"What are you looking for????"

Michael Gorman

St. Francis Xavier University

October 1998


"What are you looking for???" Students often ask this, especially after the first test. Don’t panic!

Before trying to answer this question, let me note that I don’t believe in false precision. No one can tell the difference between a 65 essay and a 66 essay. Normally I’ll give marks divisible by 5; that’s as precise as it gets.

If you know the basic elements put forward in the readings, lectures, and discussions, and you present these in way that I can follow but that isn’t particularly well-organized or particularly clear, then you’re looking at about a 65. This is a respectable mark.

If you know not just the basic elements but also some additional, important details, and you present things in a clearer and more organized manner, then you’re looking at about a 75. This is a good mark.

If you add something really worthwhile to what I’ve given you, for instance by presenting the course material in a new light, reflecting on it with extra depth or insight, or bringing out new elements or new connections, then we’re talking 85 and up. This doesn’t happen very often, unfortunately.

If you have something less than the basic elements, an extremely rudimentary understanding of what went on, then you’re barely passing—55.

If you’ve not succeeded in answering the question but there are bits and pieces of the course in there somehow, then you’re looking at something like 40.

If your answer is way, way off, and doesn’t address the question at all, then there’s not much choice but to give you a zero.

Note that errors in what you say lower your mark. In other words, if you give what would be a 75 answer, but you’ve included certain errors on important matters, then you’re going to fall short of the 75 you would have gotten otherwise.

Bottom line: If you memorize everything and regurgitate it, you’re looking at 75 maximumbefore any deductions for errors, disorganization, unclarity, etc. You’ve got to get beyond memorization to real understanding.