A MAXIMUM SCORE OF 137. For Father’s Day, Annalisa gave me MISBEHAVING, a book about behavioral economics by Richard Thaler, one of the pioneers in the field of behavioral economics. The first sentence in the book is: “Early in my teaching career I managed to get most of the students in my microeconomics class mad at me.” The students were angry because Thaler gave a test and the average score on the test was only 72. They were angry even though the exam was going to be graded on a curve, and Thaler had explained that any score over 80 would get an A or A minus. Thaler’s next exam was harder than the first, with the students getting only 70% of the answers right. Thaler graded this test on the same curve as the first. However, Thaler set the maximum score at 137 so that the average score on the exam was in the 90’s. The students were happy. Ever after, the maximum score on Thaler’s exams was set at 137.
I encountered the same problem on the first test I wrote and gave out. I was a teaching fellow in Economics 1, and the test was also in microeconomics. I constructed the test with a maximum score of 50. I threw out one question that didn’t work. The best score was 41. Like Thaler, I knew that I would be grading on a curve. I pointed out to the class that 41 was the top score, that scores well down from there would be A’s, and that the class had done well on the test. It took me quite a while before I realized how upset my students were by their scores. I learned from this experience and avoided low scores on my tests, but the equivalent of Thaler’s 137 max score never occurred to me.