It’s commonly accepted that grades will always carry some degree of uncertainty; teachers are essentially asked to summarize an entire semester’s worth of work with a single number. Many factors can affect that number making it impossible to claim that grades are an accurate way of measuring a student’s academic success, the most influential of which is subjectivity. All teachers are subjective in their marking – even within a single school teachers teaching the same course may mark with drastically different expectations.
That’s not to say that the current marking system is entirely ineffective. Theoretically, these small differences should only affect a student’s grades in a minor way. Although it may be difficult for students to admit, their grades will always be more a reflection of themselves than their teachers. And thankfully, a difference of a few percentage points doesn’t even really matter. That is, unless you plan on using that grade to apply to university.
Universities in Ontario follow the “Top Six” system, where students submit six courses as part of their student profile. Depending on the program, students may be required to submit specific prerequisite courses. All this is done to help universities determine which students are best suited and most qualified for admission. There are some programs which may require a supplementary application, but those are few and far between. In most cases, the only thing distinguishing you from thousands of other potential applicants is that average of six marks. And suddenly those few percentage points really start to make a difference.
The margin of error inherent in marking means that students simply can’t be fairly represented by a single number. Aside from that, there are many other factors that affect a student’s suitability and are completely ignored in the current system. Take, for example, the journalism program at Carleton University. The only prerequisite course is Grade 12 English, and there is no supplementary application required. Should your internship at a broadcasting company not give you an advantage over other candidates? At the very least you clearly have a passion for the field, which you could demonstrate in your supplementary essay – if it existed, that is.
Canadian universities could mitigate the subjectivity of marking by adopting a system similar to that of the Common Application, used widely in the United States and several other countries. This type of universal supplementary application provides much more information to universities, shifting the focus away from grades and towards the student as a whole. Universities would see students as more than just an average of six grades; they would be able to look at extracurricular activities, and they could read an essay or two in order to better understand applicants as students and as people.
Until that happens, students will be left hoping that the numbers work out in their favour. Good luck, Grade 12’s. You’ll need it.