Grading on the Curve


In some classes the professor does what is called grading on a curve. Sometimes this means fitting the class grades to a strict Gaussian distribution with a “C” grade as the mean and all the other grades evenly distributed around that point. In this case some people will get lower grades than they “earned” if the average was above a “C”. However, most of the time grading on a curve results in a boost to everyone’s grades. For example, if the class mean unadjusted grade is a 75%, a professor might move the average up 5% points, adding 5% points to everyone’s grades. In college I had two courses where the examinations were designed for a 33% to be a “C”. That means that if I only got 33/100 points on an exam, it would be curved up to where it looks like I received a 75/100 on the examination. The exams were designed so no one, or maybe the rare individual, received a 100/100 on an exam. Some people believed this manner of examination to be unduly harsh and unjust. Even having to struggle through taking such difficult exams, I appreciated the theory of that design. Making examinations difficult allows the professor to see a true range in abilities and learning. If a test is too easy, too many people get perfect scores and they do not learn anything and the professor does not appropriately judge their knowledge. I think it teaches an important point about the justice and mercy of God.

The Book of Mormon prophet taught this important truth about the role of the Savior in the balance between justice and mercy. Nephi wrote, “For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.” (2 Ne. 25:23). In the test of this life, God has designed what some see as an onerously difficult examination. Sometimes it seems like we are thrown into the test without preparation. However, we were prepared, we just do not remember all of the preparation. Because it is difficult, all of us fall short of perfection on the test. Only One ever received a perfect score – Jesus Christ. Because of Christ’s divinity and calling, he is able to provide the mercy to counteract the justice. He provides the curve that makes up our shortcomings. Through His grace we can be saved “after [above and beyond] all we can do.” Our Heavenly Father, through Christ, can take our imperfect scores and curve them up to perfection. However, in the school of life in order for our grades to be curved up we have to accept the curve. This means we have to do a set of things in order to receive the curve. We do this by faith in Christ and by receiving the necessary ordinances – baptism, confirmation, temple endowment, temple sealing. By these efforts are we able to fully accept the grace of Christ and receive His curve that will lift us to perfection and to home. We could not make it without Christ and His atoning sacrifice.