Teaching Tools: How to set a curve

Training in graduate student instruction covers a multitude of topics: how to encourage  an inclusive pedagogical atmosphere, how to facilitate discussions of socially controversial topics (which sadly, in this country, include the theory of evolution) and how to avoid having inappropriate relationships with your undergraduate students (here’s a hint – don’t go  drinking with them). However, my training did not provide the answers to such essential questions as  “What should I do if a student faints?” or “How do I set a grade curve for this ten-pound stack of exams?”.  Both of these things have happened to me over the course of my six+ terms of student-teaching. In regards to the first instance, call 911 and pray that there is an undergrad in your class who is familiar with emergency first aid. In regards to the second, you should use this absolutely fantastic resource – Dave Richeson’s guide to “How to set a curve and assign grades“. Richeson is an Associate Professor of Mathematics at Dickinson University, and walks you through a variety of different strategies for curving grades, including methods for using flat-scales, upping the maximum score, and adjusting the average.


I understand this entire block of text was essentially written just to showcase a hyperlink, but

(1) it’s early December, which means all graduate student instructors I know have been bombarded with grading responsibilities, so it’s probably pertinent and

(2) given the delicate state of my mental faculties after six + terms of student teaching, I often forget where the site is, so now I’ll never lose it. In which case, future JB, the formula you’re looking for is:

Screen Shot 2013-12-09 at 11.30.51 PM

where Yo is the new mean, Xo is the old mean, Y1 is the new maximum, ,Y0 is the old maximum and X is the raw score.

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