In one of the online exams I took recently, there was an error in the timing and it seems many students did not manage to finish on time due to this somewhat unfair mishap.

The grading is taking very long for this one, and so I am wondering if the examinors are having to readjust their original grading in order to make up for the mistake.

This made me think: Regardless of whether or not this is the case here, how commonly does it happen in general that instructors readjust grading scale due to either too good or too bad average grades by the original scale?

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    This seems like a polling question, not answerable with any validity, unless someone knows of research on the topic. A good course in pedagogy might give advice on when, why, and how to make (or not make) adjustments.
    – Buffy
    Sep 15 at 18:50
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    @Buffy I understand your concern, however it would seem people can usually share valuable insights from whatever industry/trade/profession they are in, without having to provide peer-reviewed, empirical studies on it, no? Would be valuable to me at least... Sep 15 at 19:03
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    See the help center:academia.stackexchange.com/help
    – Buffy
    Sep 15 at 19:04
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    @csstudent1418 Not sure how valuable it is to you, actually; however common or rare for other people, as a student, it'll only matter to you whether your own instructors adjust the scale, and still will not matter whether it is common to them, only if it applies in your specific case. It seems like you'd be better off consulting your course syllabus, or institution regulations on this sort of thing.
    – Bryan Krause
    Sep 15 at 19:54
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    I think there are two separate issues here, and I encourage you to choose one of them. One is "how often do instructors curve?" Historically, this issue (the ethics of curving) has divided our user base like few others. And the other is: "how do instructors normally respond to errors in an exam?" This issue is also contentious; you may want to check our archives for similar cases.
    – cag51
    Sep 15 at 23:01

1 Answer 1


If we talk about the mistake on your part, i. e., timing - yes, you have to adjust the grading. It is not 'somewhat' unfair, it is very unfair to have different exam duration from what was announced. Students have different strategies for answering exam questions, depending on the time available, and that could impact their rate of progress severely.

If students on average do too well on the exams in accordance to the established criteria, well, they were well prepared for the exam. You can make next years' exam a bit harder, or shorten the time if you think it was too easy - but it's unacceptable to change the grading curve because average is 'too good'. Students study and prepare for the exams, no need to punish them for doing well.

If on average the students did badly, curving the exam results depends on the cause of the low average grade. Are the exam expectations realistic? Did the students have enough time to read and understand the question, think, and write a sensible answer? Remember, stress slows people down + sometimes the questions are not clear. Were the questions too in-depth and missing the more important, general aspects? Were the lectures helpful to learn - were there materials/excersises provided? Were all the questions formulated in non-ambigous way, so that all logical answers, not only the textbook ones, are considered correct? Or were the students actually badly prepared, or is the subject too hard for the level it was taught? In Europe, an exam review is often fone so the students could see how their exams were graded and can argue about certain legit misunderstanding of a question (badly phrased), and check whether it was graded at all fairly. In the US, I think, it is not the case. I hope this helps.

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