Rising to the standard

Education | 12 Nov 2019

At this point in the academic year, students in higher education are completing, or receiving grades for, their first assignments.

It can be a challenging time, particularly if the mark you eventually obtain doesn't seem to correspond with all your hard work. We look at how the transition between high-school and university marking can be made less traumatic.

The first step is to reconcile yourself to realistic expectations. This is particularly difficult for first-year undergraduates admitted to highly selective universities.

This cohort is likely to have become comfortable with success, and may even come to expect it.

However, higher-education environments are supposed to stretch students' abilities. If a student who excelled in high school immediately excels at university, then they are not being sufficiently challenged.

University is a place to learn new skills and grow. It represents a move away from the prescriptive, highly supportive environment of high school. An initial university grade should be seen as a jumping off point.

Students should also familiarize themselves with the grading systems at their new place of study.

In the UK, a 62 is perfectly reasonable grade and a solid foundation. In the United States, the same grade might leave a student distraught.

It is also worth noting that in many UK universities, anything above an 80 is considered to be original work of publishable quality.

An essay of this kind would involve innovative research. Undergraduate students, working from a prescribed reading list, simply do not have the tools to achieve such marks.

At the other end of the scale, if a student has read the prescribed material (and perhaps a little extra), organized their ideas into a cogent argument, offered a balanced perspective showing their own opinion, and proofread their work to a standard expected at university, then there is no reason why an essay shouldn't score in the 60s.

Lastly, it is important to acknowledge that any grade received is a judgement on a precise task completed, not the person who completed it. Nothing is meant as a personal affront, although it might sometimes feel otherwise.

Students might take comfort from the Emotional Cycle of Receiving Difficult Feedback, as they move through pain to anger or rejection, back to introspection and finally acceptance.

Resilience, and a growth mindset, are fostered by the positive and proactive response to challenging feedback. Feedback should be clear and targeted.

If you're not sure what your professor means when they write "improve criticality" on your work, ask them. Look for precise examples of your shortcomings, not with the aim of arguing until the point is annulled, but with the aim of making careful and precise improvements.

Self-development is not always numerically quantifiable.

If you have any questions about our column, or the issues raised within it, please e-mail them to us: enquiry@englishlearning.edu.hk

Brighten Youth Education Centr

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