The Merits and Demerits of Grading on a Bell Curve

July 15, 2011 13 comments

This entry will touch upon the good, the bad, and the ugly aspects of grading on the infamous ‘Bell Curve‘.  For those of you unfamiliar with either this grading practice, or normal distributions in general, let me briefly elaborate:

Now, for the sake of brevity, I will try to spare you from all of the mathematical gobbledygook and statistical mumbo-jumbo that traditionally comes with these sorts of explanations.

1.  What exactly is a bell curve?

A bell curve, or more specifically, a Gaussian Distribution, is a symmetric curve that is pronounced in the middle, and tapered off at the edges (it really does look like a bell).  As such, the middle portion under the curve contains more area than either of the ends.


This is what a typical bell curve looks like.


2.  What does “grading on a curve” mean?

When courses are said to be “marked on the curve,” this usually means that a predetermined percentage of students will obtain each grade.  For example, a certain amount of students will receive an A+ (top 4%), a certain amount will receive an A (next 7%), and so on and so forth.  Ultimately, the distribution of grades will fit ‘nicely’ on a bell shaped curve; with the majority of students obtaining marks near the middle portion of the curve (‘B’ range).  Unfortunately, however; this also necessitates the fact that a certain percentage of students will inevitably obtain ‘F’ grades, and fail the course entirely (bottom 6%). Continue Reading >>

[#3] – English 122 – Texts and Contexts

July 12, 2011 2 comments

English, at the University level, is a member of what I like to call: The Terrible Two.  “The Terrible Two,” or TTT for short, consists of two vehemently dreaded courses that many undergraduates are required to take at some point during their academic careers.  TTT is comprised of the aforementioned English, and its diametrically opposed ‘evil’ sibling, Physics.  Today’s post will be directed exclusively towards English … I will have to tackle its uncouth relative on a later date.  Let’s spare no time and get started!

English Class ... whyz its importent ne wayz?



As I stated in the opening paragraph, for whatever reason, countless students attach a negative stigma to English courses in general.  I have observed that this mindset is adopted very early in life; possibly as early as elementary (primary) school.  Perhaps people don’t like it because they believe it is far too subjective; maybe they’ve had a poor teacher once, or twice, or thrice …  The bottom line, however, is that there are an innumerable amount of reasons for people’s overall disdain for this subject.  With that said, the only thing we can know for certain, is the fact that many students simply do not want to take an English course (but must, because of university policy; prerequisite requirements; etc.) Continue Reading >>

Attitude versus Aptitude – A Rubber Band Analogy

July 8, 2011 5 comments

Oftentimes, we are unaware of our inherent limitations, whether they be intellectual, physical, spiritual, etc.  I’m willing to take this a step further, and posit that most of us tend to underestimate, and consequently, never fully realize our true potentials.  Today’s (opinionated) entry will revolve around the highly contested, “Nature versus Nurture” debate; something that never seems to fail at creating a considerable degree of ruckus amongst academia and laymen alike.  However, instead of the politically correct terms, ‘nurture’ and ‘nature,’ I prefer to use the words ‘attitude’ and ‘aptitude.’ (Why?  Oh, no particular reason, but in my mind, “nurture” seems to imply that we have less control over the matter than we actually do)


Bands come in every shape and size ... How we make use of the ones that we've been given, is what really counts.


Although the following analogy can generalize to a myriad of situations, let’s use academic performance as an example.  First of all, I want you to imagine a rubber band (any color will do).  Let us associate this band with a person; Person A.  Now imagine a second, larger band, and associate that with Person B.  You’ve probably realized by now where I’m headed with this, that is to say, one’s intrinsic ‘aptitude’ can be modeled by the size of one’s (metaphorical) rubber band.  Thus, the greater the magnitude of one’s (unstretched) rubber band, the greater the magnitude of one’s inherent abilities.  By the same token, we can also attribute one’s ‘attitude’ with the degree to which one is willing to stretch his or her band. Continue Reading >>

[#2] – Chemistry 101 – Introduction to University Chemistry I

July 5, 2011 4 comments

Today’s post will be centered around my first ever university chemistry course (a.k.a. Chem 101).  In all honesty, Chem 101 was my toughest class in first year (barring Stats 141, which I will talk about at a later date) – I found it very difficult to make the transition from high-school chemistry to university chemistry.  Even to this day, I’m still not completely certain why this was the case; however, I do have a sneaking suspicion of where I went wrong, albeit not a definitive one.

