you to lose this 10 per cent. In my opinion, students should have the right to remain silent during a class. Of course it is beneficial to ask questions during a lecture, but some people learn by just listening. Maybe they don’t have any questions, or arguments to discuss – they should not be penalized in their grades because of it.

From my experience, the participation and attendance mark is widely unacknowledged by teaching staff. Some teachers do not even take attendance; others simply give every student the full 10-or-whatever per cent arbitrarily. The entire idea behind participation and attendance is purely symbolic to a set of rules, probably created by a higher authority for reasons that are now lost. Even if you think this part of your grade has been unfairly dealt though, few students ever get to see it standing alone on a transcript in the first place.

This is much like the final exam mark. Here you are, at the end of a course – the only thing between you and expert knowledge on a particular topic is a test where you can prove your comprehension… then again, maybe there are a few points you’re still unclear on. Nevertheless, you take your test, answering as best you can, and walk away with a sense of finality. A few weeks later, you check your final grades online and – whatthefuck? The test you thought you aced ended up bringing your grade down significantly. Too bad you’ll never know how you really did on that exam, because all you see is your final grade.

Even though some teachers offer you to look at, even hold, your marked mid-term exams, the cold hard fact about final exams is that nobody really has to show you how you did. Instead of physically presenting the marked test that you paid to take, institutions file it away for nobody to see. It wouldn’t even be too much work to simply show the final exam marks alongside the final grades online. I’ve only had one teacher that was kind enough to email us our final exam marks.

In the end though, it isn’t supposed to be about the grade, it’s supposed to be whether or not you learned something. By taking an indifferent approach to the most important test result of a course, Capilano and other universities are showing students that classes are just hoops for you to jump through in order to get your magic scroll. And although you may have earned your big piece of the paper, other evidence of your work is withheld for a bounty.

This bounty is in the form of the official transcript, $7.00 to be exact, a fee meted out because of the apparent high cost of “regular processing.” If you want a rush transcript instead of waiting five business days like the other suckers, you’re looking at paying $17.00. Of course these prices could be regarded as a pittance to some, but consider this: a transcript is nothing but a piece of paper with the grades that you earned by paying hundreds of dollars per class. If it really cost so much to print a piece of paper, Capilano could at least throw it on the front-end costs and make it mandatory to give it to students.

I do not mean to offend or question the quality of teachers and teaching at Capilano, but rather draw attention to the highly subjective constructs that make up the all-important grade. Unfortunately, many university students continue to feel helpless when they walk away from a course after their final exam. They feel mentally broken, fatigued and confused, instead of confident and satisfied with what they learned. In order to achieve a truly fulfilling education, students and educators need to reclaim sight of who owns the final grade. Only then can we be sure students are learning – not just “being schooled.”

//Neil Vokey

//Illustration by Cory Hammel

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© 2011 The Capilano Courier. phone: 604.984.4949 fax: 604.984.1787 email: editor@capilanocourier.com