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I have recently had a couple of emails from students on a Level 1 course, stating how disappointed they were with their marks for their first two TMAs.  This surprised me as their marks were in the 60s and 70s, which strike me as encouraging starts.  I have tried to persuade them that if they work hard, they should be capable of getting higher marks later.  It strikes me as slightly strange that students should be so disappointed with solid marks at such an early stage on their degree that they wrote to me.

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Thanks for your reply, Sharon.

Psychologically, I think anything over 50% is not bad and 60 plus is already good - a course I teach on gives the label "good" for anything over 63 and very good for marks in the 70s.

I understand that tutors need to be supportive but they also have to mark according to criteria and I think we also need to give students realistic feedback on what their current levels are.  I wonder where the idea that 60 and 70 are marks where students should be "gutted" by comes from.  40 is a pass but students getting that should be a bit concerned but I think students in level 1 should feel quite positive above 50% and very pleased when getting into the 60s and 70s.

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I wonder where the idea that 60 and 70 are marks where students should be "gutted" by comes from.  

Well, the idea comes from the fact that in order to get a distinction you need marks above 85. 

It may surprise you, but there are students that want to do really well on their courses and the fact that Level 1 modules do not count towards the degree classification does not mean that they are less worthy of their efforts. 

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Thanks for the comment, Maria.

I do not mean to disparage students wanting to do well but am surprised that some are surprised that they do not get excellent marks on their first assignments.  It is not supposed to be easy to get a distinction and in level one students should be focusing on trying to gain skills.  Where students finish is more important than where they start and I think our role is to improve together.

SXR103 chemistry is fun (2008) :-)

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It could depend a lot on students' backgrounds.

OU students are not always absolute beginners even at level 1.  Some may already have a degree (or two big grin).  Some may be some way through this degree, but going back to level one to mop up the points needed for completion of the degree (particularly with the transition from B quals to Q quals). Some may even be recent school leavers with good A level grades.

Who knows...

But I'd be gutted too... it would mean that I hadn't understood the course content and/or the assessment question sufficiently well for my own purposes.



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Thanks, Jan.

It is very interesting to hear student voices.  I still think marks in the 60s and 70s are good starts and although I am glad students are ambitious and want to do even better, I do not think people should feel gutted.

Sometimes, students getting these kinds of marks have had no real problem in understanding the content but perhaps have scope for doing better in terms of the ways they write or organise the content.

Me in a rare cheerful mood

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Prior to my OU degree, my previous academic results were O levels, where I was expecting 90%+ in the subjects I was good at and interested in.  In Maths and Physics, over 95%.  And I do mean O levels, not GCSEs.

I have a shedload of vocational qualifications.  For those where I was paying and there was a marking scheme, I would expect 90% to 95% of myself - but I work hard for it.

I'm on my 5th OU module and I now know 90% is fantasy land for me in OU work.  But these marks of 40-something to 60-something still hurt.  Especially when I have put in lots of time and effort.

It may be familiarity with different marking schemes that makes people unhappy with 60%

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Thanks for the comment, Simon.

Yes, perhaps unfamiliarity with OU criteria might be the issue.  For one course, I teach a mark of 63 gets the comment "good" showing this is what is considered a good mark and 78 gets a "very good" comment.  I am glad students want to do even better but I also think these are good marks.

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I have just remembered that when I worked for Leeds university, marks were scaled and it was not possible for students in normal circumstances to get under 20 or over 85.  Where there were right and wrong answers and students got more or less than these marks, the marks would be adjusted.  I did not really understand the logic but in most universities, marks in the 80s are rare in the humanities and social sciences.

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Thanks for the comments, Sharon.

You have clearly done very well.  I think having the ambition of getting distinctions is great and I would encourage everyone to aim high but I still think 60/70% is quite a good mark.

Student Expectations

Perhaps, if we are frustrated by what we consider poor marks, we should all downgrade expectations to aspirations. Tutor assessments are surely meant as guidance on where we can improve as well as reassurance and encouragement on the strong, competent features of our work. I haven't taken an exam of any sort, let alone passed one, in 50 years so pointing out my weaknesses and advising me on how to improve, together with a mark my tutor feels appropriate doesn't discourage me at all.

The time to be disappointed is if I keep getting the same "poor" marks and the same criticisms, and then it will be with myself.


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Thanks for the comment, Terry.

I Think a general sense of progression and improvement is very important and motivating. Many students make quite dramatic improvements and showing this could be undermined if they start at unrealistically high levels.

Student Expectations

There is an analogy in this discussion point.

One way to improve stock turnover in food shops is to sell everything below cost price.

The problem is that any shop following the policy is not trading soundly and will quickly fail.

Customers will benefit in the short term but are storing up problems for the future in terms of health (and a lack of shops).


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Thanks for this, Terry.

I would agree and also say that tutors do not have much choice about the marks they give as they need to mark according to the criteria.  Tutors' marking is moderated by other staff and over lenient (or over harsh) marking is commented on. 

I think tutors always try to give the benefit of the doubt and, in particular, they agonise over any fails or borderline work.