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This class is a natural science course and has 3 exams which total up to about half of the grade. Students have taken all three of the exams, and it is practically the end of the semester. There are about 20 students in total because there were some drops earlier in the term.

Students don't know the average of each test, and don't know how they're doing relative to the class. I am tempted to reach out directly to ask for exam medians and standard deviations, but am wondering what would be the reasoning. Guessing that it is either for flexibility or because the class size is small. Or it could be teaching style.

Why would a professor not release exam statistics?

Edit: Every other class in the department has been graded on a curve.

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    Why do you want to know the exam statistics? You already have your grade which tells you if you performed well or not, don't you? The professor might just not see much value in comparing each others' grades this way. You can still ask for the statistics, of course. May 31, 2023 at 4:00
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    The question in the title does not match the question at end. What is it that you're asking? And if it's the question in the title - a problem for whom? You personally? The class? The professor? Or are you asking if the professor is going against some policy or custom? Please clarify.
    – J W
    May 31, 2023 at 4:48
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    xkcd.com/1347 is applicable here...
    – Jon Custer
    May 31, 2023 at 13:19
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    In my grad-level courses in mathematics, I pointedly do not "release statistics", because there is an essentially objective goal... which I've corroborated over decades of teaching. Further, I absolutely do NOT want students to think that their success or failure is fundamentally by comparison to their peers... both because it's not so, and because thinking in those terms is anti-intellectual!!! :) May 31, 2023 at 19:02
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    For what it's worth, I have never been given such statistics by a professor at any point during my studies, not in school, not at the undergraduate level and not at the post graduate either. I've attended or worked at educational institutions in Greece, the UK, Spain and France.
    – terdon
    May 31, 2023 at 23:38

2 Answers 2

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Statistics for a small class are close to meaningless. You should reach out to your professor about how you are doing in the class, maybe disguised as a request to help you perform better. However, if the instructor provided a syllabus with grade break-down, you can calculate your overall grade as a percentage yourself.

Many university instructors do not grade on a curve, so that your relative standing in the class does not matter to you.

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  • Yeah, I knew that statistics are close to meaningless for a small class. However, every other class in the department was on a curve, so that's why I thought it was unusual. Grade breakdown is calculated in Canvas.
    – DdogBoss
    May 31, 2023 at 5:50
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    Not only do the statistics not matter to individual students in these cases, providing them also might mislead students into thinking they matter.
    – user137975
    May 31, 2023 at 13:51
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    @DdogBoss Two points regarding your comment: It might help people understand your question better if you edit the question to include the fact that every other class in the department has been graded on a curve. Second, one next step you could take is to e-mail the professor to ask/confirm if this class will be graded on a curve as well. If the response is "yes", then you have a reason to inquire about aggregate grade statistics. Jun 1, 2023 at 2:33
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    'Many university instructors do not grade on a curve, so that your relative standing in the class does not matter to you.' It certainly could: it may be used internally (e.g., better students more likely to be allocated first-choice modules) and even externally (referees may ask about your performance relative to your peers).
    – innisfree
    Jun 1, 2023 at 9:20
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    I think your first point is misleading and somewhat irrelevant. Small samples of a population can be misleading or meaningless (even though 20 samples is in many cases sufficient to get a reasonable estimate of mean and SD), but here we're looking at the entire population. There's not really anything to be misled about when looking at all the data. It may be meaningless in general to compare yourself to other students, but I don't find it any more meaningless in a small class. Jun 1, 2023 at 14:43
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There are reasons more fundamental than this, but here's one that might be surprising:

The Blackboard LMS has a simple check-switch to turn this display on or off for students. My initial instinct was to have it on. But I found that too many of my community college students were confused by, and couldn't understand, those statistics. "I don't get it, the grade was 60% but my average on the test is 70%?" was a question I'd have to field multiple times each semester.

So I shut it off. I've never gotten an inquiry about not having those class-level statistics.

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    Interesting. I never thought about it that way. This professor seems to take your approach, and curves after the exam.
    – DdogBoss
    May 31, 2023 at 5:52
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    My other complaint with Blackboard is that it will include students who have dropped but are still listed (usually because they've not officially dropped). So the stated average is much lower than the actual average.
    – Teepeemm
    May 31, 2023 at 23:09
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    @Teepeemm: Sounds like you're talking about the overall course grade in Bb. For individual test statistics (like the OP is asking about), that's not how it works. Jun 1, 2023 at 6:37

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