Exploring the Unknown

Exploring the Unknown
Representing the 99%!

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Demystifying The R Score

What is this devilish creation that has turned otherwise respectful, kind and caring students into grade-thirsty, ill-wishing and at times argumentative students? Not least of all when one considers that no other university in any other province in Canada, with the exception of the University of Toronto in Ontario (transfer students), even considers the R-Score in a student's application for admission! Devised by Quebec universities in 1995 to be an objective way to rank applicants by academic achievement, the R Score is a statistical method used to correct the differences in grading systems in colleges. It is used to assess the relative strengths of groups in a college as well as among cohorts in different colleges. The following is a collection of information to help you better understand the R Score and its implications on your academic future as students and for those teachers who are trying to understand why the grade point average (GPA) seems to matter less to students in Quebec.

What is the R-Score?

The following documents were approved by the Comité de Gestion des Collégiales and specifically discusses what the R Score is and what it does; its purpose and use; and a particularly helpful Q&A booklet for students and teachers alike. The latter three documents have also been supplied in French.

French Version

The R-Score: A Survey of its Purpose and Use

French Version

Questions and Answers on the College R-Score

French Version

Some R- Score Myths By Vanier College

An interesting document provided to students by Vanier College in Montreal, Quebec. Think of it as a reality check before deciding the end of the world is nigh!

Pedagogy Workshop - The R Score 
By Champlain College St. Lawerence

A readymade PowerPoint slide for teachers interested in explaining the R Score and how it works at the next Ped Day or even to your class! It also debunks many of the fears that students generally have when applying to cegep.

Criticisms of The R Score

(click to view)
Marianopolis - What is the R Score? 

Marianopolis' advertisement pretty much sums up everything that is wrong with the R Score in a nicely packaged piece of advertising! In their attempts to attract "stronger" students they have unwittingly highlighted the problems that many students and teachers alike have with the R Score. It also seems to contradict point number 13 and 14 of the myths of the R Score, as we saw above in the document supplied by Vanier College. It also contradicts what is stated in the document: Questions and Answers on The R Score, specifically Question 14 - 16 (pp. 8 - 9). It also highlights many of the issues that I face as a cegep teacher when addressing student dissatisfaction not with their personal grade, per se, but rather with the class average. Students and teachers alike are generally unaware of how the R Score even works, let alone the competitive nature that it creates amongst students in an already competitively charged environment.

Lea, The Omnovox Classroom is Similar to Banner and Angel
At one point I found myself genuinely surprised at how students were criticizing the class average, believing that a lower class average would in fact raise their R Score. Fatigued by the debate, I have simply blocked access to the class average on Lea, the Omnivox Classroom. The latter becomes visible to students again once you have submitted your final grades for the semester. I was dismayed at how students could not see the worth of the assignments and projects as they were too focused on the latter and how inevitably it would affect their admission into their chosen university in future. Though I can appreciate why students are obsessed, there is an emphasis on the end result as opposed to the process, which is unfortunate as learning becomes a numbers game as opposed to its intended purpose in the first place. What, if anything, are students taking away from their courses and their time spent at the cegep level if all they are being told to care about is a numerical grade that for them, represents their future opportunities. But I digress as the latter is a worthy debate in its own right.

Although I hesitate to use information from Wikipedia (n.d.), I will make an exception as it summarizes the situation fairly well.

"Firsthand experience suggests that the R score is not as ideal a tool as it was meant to be. A recurring complaint from students is that the ISG does not seem to sufficiently offset the advantage enjoyed by students in weak groups. Such students have the opportunity to obtain grades much higher than the low average of their class, thus earning an elevated z-score, whereas students in strong groups cannot earn such high z-scores. The presence of the ISG is supposed to work to the advantage of students in strong groups. Thus, sometimes, the best students in weak groups have lower R scores than the best students in strong groups (for example students in enriched programs). Nevertheless, the average R score in a strong group is generally higher than the average R score in a weak group due to a low standard deviation which helps bring the Z score up. Furthermore, students are not given a different R score after fixed intervals of time. Their R score constantly changes, and it is sometimes unclear whether this oscillation is due to a correction or an evolution taking new grades into account. Such perceived weaknesses of the R score are particularly worrying, because it is the main and sometimes only criterion considered by Quebec universities during the admissions process. Since the R score is perceived as an absolute measure of a student's academic performance regardless of his/her College academic rank, differences smaller than 0.5 are often used to discriminate between candidates applying to programs with fixed quotas, such as medicine, podiatric medicine, pharmacy, dentistry, law or architecture."
Do you agree or disagree with the above statement? 
Share your opinions below!

R Score Calculator

Access The R Score Calculator Here
Students will be happy to see that there are websites that helps them calculate their R Score. However, while you are at it, why not also calculate your GPA?

