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What are curved classes like at Oxford?

awesomest47awesomest47 Registered User Posts: 28 New Member
Hey everyone,

I've been placed on a waitlist for Oxford College and am really, really hoping to go there next fall. I visited the campus and could really see myself there for the next 4 years. I had a question though, for any students or anyone with experience, what is the grading like at Oxford? I'm asking because I've heard at some colleges they have a system where only a certain percentage of the class can get an A thanks to a curve so classes are competitive and really hard to do well in because the grading system works against you. I couldn't find any information on the Oxford website or other online sources. This is very important to me because I'm interested in premed and I don't want a bunch of really intense people do skew the curve on a bunch of tests and kill my GPA. Maybe this is a moot point and I won't even get off the waitlist :( but any help is appreciated!

Replies to: What are curved classes like at Oxford?

  • awesomest47awesomest47 Registered User Posts: 28 New Member
    Also, if classes are curved how does that even work? Like if there are around 25 people in a class so how can there be a set average that the professor curves to?
  • bernie12bernie12 Registered User Posts: 5,201 Senior Member
    @awesomest47 : Oxford is a two year college for one......and then you go to main. Also, people lie about curves or don't define it correctly. From what I hear it rarely happens at Oxford, but it happens in a lot of science classes on main and will happen at almost any college with STEM courses. The only time grading curves work against students is if the exams are easy, in which case the instructor will not curve and will just apply grades on the standard system that they either provide in their syllabus or the one widely used at the school. Often a curve is used in science courses because many professors at top schools want to write challenging exams that typically will have at least some items that require a solid ability to use higher ordered thinking skills (that is: not regurgitation of terms, definitions, true/false, or even scenarios). Needless to say, since we are taught to memorize in HS, many will have a hard time with those items and the mean on the exam will go to 75 or lower. In said case, if the only things students are assessed on is quiz and exam performance (and no other activities which serve as grade buffers), then grades will be put on a curve such that the mean GPA of the course is a B-/B usually as opposed to the C that it would otherwise be. So curves actually help in STEM courses, but it often does make the A range less predictable and the worst borderline is that B+/A- borderline because the cutoffs that the instructor sets then become arbitrary. Usually they guarantee at least the normal scale of grades and then lower the cutoffs based on difficulty of the course.

    And what this usually means is that, say you're on main campus and take tried and truly difficult courses/professors like Dr. Weinschenk, Soria, Gallivan for organic chemistry or something (I went to main, so that's my reference, but it works like this at any school with rigorous STEM programs) where means can be between 50 and 75. Typically the student getting those means will basically automatically get at least a B- or even a B depending on where the instructor sets the curve (Gallivan and Weinschenk have a curve). General chemistry instructors do the same thing in the case of means below 70-75 by either curving grades at the end or scaling individual exams at the end of the semester. Biology instructors will add points to their exam until the mean is 77-80 (they want a B/B+ course GPA because on top of exam scaling, bio141/142 students have extra assignments that basically everyone will get full credit on), physics curves up to a 75 (also have homework assignments that help course GPA get to B-/B).

    The point is: Curve is set by the mean only and they want fair but rigorous grading in STEM classes that allow for people to be differentiated so a B- to B+ average is typical. Don't make the mistake of assuming they achieve these averages by just curving, it really just depends on the exams they write. The easier they are, the more perfect you must be. The more difficult, the more wiggle room you have. The only punitive curves I have seen are in the business school where there are instructors who give easy exams but still apply a strict grade distribution (STEM instructors don't really do that. They aim for a certain mean/median but don't care about how the grades are specifically distributed. There could be many A's, but the people at the bottom and middle may still need lifting to get the average to B/B-, if not there wouldn't be a curve). I think the only thing some STEM teachers try to do is make sure their grading is in line with other sections so they may adjust exam difficulty or change cutoffs when needed (so I would honestly say avoid an instructor that is too much easier than others in a multi section course unless they are so easy that you will make 95 or higher which is not common. Maybe go for the medium level instructor if the subject isn't a strong point. This way you won't be tricked at the end and then maybe have to switch to a tougher instructor for which you aren't prepped to handle).
  • awesomest47awesomest47 Registered User Posts: 28 New Member
    @bernie12 Thank you so much for your informative post! I promise I knew that Oxford was for 2 years, when I mentioned 4 I meant including my two years at the Atlanta campus. This is just a side question but, assuming you are an Oxford student, has your experience been that professors make classes extra hard there in order to prepare students for the main campus? Thanks again for your help!
  • bernie12bernie12 Registered User Posts: 5,201 Senior Member
    edited May 2015
    @awesomest47 I am not an Oxford student....I started at main and am an alum....I was just telling you how grading/curving in science courses at selective universities work in general. However, I do hear that about Oxford. But honestly, I do not think it is the reason because many Oxford science courses are honestly just completely different from main campus because they offer INQ options (in which case the course resembles something more like when main campus offered honors courses). If they primarily cared about prep for main, they would basically settle for whatever main does, but in many cases it seems that main is trying to catch them in terms of science education. I think they structure courses so that you can be prepared for whatever and they structure them in a way such that top students will actually genuinely benefit as opposed to just "going along for the ride and grabbing the A at the end". This seems to result in Oxford students being open to exploring science doctoral programs and not limiting their sights on pre-health. They produce quite a few people who go on to top doctoral programs and a solid amount who go to top medical schools. They do a good job prepping folks for anything. Main has some signature science instructors, but it isn't like there is an approach to what a science course could and should look like that is being adopted by huge chunks of faculty members. For research committments reign supreme on main. Like this: http://provost.emory.edu/news-events/news/2015/may/weinert-chemistry.html (a research/tenure track faculty member revamping how a course is taught) is uncommon on main, but is the norm at Oxford mainly because Oxford instructors are not tenure track in the way that main campus faculty are. On main, teaching from most lecture track instructors is generally far superior to tenure track folks. In general, you don't prep yourself for a doctoral program by taking tenure track profs. on main unless it is a graduate course. Of course, if you're pre-med, stuff like that doesn't matter.
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