My Uni is in Minnesota and classes started a couple weeks ago. I'm taking a class for my undergraduate degree. I knew it was going to be writing intensive from the syllabus. Every week we're going to have at minimum one short writing assignment due. In the syllabus he said we would be graded on:

  • Structure/Organization
  • Word selection and sentence structure
  • Spelling, punctuation, and capitalization
  • Content

My first two writing assignments were bad, 60% on them. His feedback was:

  • I didn't cite my sources
  • "Your grade is based on how you compare with your peers"

First of all, I didn't use any sources because they were basic questions that only required critical thinking and my opinions.

Second, is grading my work compared to my peers something that is actually done? It seems bizarre to me, I've never heard of something like this being done before. I have absolutely no control over the other people in my class. It's frustrating that in a class with 20 writing assignments, I'm getting docked points for something outside of my control.

If this wasn't such a writing intensive course I wouldn't be as upset. Is this normal to deduct points because someone subjectively wrote better than me?


Sounds like you're in a course which is grading on a curve. The idea here is that everyone's score is going to fit a Bell curve with a predetermined mean. This means there won't be any "Christmas-comes-early" results where everyone scores A's, but also no "what-the-hell-everyone-is-failing" panic attacks either. Grade inflation is unlikely in a class that's grading on a curve, because there'll only be so many students who get A's.

If you're in a class which is grading on a curve, then yes: it's normal to "deduct points" because someone wrote better than you. "Deduct points" in inverted commas because you don't actually lose points, you just get a lower grade.

If you want to score well in such a class, you'll need to outperform your classmates.

  • I understand the idea of grading on a curve, but I've never experienced it in a subjective manner. I've never had a professor say, "I'm giving you a lower score because I feel like someone wrote better than you." It just seems odd to me but if that's a type of curved grading I guess I have to go along with it. – MyNameHere Jan 26 '20 at 22:10
  • Agree with OP that as stated in his/her comment grading on a curve is quite bizarre. I never thought of that. And in writing or humanities this is quite difficult to cope with. In multiple choice tests about chemistry or maths would make more sense. – Alchimista Jan 27 '20 at 8:16

So if the marking scheme and the assignment instructions required sources, even simple mundane ones, then you should have included them. This is usually an exercise to get people into the practice of using and recording correctly the sources used.

The "grading against peers" is how your submission "stacked up" or compared to the other submissions. The professor was looking for certain items, which were compared to your peers. This means your peers either completed more, or possibly they completed them to a higher standard.

This means that you have to improve your performance and you should make sure you read the assignment in detail to make sure that you have a clear understanding of the items or parts that have to be submitted. One method I used was to make a list.

  • Neither the marking scheme nor the assignment stated that sources were required which is why I was confused. This is the issue, the professor's instructions were unclear and some were missing such as the required sources. – MyNameHere Jan 26 '20 at 22:17

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