New term, new grading system!

Welcome to a new semester and a new grading system! Each term, I become more disgruntled with the way we are assessing our students. (This post is particular to first year students, and less particular to biology.)

Our first year students enter this university admitted to a faculty (Science) but not a program/major (Biology). Most students are excited to start their UBC studies and come with earnest enthusiasm. They launch into classes where grades are largely exam dependent, with the hopes of entering into specific programs. The first problem is that entry into most programs is grade dependent and competitive. This is a problem because we (collectively) know that exams are biased. (I would strongly argue that this is true for ALL exams. More here: (Side argument: Bias comes in a lot of flavors. Think about an exam question you have created. The simple format of the question you are imagining will hold bias in favour of students who have experience with that type of question, particularly under any sort of timed circumstances).

Thus exams become *very high stakes*. And with that comes an entire culture of education as a police state. This was bad before the advent of Artificial Intelligence, with surveillance, assumptions of cheating, etc – but has since reached peak levels with broad scale mistrust of students.

By term 2, the enthusiasm tanks, and I understand why.

I am overhauling my first year biology section next term. To start, there is a significant term project. With this project, I am implementing a modified version of Jayme Dyer’s Multiple Grading Schemes. As a default, this project will determine 10% of the student’s course mark. The project is self-assessed, which means students will need to justify their assigned mark. (I have implemented this for years in third year – for a quick guide, see here.) However, with the understanding that not all students perform best on timed exams, and prefer to showcase their learning in alternative formats, students will be able to choose to count this term project as 25% of their course mark. (Doing so will require substantially more work, which the student can justify.)

The remainder of the course mark will be two midterms and one final exam. A portion of each will be collaborative, and the remainder will be administered at the Computer Based Testing Facility. This has several advantages, the biggest of which is that each student can sign up for a time to take the exam that works best for them.

Each exam question will be marked on a scale of conceptual understanding as follows (taken from the course syllabus):

Amazing = you fully understand the concept(s) being examined AND can clearly and logically articulate the concept(s) and solution(s). WELL DONE! (Note: minor errors of spelling, math, etc do not count)

Wow = you fully understand the major concept(s) but may have some minor errors in your knowledge, logic, or explanation(s). GREAT JOB!

Great = you have some concepts that need further explanation or have demonstrated some conceptual misunderstanding, but you are on the right track – GOOD WORK!

Good = you understand some of the concept(s) being examined, but have not articulated this well, or we can’t follow your logic, or you have some larger conceptual misunderstandings – KEEP GOING!

(N/A = the question was left blank, is off topic, or does not address what is being asked. This will not receive feedback.)

*Students will not see points or grades, and we will not keep points or grades.* (This is the most important part of the whole assessment system). As usual, they will receive a lot of feedback. (For those interested in how this will magically become a grade, at the end of the term, we will translate each question as “Amazing” as 100%, “Wow” as 87.5%, “Great” as 75%, and “Good” as 62.5% and weight each similarly to other sections of the course.) The point is not to do away with grades (although that would be nice), but to refocus on learning instead of points and marks.

I hope that the new year brings us peace and joy in our teaching and learning efforts.

2 thoughts on “New term, new grading system!

  1. Heather Reed

    I’m wondering what your collaborative exam looks like. And are your exams open response? Thank you so much for sharing your journey in all this!

    1. Celeste Leander Post author

      Hi Heather. My favorite collaborative exam was a movie. If you want to email me ( I can send you an example. They are amazing because the secondary unexpected outcome was listening to students problem solve and encourage each other during the movie.


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