University Grades Psychology Flying High

Trinity hails ‘exceptionally bright’ psychology students as 97% get a 2.1

Only eight out of 301 students who sat the course failed to achieve a first


For a consistently high ranking, psychology at Trinity College Dublin takes some beating

Joe Humphreys

Mon, Oct 13, 2014,

What’s the easiest course in which to get a first?

Computer science and software engineering at Maynooth University has relatively strong credentials, with 38 per cent of students over the past five years receiving the top grade.

And in 2012, a particularly good year, 59 per cent of participants got a first.

Education 2

More than 90 per cent of law graduates in TCD receive either a first or a 2.1. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill Are university grades being inflated to suit jobs market?
Engineering, manufacturing and construction at NUI Galway recorded similar stellar results, with 36 per cent of students between 2004 and 2013 getting a first. In 2007, 112 of 239 graduates (47 per cent) under the faculty heading received the top grade.

But for a consistently high ranking, psychology at Trinity College Dublin takes some beating.

Only eight out of 301 students who sat psychology between 2004 and 2013 failed to achieve a 2.1 or a first (which translates as a 97 per cent success rate). Last year, 13 of the 32 students taking final exams (41 per cent) got a first.

Of course, higher grades don’t necessarily mean inflated grades.

Asked to explain the figures, TCD said its psychology course “attracts exceptionally bright cohorts of students who, in the four years of the degree, achieve a very high standard which is vetted by a wide range of external examiners.

“We repeatedly ask these external examiners, from a range of respected academic institutions, who read and double-mark exam papers and research projects, to check whether the degree classes awarded are justified. Uniformly and consistently they say they are.”

Martin O’Grady, a lecturer at Tralee Institute of Technology, who has previously published research on grade inflation, said “robust, independent monitoring” was needed to establish whether certain courses were being marked too easily.

“To achieve parity of standards across institutions you must have academics motivated by academic standards, not by getting a higher number of students through with higher grades.”

Raised questions

In general, he says, “the institution that takes in the weaker students are elevating their grades, whereas TCD don’t have to do that”.

Previous research showed that the percentage of first-class honours awarded across Irish universities rose from 7 per cent in 1994 to 17 per cent in 2005. The latest figures indicate there has been a small decline since in most universities but one counterbalanced by a rise in the awarding of 2.1s.

While the overall figures raised questions for particular institutions, there were more general signs of grade inflation at faculty level.

At UCD, the proportion of students gaining a first or 2.1 in science jumped from 37.5 per cent in 2004 to 59 per cent in 2013, although this was largely accounted for by a change to the grading system in recent years.

At DCU, the last three years saw the highest grades in science, maths and computing, with 71.5 per cent of students gaining a first or 2.1 in 2013 compared to a 10-year low of 53.8 per cent in 2005.

As to comparing awards between universities, in humanities, for example, TCD came out top, with 16.6 per cent of graduates in the last five years obtaining a first and 65.1 per cent getting a 2.1.

At UCC, in arts, social sciences and Celtic studies, 13.2 per cent got a first and 47.3 per cent got a 2.1. For UCD arts, 8.4 per cent got a first and 46.3 per cent got a 2.1.

In humanities at NUI Galway, 8.8 per cent got a first, and 40.2 per cent got a 2.1.

As for the toughest course in which to get top marks, medicine stands out. Over the last 10 years, just 38 of 1,263 TCD graduates got a first and only 56 out of 1,731 UCD graduates did so. In both cases, this translates as a 3 per cent success rate.