We Want … Lower Grades?



Brown University Engineering Research Center
Photo: “Brown University Engineering Research Center” by Kenneth C. Zirkel, licensed under CC 4.0

By Griffin Steele

“An issue that can arise is, basically, I write things that I know are bad, I want feedback on the poor papers I’ve written, and then the feedback is like ‘great job,’ and it’s like, how am I supposed to really learn or grow from this?” one student who took BOP’s October poll said.

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Although Ben Shapiro has famously stated that “Brown University is legitimately the stupidest place in America,” the sky-high grades earned by Brown students beg to differ. Unless, that is, “earned” is too strong of a word.


According to the Brown Opinion Project’s October 2022 poll, 16.6% of undergraduates either “somewhat” or “strongly” agree that the University should reduce grade inflation.


Older students are much more likely to want to address grade inflation. 22% of seniors either “somewhat” or “strongly” favor action compared to just 20% of juniors and 10% of first-years.


Supporters of reduced grade inflation shared that they felt like students put less effort into schoolwork because grade inflation rewards subpar work.


“Basically, in some classes, a lot of students take them S/NC, and for that reason, the bar to perform is much lower because basically, those students are gunning for C’s, and then they are being compared to students gunning for A’s,” noted one senior.


Other students admitted that learning suffered due to Brown’s forgiving grading, but did not go so far as to favor deflation.


“I do appreciate that Brown can sometimes be a little more lenient with grading,” one sophomore shared. “But then, at the same time, it makes it hard to understand whether you are actually doing well or not.”


Another senior agreed. “An issue that can arise is, basically, I write things that I know are bad, I want feedback on the poor papers I’ve written, and then the feedback is like ‘great job,’ and it’s like, how am I supposed to really learn or grow from this?” they said.


Another group was more frustrated with inconsistent grading, rather than inflation at large, but held differing perceptions on where the most inflation was taking place.


“I think there is a discrepancy in grade inflation between subject areas,” said one sophomore who supported grade-inflation. Another sophomore, who was against grade inflation, thought that class style, rather than subject area, was the source of differences in grading. “I think in a lot of seminars everyone gets an A,” they said.


In fact, reporting from the Herald shows that the highest proportion of A’s are given out in the life and medical sciences disciplines.


Support for grade deflation is unpopular among concentrators in all disciplines, but students in the humanities (19%), social sciences (18%) and physical sciences (19%) were more likely to support addressing grade inflation than life sciences concentrators, of which only 13% support deflation.


A third sophomore saw more differences between individual classes when asked if they would change the grading system at Brown. “I would say that I would make it more consistent across all classes, but I actually think that it’s a good thing that it’s not, because you can seek out which classes have easier grading policies,” they noted.



Note: All quoted poll-takers remain anonymous to maintain the integrity of Brown Opinion Project surveys. Brown Opinion Project conducted its October 2022 poll from October 11-23, collecting 1091 total responses from Brown undergraduate students. The margin of error is 3.02% with 95% confidence.