GPA Calculator

Access The GPA Calculator Here
For any Quebec student who has or will be completing their cegep studies and who understands that Canada is made up of more than just the province of Quebec, go ahead and calculate the accepted and preferred universal method of your grade point average (GPA). There are of course several criticisms of the GPA as it is far from perfect. Again, I digress.

A Low R Score Should Not Equate To Low Self-Confidence!

There are numerous options for students looking to get into a Quebec university even if they do not have the required R Score. The web is filled with students with low R Scores who are panic stricken  as they are only now realizing they will be unable to raise their R Score sufficiently enough in time to apply to their program of choice. Your options include:
  1. Save Time and Money! Don't waste either on taking an extra semester at Cegep! Believe it or not, you're better off going straight into university and working hard to get the grades you know you are capable of.
  2. Leave No Stone Unturned! Building on point number 1, fill in that spot on your university application form requesting your second and third program choices. So you don't have the R Score necessary to get into your first choice, fine. Start your second or third choice. Universities want to see that you are capable of growing and maturing and there is no better place than university itself to show off your abilities and perseverance. Most university programs allow students to take electives in various departments. Normally, students have complete control over which courses they take and when unless there is a program specific requirement preventing them from doing so. Thus, choose your electives wisely and kick ass! You will be surprised at how different you're education can be when your studying material you actually want to be studying!
  3. Re-Apply... As Many Times As It Takes! Afraid of failure? Don't be! What does not kill you will only make you stronger. After a semester or two at university, apply for a transfer into your program of choice. Being a student already at the university of your choice, getting the grades you know you are capable of and maintaining the required grade point average (GPA) will eventually help in your efforts to switch programs. Depending on your first choice, you may not even be accepted until after you have completed your undergraduate baccalaureate degree (BA)! Don't let it bother you. After all, there is no such thing as wasted time or a wasted education when you are striving for something beyond mere mediocrity in life. There are plenty of people who still became doctors and lawyers after having first completed an undergraduate degree in an otherwise unrelated field.
  4. Make Contacts! Whilst you come to grips with university life in your second or third choice of discipline, don't hesitate to visit your first choice department. Meet with someone who can help you choose the right electives, guide you and potentially help navigate you towards extra curricular activities (i.e. volunteering opportunities, committees, etc...) that will look favourable on your future applications.
  5. Be Professional! When submitting any application to any university, help increase your chances by including a letter of intent. The latter is more often than not taken into consideration when considering a university candidate and ranges between one and five pages depending on the department requirements. Also, include your curriculum vitae and cover letter and any letters of references and recommendations, be they academic or otherwise. Don't hesitate to add any volunteer experience (see point number 4).
  6. Show Off Your Independence! Are you are 21 years of age or older and are Canadian or a Permanent Resident? Then become an independent student! As an independent student you can take up to a maximum of three (3) courses per semester in nearly any department you wish! The latter is a great way to raise your GPA, explore different fields of study; and it gives you the freedom to test whether your first choice is really for you! Though you do not belong to any one program, this is often an excellent way for students to work their way into their first program of choice without the restrictions of departmental policies and guidelines.
  7. Forget About Your R Score! Yes, you read that correctly. Once your "in" and especially if you complete your undergraduate degree in your second or third choice, the R Score will be nothing more than a memory, for better or for worse. Trust me on this. Nobody, and I mean nobody, will be asking you for your R Score when you are applying to do your MA or PhD (or if you completed your first BA, your second BA!). Eventually the world recognizes that you are no longer an adolescent in need of molly coddling and you will be treated like the adult that you will become. Hence, of more importance to universities will be your life and work experience.
  8. Rage Against The Haters (in a healthy and respectful way of course)! Don't let ANYONE tell you what you can or cannot do with your life. Be patient, persistent and above all remain positive! The road to your personal success may have plenty of twists and turns but through perseverance and determination you will succeed!

With the exception of some exceptional teachers I met throughout my academic career (as a student) I was told that I would not even graduate from high school, let alone go onto university. I flunked out of my second year of cegep, thus I was placed on academic probation for my third and final year. I was refused from my first option at university only to eventually succeed in getting into it by first becoming an independent student. Once in my program of choice, I flourished and graduated with honours in both my undergraduate degree and later, my master's degree. Had I not turned each failure into an opportunity leading up to my undergraduate and graduate work I would never have succeeded. I tell you this because you, as a student, need to understand that you have the power to be whomever and whatever you wish to be. Ignore the pessimists and fight for what you want. After all, look at the R Score and for that matter, the GPA as a test of your convictions. After all, there are plenty of people who may immediately succeed and become eligible for various employment opportunities after completing their degree of choice. However, it does not mean that they are suitable. It takes more than good grades to be a good "anything" in life. Your life experiences, grit and frankly maturity will all help develop you into a better, brighter and dare I say happier professional. Just don't expect everyone else to like you. ;-)

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