Category Archives: Ungrading

Why Do We Grade?

I hate grading. I happily give feedback to students, but I hate grading. This is especially true with the (false) precision of the 100-point grade scale here at UBC (in contrast to my undergraduate experience with the somewhat coarser grades of A, A/B, B, B/C, etc.).

Do I at least think that a student who receives an 87 on my exam has better achieved the learning objectives than a student with an 83?


But am I confident that if I rewrote the exam and they took it again, they would get those same scores?

Again, no.

But surely, I am at least certain that if I regraded those exams, the scores wouldn’t change.

Still no.

When I was a student, I viewed grades as objective measures of my learning. Now that I’m the one giving grades, they feel especially arbitrary. More alarming though, I see firsthand how grades warp students’ motivations in a manner that actively impedes their learning.

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Why Don’t We Grade Dissertations?

This week in my graduate course on teaching and learning, we considered assessment. I was mentioning how, in undergraduate STEM courses, traditional approaches (e.g., grades heavily based on high-stakes exam and quizzes) are typically perceived to be absolutely essential. This idea is so ingrained that we don’t even consider that there could be alternatives. This isn’t the case for all of higher education though. As I was pointing out that we don’t grade dissertations, I was suddenly reminded of something from my past. During my postdoctoral appointment at Humboldt University in Berlin, I learned that German Ph.D. students receive a grade on their dissertation and defense. That struck me as absurd at the time, but it didn’t even occur to me that traditional grading in undergraduate courses might be similarly troublesome.

To confirm my memory, I posted a quick poll on Twitter . . .

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