University of Guelph

“Grade” expectations

Studying spanish
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With apologies to Dickens, in preparation for the upcoming Graduate Student University Teaching Conference, I’ve been editing the TA survival guide that we provide all conference participants. One specific section that I’ve updated is based on the most recent data collected from 2011 incoming undergraduate students.

While there is the usual demographic information, I was interested in drawing together a few of the results related to student achievement. Here they are:

84% of all incoming students had an high school average higher than 80%. 41% of incoming students had an average between 80-84. 28% had an average between 85-89.

When asked what grades they expected to achieve in the coming year, 35% of students expected an average between 80-84. Only 2% expected to achieve an average less than 70%.

48% self-assessed their academic ability as “above average”.

57% of students reported spending at least six hours a week studying during high school, with 71% spending less than 10 hours a week

It’s interesting to note that in their first year, student will likely enrol in a full course load which consists of 2.5 credits per semester. As the undergraduate calendar outlines: “A credit weight of [0.50] indicates 10-12 student effort hours, including class time, on academic tasks associated with the course.” So a full course load should equate to 50 hours of effort a week on the low end. Assuming a student in enrolled in five courses with three hours of lecture and two hours of lab per week, that leaves 25 hours for “academic tasks associated with the course” or, put another way, homework.

I guess what I see here is a bit of the disconnect between expectations, habits and past practice. Only 30% report spending more than 10 hours a week during high school to study or do homework. And, it would seem it was enough in high school, as 84% had an A average or better. 48% expected to achieve an A average or above during their first year of University. But 29% of the incoming class reported ever spending more than 10 hours a week on homework.

I’ve spoken to undergraduate students in first-year courses I’ve instructed about the amount of effort that I expect is required and I even include a break-down of how I might expect they spend their 10 hours a week in the syllabus. But I never saw a distribution of grades that matched half of the class with an A or better. And while there is a caution to all of this data (hours of effort for homework doesn’t necessarily equate quality of effort, for example) I do think its excellent evidence-based food-for-thought.

Some questions I would consider for reflection as I prepared to instruct a first year class this fall:

  • How do I know students know what to do with their time outside of class?
  • Is there value in knowing what students’ expectations of achievement are in this class?
  • Would expectations change if students know the University’s grade standards (where anything evaluated as an A is considered “an outstanding performance”)?
  • How do I make sure I don’t simply equate effort with achievement?

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