marking process explained - think of a number

Reason 7 - The marking system on all RIBA accredited courses is arbitrary
(extract from
15 Reasons NOT to study Architecture - available on Amazon in any country)

The system of marking is difficult to explain because there is no coherent one. It is all subjective, a game of luck; heads you win, tails you lose. Sadly, students of architecture are regularly failed at the end of first, second, third, fourth, even fifth year and some vague reason given.

            In the course of the academic year, students are given three buildings to design and they are expected to submit a body of work that demonstrates that the building could be built and would fit into its surroundings e.g. site analysis, plans, sections, elevations, axonometric and perspective drawings and a model.

            However, in the case of project work, students are never tested on what they are taught. They are definitely not taught technical drawing skills, or how to make models or how to produce perspective, 3D drawings, or how to use the various computer software packages. Yet these are the things they are tested on when it comes to project work; the only thing that matters on this course.  And some students don’t “just pick it up” like the young guy I knew who received a medal for being the best student out of around 60 at the end of 1st year yet, because of his poor technical drawing skills, had to repeat third year (TWICE) before scraping a lowest pass mark on the third sitting. It took that brilliant, creative person, who gained entrance to one of the top universities in the UK, FIVE years to gain an Ordinary Degree in Architecture. If that makes sense to you, please stop reading now, leave a nasty review of this book and apply to study architecture – you’re well suited to it.

            Students who have previously worked in architects’ offices and have gained qualifications (like a BTech in Building Construction) from a college, instead of staying on to do A-levels at school, come ready equipped, but the entrance requirements for architecture continue to insist on an Scottish Higher/A-level in Maths, which will help the student not one bit as, once they begin the architecture course, they will be marked solely on their building designs and their, or someone else’s, ability to draw them up.

            When it comes to marking these drawings, marks are not given for each part of the submission as might seem logical. Students who do not submit a drawing on the list, are not awarded a zero or a fail, yet students who submit every drawing can be failed. It all comes down to what the tutor thinks of the student's design and, in fact, whether the tutor likes the student. If a student is favoured, any missing drawings can be overlooked. There is no methodical method of marking, which allows them carte blanche to award any marks they like; just think of a number.

            It’s very easy to find an excuse to fail a student if they want to. And, even if a student is award pass marks for two out of three projects, they can be subsequently be failed if tutors think the third project is a fail and, conversely, they can pass a student who has failed the first two projects. So nobody knows what’s happening and the overall mark given to a student for his/her project work is completely random.

            I have been to three different architecture schools and they all operate in the same manner. Any lecturer from a “normal” department in a good university might be quite shocked at their methods. No matter how talented a student, no matter how hard they work, they can never be guaranteed even the lowest pass mark of 40%. Students, who at school have been in the top set, can suddenly, through no fault of their own, become university drop-outs.

            One student, still in the system, wrote to me anonymously, “I believe the marking is completely unfair… The first semester, it was a group submission and since it’s not the same marker per student, the marks ranged from 2:2 to 1st Honours with the SAME portfolio!...It is all so upsetting as it’s a course now dependent on the tutor’s theory, the tutor’s likings and our personality. With all the regular crits, and work in progress, and expectations from tutors, anxiety is one of my biggest problems right now.”

            Some “academics” do abuse the power they are given. However, by law, complaints in Higher Education relating to assessment of work, cannot be examined by the Public Sector Ombudsman. A retired architect told me that, when he qualified at Edinburgh College of Art in the 1950s, two-thirds of his class were failed at the end of third year. He knew to stay quiet, anger no one and to keep his head down. It would seem that nothing has changed since then.
            On all RIBA “validated” courses there is no fair method of marking project work. The process always has been, and looks like always will be, completely arbitrary. The schools would certainly oppose any change to their current system because having to mark work, based on a set of criteria, would inevitably involve more work than conjuring up a number.

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