Have you ever visited the registrar website and looked for a professor with a favorable grade distribution? You’re convinced the class will be an easy A. Then, when course registration comes around, you find that professor is taken, and all you’re left with is the more difficult professor.
But does it matter? And just how big are the discrepancies? With course registration for the fall semester starting next week, these questions deserve answers.
Freshmen and sophomores in the Kelley School of Business and students hoping to be admitted into it can be some of the most concerned about choosing classes. These students hope to score high grades in prerequisites for I-Core, often referred to as the "Kelley prereqs," and many believe which professor they have makes a difference.
Online grade distribution data, however, show that professors for Kelley prereqs generally grade more fairly than you might think.
I analyzed the grade distributions from the fall and spring semesters of 2018 and 2019, which are available online. I focused on the Kelley prereq courses that are taught by more than two instructors. These include K201, C104 and L201. I excluded honors versions of the classes. The data included dozens of instructors across eight classes.
I then took all instructors that have three or more sections and calculated an average GPA for all sections taught by that instructor. I found the difference between the average grade given by each instructor and the total average grade for all students in the course.
The data show that the average grades given out by individual instructors are similar across the board for each course. Instructors’ average grades rarely deviate by more than one third of a letter grade.
Most instructors have average grades that align closely with the course average, meaning that they are not easier or harder than the standards for that course. Some of the courses with the smallest deviations among instructors include C104, T175 and T275. Most instructors for these courses have grade-point averages that are less than 0.1 away from the course average.
For perspective, 0.33 GPA difference signifies a difference of one third of a letter grade.
Other classes have larger variances among professors. C204, for example, has grades that fall more than 0.1 GPA away, and some even fall more than 0.3 away from the course average. In L201, one instructor's average is about 0.4 away from the course average.
For those classes that have only two instructors, such as G202 and D270, both instructors tended to have very similar averages.
While there are natural variances in all data sets, it is hard to conclude that, with the exception of a few outliers, professors make their classes more or less difficult than others teaching the same course.
There are likely a few reasons for this. Curricula are, for the most part, standardized, with common learning goals. All classes are reviewed by their respective departments to ensure all students are learning the same material.
Of course, there are always confounding variables, such as the relative characteristics of the students. Considering these factors, I am confident that curricula are, for the most part, fair, and they give each student a chance at success, regardless of the professor.
I applaud IU and the Kelley School of Business in particular for their quality control in fair and equal grading across multiple professors. It is reassuring to know that students aren’t condemned to a professor who makes classes comparatively harder.
Students, rest easy if you don’t get the “easy professor.” The next time you hear one of your friends bragging that they got the “easy professor” for a class, their professor probably won’t grade much differently than yours.
Brett Abbott (he/him) is a freshman studying finance and is the press secretary for College Republicans at IU. He plans to pursue a career in business or politics.