Reinventing the System

    Posted on Friday, May 05, 2017
    Grad school doesn't leave much room for frivolous time and when finals loom near, that tolerance tightens further. As students, we're under constant obligation to put forth our hundred percent. An elevated GPA means long hours spent hunched over studies, sometimes at the expense of personal needs, but does this ultimately help us?

    Competition in the real world is cut throat, but who are we competing against in grad school and for what? Jobs, you say. Or perhaps research positions and internships. As a result, GPAs are considered benchmarks to categorize students like some dystopian hierarchy, but do they truly reflect a student's caliber?

    The age old argument that if the student understands the subject matter, they'll have an A in the class is one I can easily refute. Students have off days too and if that off-day happens to fall on a test day, no matter how well the student understands the material, the test might just reflect their rotten timing. Spending long, sleepless nights at the books might increase comprehension in the subject, but it means nothing if the student can't recall everything on exam day. One bad exam can plunge an A into a B and the nightmare continues.

    Sympathetic professors are a rare breed and sadly, brain freeze doesn't count as a legitimate excuse. Problem solving under time-constraints is a skill the student is left to master on their own and their attempts are reflected in scattered trails of B's and sometimes C's. In the real world, there are numerous other pressures, but there's also sick leave and vacation time - luxuries not for students. Of course, companies want results, but stellar contributions are also recognized. It might be all about the dollar value, but at good companies, it's also about the people.

    Reinventing the system means redesigning the grading system to best capture a student's learning style. In successful companies, management puts resources to good use by playing to their employees' strengths. For student success, it's vital to cater to the learning environment the student is comfortable in. Some students do best in classes where the entire grade depends on two exams and a handful of quizzes while others show their mastery through semester long projects or applied learning.

    If we want to design a system that reflects on the students, then professors should offer multiple ways of testing and leave it to the student to choose, such as one semester long project or three exams. Projects might not be possible in all classes, but everything we learn can be applied in some way.

    Exams reflect black and white results, but projects are what merit real-world applications. If the students are expected to be creative, professors should also be creative in measuring a student's caliber.

    Teja Gambhir | Industrial Engineering

    Teja Gambhir is a first year Master of Engineering student in the department of Industrial and Systems Engineering (IISE).

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