Thursday, May 16, 2013

The "Pass By Compensation" rule

The University Observer reports today that UCD is to abolish the pass by compensation rule. This is the rule common in most colleges (including NCI) where you may pass if your grade is between 35% and 39%, and where you have enough marks in other subjects to "compensate" - it's a kind of "Get-out-of-jail-free" card. There's always a limit in the number of subjects you can PBC, and if you get less than 35% in any subject the PBC rule cannot be applied. Where UCD go, other Colleges will be certain to follow. 

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As someone who has benefited in the past from the PBC rule, I'm not totally in favour of abolishing this option. In 1979 against all odds I somehow manage to pass my 1st year exams in Trinity. I had an F1 grade (35-39) in Chemistry and under the PBC rule I was allowed to progress to 2nd year. Of course I had no idea at the time what it was or how it applied, and to be frank I didn't really care as I was through to the next year. I was just relieved that I had escaped failing the year and having to drop out or repeat. 

The rule is always a source of confusion to students as I get queries on this after every set of exams. Due to rounding, a student with a low mark of 34.5% could pass the year under PBC, and many academics think that this should not be allowed. In my own experience, anyone receiving a mark in the PBC range has done a bad job in their assessments. My professional opinion on a paper with this grade is that it is a "fail". If it is only one subject, I am in favour of the PBC rule being retained, but I have on rare occasions seen students pass two or more modules by PBC.

The reality is that the PBC rule really only applies to a grade of 35%, 36%, or 37%. I know one College where 39% is automatically rounded up - I would never leave a student on this mark. In another College a grade of 38% is not automatically rounded up, but a rule applies where it is considered by the Exam Board. This is one of those areas where I wish there was consistency between all third-level colleges - the same rule should apply to all students.

1 comment:

  1. I think the PBC is a great idea, particularly in broad courses like in science and the humanities. if it were up to me, i would retain, but not let the students know!