Shopping — the process of selecting our classes for the coming semester that we undergo twice a year at Yale — is something many of us take pretty seriously. We ask friends and upperclassmen about which classes are the best taught, most interesting or lowest maintenance and compare lecture times and ratings on CourseTable to try and map out the best configuration of classes. What each student is seeking depends on a variety of factors: major or graduation requirements, year, career goals, intensity of the rest of their schedule and even the classes that their friends are taking.
I am a premedical student in my junior year, and I have consulted all of the above along with my other premed friends when deciding my classes. We scroll through CourseTable reviews, ask other students for advice on how to do well and pore over course syllabi. The latter, which comes directly from our instructors, is perhaps our most objective resource in this process. During shopping period we compare the grading and assessment sections of the syllabi across our schedule and project our performance. Throughout the semester, we refer back to those syllabi to see how well we are doing in each grading category. Our reliance on this resource depends on the transparency with which our instructors are willing to present their classes. Their secrecy, as well as the motivations behind it, is what has disappointed me in my recent semesters.
Our major and premed requirements tend to be notoriously rigorous. We are prepared for this — I am not complaining about the difficulty of the material or structure of the course. However, when both the syllabus and the instructor repeatedly promise a particular grading plan, the students listening will expect that to be the truth. And when final grades are released, often without the final examination grades even being released, it is pretty much too late to contest them. Attempts to address unfair or incorrect grading are frequently met with dismissal or silence. I know multiple instances, including my own, of students maintaining nearly perfect grades all semester and still being shocked over final grades. I had a class with a professor who intentionally withheld grading criteria until after final grades were released, for the purpose of ensuring few people could earn all the points. Can we discuss this mindset?
I took another difficult class where we were repeatedly told not to worry about grades. After we largely struggled on the first midterm, we studied harder and notably raised the class average for the following exams. Our instructor thought the exams had been too easy and made the final exam so difficult that the class walked out sobbing or laughing — or just numb, past the point of upset. It was later revealed that the entire time, each student had been ranked one by one compared to the rest of their class. Grades were assigned to a certain range of ranks; in order to jump a letter grade, a student would have to surpass however many of their peers. None of this had been communicated to us. In fact, we were told grading would be holistic in consideration of our overall performance. This misleading lack of transparency frustrates me so much.
Why do some professors find perverse pride in jealously guarding high grades in their classes? Their purpose is to share their knowledge with us; They should want us to learn and love what they are passionate about, instead of punishing our adaptation and effort with more difficult grading and exams. Class should not be a competition between the professors and students. Grades should not be a tug-of-war game in which the harder we sweat and pull for the ribbon, the harder our instructors yank them out of reach. Our success only reflects their own teaching prowess.
Maybe, because I am a student with a vested interest in good grades, I cannot fathom some deeper wisdom on part of my instructors. I accept that I am young, inexperienced and biased. I do acknowledge this: if our instructors truly desire their classes to be difficult to achieve high marks in, so be it. They can teach and grade as they will. However, they need to communicate this with us. I honestly hate feeling like I’m reliving my high school mentality towards grades. This is my passion, and I genuinely and deeply love learning from my professors. I just wish the former didn’t detract from the latter.
We deserve transparency so that we can make informed choices, and frankly we deserve more of a fair shot at this than what we are getting. Please. At least give us that warning so when we shop your class, we know what we are buying into.