A standard periodic table for a standard chemistry course.



Chemistry (more specifically, inorganic chem) was always one of my stronger subjects in high-school.  I enjoyed learning about it all throughout my grade-school years, and even managed to obtain my school’s highest mark award for grade 11 chem.  Given this background, it should not be surprising that I was rather disappointed with my relatively poor performance in university chemistry …  The following should shed some light on the reason(s) for my discombobulation in this course! Continue Reading >>

The Importance of a Good Night’s Sleep

July 1, 2011 4 comments

Although the saying: “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise” may seem trite and clichéd, I do believe that it is true.  I mean, an activity that comprises one third of our entire lives must have at least some merit to it!  Despite the ever fervent debates in the scientific community about the nature and purpose of sleep, most scientists will agree that humans need it in order to function efficiently and effectively throughout the day (or night for that matter).  Simply put, monophasic sleep is a paramount portion of our natural circadian cycles; something that has been ingrained within our evolutionary history for many millions of years.


Our natural biological clocks don't take lightly to attempts at circumvention.


You would think that, being the educated bunch that we are, we would know by now that a good night’s sleep is just something too important to pass up on.  This, unfortunately, is not the case.  Many people that I come in contact with, whether it be at school or elsewhere, seem to be lacking a fair amount of shut-eye.  In fact, it’s all too common to find people nodding off in class, on the bus, on a bench, etc.  Granted, the majority of us have very busy lives; busy to the point that we have to constantly put sleep to the wayside in favor of more stimulating activities such as studying, work, etc.  Incidentally, this is when ‘sleep-debt’ multiplies and grows until it becomes too taxing for us to handle.  Hence why we occasionally end up seeking slumber in the most unorthodox of places.  This is merely nature’s way of helping us deal with the inevitable (nature cannot be beaten!) Continue Reading >>

[#1] – Biology 107 – Introduction to Cell Biology

June 28, 2011 4 comments

This post marks the first of a series of posts in which I will attempt to analyze courses that I have taken in the past.  Each week, I intend to provide an objective review of every class that I have completed thus far in my University career; in the order of least recent, to most recent.  Let’s begin!

Cell biology deals with the microscopic aspects of life.



Biology was one of my favorite subjects in high school; I found it neither too difficult, nor too easy.  Most importantly, I truly enjoyed the subject matter and possessed a genuine interest for the majority of the topics.

The ‘cramming’ strategy that I had mentioned in my first post had always seemed to work for me.  With that being said, it was my primary way of studying for biology tests. Continue Reading

An Introduction

June 24, 2011 6 comments

Hey everyone,

After much contemplation, I’ve finally decided to hop on the bandwagon -so to speak- and start an online blog.  My name is Brandon; I’ve recently completed my second year of study at the University of Alberta and am slated to begin my third year in September.  For all intents and purposes, I hope to share with you the insight, tips, and tricks that I have accrued throughout my undergrad (thus far).

A (not so) brief back-story:

I often look back fondly on my high school years; they were, for lack of a better word, excellent.  I was able to expend minimal effort and still maintain 95%+ averages in the majority of my classes.  There always seemed to be time to run in races (a big hobby of mine), and to play street hockey with my buddies.  Way back when, course marks were made up of half a dozen or so unit tests and we were given the option to exempt (and therefore not write) most of our final exams.  In other words, high school was extremely forgiving! Continue Reading >>