I've been asking a few students lately what they mean by a phrase most of us profs hear ocasionally at this time of year when going over last semester's exam papers: "I didn't get the grade I was expecting."
And I don't mean this tongue-in-cheek. I'm really interested because I've never understood the concept of a student "expecting" a particular grade in a subject. The student has no idea how other students will perform compared to them - and regardless of whether there's a curve applied in a given subject, there's always a comparison.
So what is the student's expectation based on? It could be past performance. If someone is a straight A student, they may expect an A by default based on past performance in other subjects. It may relate to how much effort they put into the subject. "I put in X amount of effort so I deserve Y grade." Or it may be something else entirely.
A couple of my students suggested to me that in some of their classes professors have told them that all the grades bunched together so it was very difficult for the professor to meet the curve. The notion here is that a particular arbitrariness then comes into grading decisions, which may well be true. But to me, this is potentially a question of poor exam design on the professor's part rather than a reflection of student effort.
In other words if students could assume an ideal world in which grades wouldn't bunch and wouldn't be given arbitrarily, what would the "expectation" of a particular grade be based on? Do grade "expectations" ever arise outside concerns about the curve? And if so, what are they based on?