Embrace subjective grading

For most USC students, a new semester brings with it a new crop of professors, new classmates, new grading styles and new syllabi.

Let’s face it: You have most likely disagreed with some grades you’ve received in college. Whether it was on an essay, a project or a final grade, your frustration most likely resulted from what you felt was a discrepancy between the effort you put into your work and the letter grade you ended up with.

Subjective grading is an annoying fact of life at colleges in the United States and at USC — we might put in the same amount of effort for a class, but depending on the course, department or professor, our efforts could result in an “A” or a grade that’s subpar.

In certain countries, colleges implement more objective methods to make the grading process fairer for students. In Denmark, for example, multiple professors review each students’ work.

Though the fairness argument might win over many students to support objective grading practices, subjective grading could prepare us better for the realities of life after college.

To succeed in the professional world, people need to be adaptable and resourceful to meet the demanding needs of their superiors, co-workers and the ever-changing tasks at hand.

Similarly, to succeed in different classes with professors that have diverse standards in terms of what constitutes an “A” in their class, students must learn the same skills of adaptability and resourcefulness.

Students must adapt their writing or studying styles to meet the requirements and curricula of each class. They must collaborate with and learn from peers if the coursework is particularly difficult. They must be receptive to feedback from their professors or teaching assistants.

Additionally, developing a personal relationship with a professor or T.A. usually has a positive impact on a student’s performance in class. Though this practice is referred to by some as “sucking up,” the reality is that in the real world, building strong relationships and getting to know people matters. In many cases, it makes a much bigger difference than what’s on paper.

Group projects often elicit a number of groans from college students, as they can result in some of the most subjective grading practices because of varying commitment and work ethics of group members.

Teamwork, however, is an inevitable practice in the workplace, no matter what job or career students choose to pursue. If students can learn to work well in teams and with people from varying backgrounds, it will serve as a huge advantage for their success in the professional world.

Let’s say that USC were to adopt universally objective and standardized grading practices. For one thing, standardized tests that are graded very objectively —for example, only using Scantron or multiple-choice tests — are often not the best way to test complex concepts or theories common in areas such as liberal arts. In many cases, writing essays or working on research projects and theses are the best way for students to convey their knowledge and mastery of a subject.

In addition, the time-draining administrative changes on resources needed to implement multi-professor panel grading practices could detract from more important and valuable priorities that professors and teaching assistants need — such as developing and preparing courses and lectures, conducting research and advising and mentoring students.

This isn’t to say that objective grading policies are bad. In fact, in several cases, objectivity works and is implemented effectively at USC.

For example, a committee of professors, rather than a sole instructor, is responsible for grading Writing 340 final portfolios. For USC architecture students, final grades are assigned after a committee of five to seven professors reviews a portfolio of work that students have completed over the course of the semester.

If USC wants to adopt objective grading practices, a good place to start is with professors implementing standards to make grading more fair without sacrificing too much time — for example, using rubrics to evaluate essays rather than evaluating each essay as independent from one another.

On the other hand, subjective grading isn’t as bad as people make it out to be. It might not be fair, but neither is the world out there after college — students may just have to thank subjective grading for better preparing them.


Jasmine Ako is a senior majoring in business administration. 

  • Past the smoke

    The time and resources required to administer “objective grading” is exhausting. GPA deflation aka “curve” pressures professors to confer grades in a hurried manner, and alas this doesn’t always end up fair. This is why firms shouldn’t rely solely on GPA when conferring jobs or interns. Furthermore, it depends on one’s major. For STEM disciplines, I can’t see “subjective grading” going on. But for humanities BAs…there’s a lot of that happening. Play the game wisely, although GPA isn’t everything.