Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Assignment Grades: What is Their Relative Importance? A Dialectic

The topic is course marks, and their arguable importance.

Post-Secondary is for the learning of skills, knowledge, and advanced understanding: to acquire these concrete improvements, students commit themselves to some years of sacrifice and application.

To measure progress in the acquisition of these concrete improvements, an arbitrary abstraction (i.e. number) is applied to prescribed exercises during a defined course of study, and at the conclusion of each Course, these abstract measurements are tabulated into a final measurement of the degree to which the specific skills, knowledge, and advanced understanding have been acquired.

So much so obvious: to succeed at a desirable career, certain people attend a Post Secondary institution in order to acquire the skills, knowledge, and advanced understanding necessary to perform the fundamental requirements of their preferred careers.

Yet, it seems quite incredibly, it is far from rare to hear it said by students that the most important part of Post Secondary study is the abstract measurement itself! The realskills, knowledge, and advanced understandingis all-but ignored and the abstractionthe arbitrary choice of number as measure of attainmentis astonishingly given place of primary importance.

Now, prima facie, this is absurd: it is not even senseit is like asking 'how much does yellowness weigh?

But let us address ourselves to the topic in a clarifying way; using Dialectic, as follows.

THESIS. Marks are the most important aspect of Post-Secondary study. Employers ask for marks and will not accept an applicant who cannot present a certain Grade number. The goal--the purpose--of Post-Secondary is to get hired: to be chosen by a preferred Employer. Employers ask for Marks. Therefore, success in Post-Secondary is high marks; and a student's sole focus must be on what Employers want--Marks.

Ergo, Marks are important: everthing else is secondary.

ANTITHESIS. Marks are not important. This would be proved irrefutably if we could actually see what the employers themselves say they are looking for when they hire. If they say they are looking for Marks, then the thesis is proven. If they say that they are looking for skills and attributes then the antithesis is proven.

And, Lo!, Employers do tell us what they are looking for. The Business Council of British Columbia (a voluntary association of each and every Employer sector in British Columbia) publishes a biennial survey subtitled "What Are BC Employers Looking for?"

This is a perfect goldmine for prospective employees. It is their desired employers speaking freely amongst themselves about exactly what it is that they want in new hires. It as good as a stolen look at their secret documents. It is priceless. And it is yours for free.

So, is their answer to their own question of what BC Employers are looking for (which is also the answer to our topic here) "Marks" or is it "Skills and Attributes?

The answer is in the title: "2010 BIENNIAL SKILLS AND ATTRIBUTES SURVEY REPORT." (Click on link for report).

And there you have it. It is not titled 'The 2020 Biennial Marks Survey Report', and nowhere in the report is there any mention whatsoever of Marks. Moreover, the report specifically lists the top ten skills and the top ten attributes that they, the Employers, themselves look for in their job applicants. Here is the very language of the report:

  • "....the employers were first asked to choose ten key Attributes they sought in all new job hires" (emphasis mine).
  • "....the employers were asked to choose ten key Skills they sought in all new job hires" (emphasis mine.)
So, if you are a potential new job hire and you do not listen to exactly what your prospective Employers are freely telling each other honestly and without coercion, then you are certainly planing to fail to be hired.


The conclusion of the dialectic is this. Marks are an abstract measurement of skills, knowledge, and advanced attributes, and as such serve as a valuable sign to those attainments. However, the abstraction does not have any independent existence: skills, knowledge, and advanced attributes have independent meaning and value, and therefore they must be the focus of your Post Secondary efforts.

Thus, if your primary focus is on the the prescribed exercises upon which abstract measurement is based (i.e.  assignments), then you are planning to fail: for you are putting your focus and energies on the abstraction rather than the real. But of course at the same time, if full attention is put on studyon aquiring the skills, knowledge, and advanced attributesthen high Marks will appear all of their own naturally.

(The analogy is waxing your car: there is no independent thing called a 'shine'. We all want a gleaming shining car: but it is only by focusing hard and entirely on the the real work of washing, applying, rubbing, and polishing that the abstract 'shine' appears.)


There is a take-home lesson for this dialectic; one that is more or less obvious. If you walk into a class on Day One and care, in the slightest degree, about the format that the assignments will take, then you have already lost: you are planning to fail.

Assuming that you care about Excellence, the only way to approach a Post-Secondary course is to study the material fully and properly. The format of an Assignment is perfectly irrelevant if the material has been studied properly and thoroughly. Material thoroughly studied can be commandingly written down on an assignment no matter what form it is presented in.

Attempting to tailor studying to match a preferred assignment format is nothing more than a shortcut. And there are no shortcuts to Excellence.


Do you consider yourself weak in one of the possible forms that an assignment may take? Then practice that form until you have mastered it. Take, just for an example, essay writing. Do you believe that it is possible to have a career of excellence without command of the fundamentals of essay writing? Return to the BCBC Biennial Skills and Attributes Survey Report.

Look at the list of the Top Ten Skills BC Employers Are Looking For. Number Five is "Writing". And Number One, the most important skill that BC employers want in new hires, is "Speaking & Listening". And command of the skill of speaking is a direct function of command of writing: orators and essayists share precisely the same fundamental skill set.

[The second half of the Number One skill that employers require, "Listening" (which is opposed to mere hearing) is gained by proper Note Taking: a skill that is now widely atrophying in the age of PowerPoint Lectures and iPad & iPhone screen captures. However, this presents you with a glorious opportunity. Determine to avoid the easy shortcuts of the technology, and master the skill of proper note taking (detailed here), then you will be in the elite; head and shoulders above the many who took the easy way. The widespread atrophying of note-taking ability is for you a golden opportunity for Excellence (for succeeeding over the mediocre many) in the humber one skill that Employers say that they are looking for in new hires.]
That is how important essay writing is. In fact, the top eight of the top ten skills that Employers say themselves that they require are all Liberal Arts skills (what are foolishly labelled 'soft' skills). None of the top eight have anything to do with specific task-related skill. "Computer Competancy" is number nine, and in very last place is "Efficient Use of Technology, Tools, & Equipment".

So, Excellence demands time and effort: but nothing other than time and effort. Should you presently lack a necessary skill or attribute, then you have not yet given it sufficient time and effort.

Always keep in mind: Excellence is easy; anyone can attain it: it only requires hard work.

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