Carnegie Mellon University

Eberly Center

Teaching Excellence & Educational Innovation

Step 3: Explore Strategies

Explore potential strategies.

My students cheat on assignments and exams.

Students might be in competition with other students for their grades.

In some course, students are graded on a curve. While there are varying definitions of curves and many professors think they grade on a curve, the definition that is relevant in this context is when students are graded by percentile—the top 15% gets an A, the next 35% gets a B, the next 35% gets a C, and the bottom 15% is split between D and F, or any such breakdown. This means that grades are a scarce commodity (e.g., in the previous example, in a class of 100 there would be only 15 As available). In such a class, students MUST compete against each other for the best grades. This system ranks people against each other, regardless of actual learning. The A students have learned more than the B students, but the grade gives no indication that they have met a certain standard. In addition, if students don’t understand the material, they know that they cannot ask their peers for help, which can create more pressures.


Use criterion-referenced grading.

Use criterion-referenced grading.

Make the standards of learning and performance known in advance and make students’ grades dependent on how well they meet the standards. This eliminates competition as a stressor, which can lead to cheating because all students could get an A if they meet the standards for an A (or, conversely, everybody could fail). Grading rubrics, explicit descriptions of the quality of performance required to achieve a given grade, is one type of tool that can be used to help students identify what they need to do to achieve a desired grade. Here are examples of grading rubrics created by CMU faculty and faculty at other institutions. Creating a grading scheme that provides students with some flexibility in determining how their points get weighed across course assessments can also reduce cheating.

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