A Rhetorical Analysis of “Why We Should Stop Grading Students on a Curve” (RA5)

In “Why Should We Stop Grading Students on a Curve” Adam Grant depicts that the grading system in the American Education system has become one of the hot topics under scrutiny in the academic world. Some people claim that the utilization of the grading curve in grading students is inappropriate. Grant wrote “Why We Should Stop Grading Students on a Curve,” published in 2016 in the New York Times, and his main aim is to discourage the use of the grading curve in the education system. He argues that use of the grading curve causes grade deflation; it limits the student’s excellence, and lastly, creates a hypercompetitive culture among students. Grant begins by citing personal facts, research, and reputable sources so as to build his credibility, adequately applies logos but very scanty employs emotional appeals in some sections of the article.


Grant first sets the stage by describing a scenario in Harvard University where the most common grade is an A. He then moves on and compares grades across 200 colleges and universities. Grant then examines the primary goal of the grade curve and states the adverse effects of the curve. He then describes an experiment he conducted with his students on the effect of the grading curve on performance and togetherness of the students. Lastly, he finishes by examining how unhealthy competition among students causes increased peril for suicide and mental health disorders such as anxiety and depression.

In the article, Grant strengthens his appeals to ethos as well as builds her argument by citing many sources. The sources used to include  studies by economists Pradeep Dubey and John Geanakoplos who analyzed the grading system and concluded that Absolute is far much better than grading on the curve. He also uses a research by Podsakoff, Whiting, Steven, Podsakoff, Philip, Blume, and Brian named “Individual- and organizational-level consequences of organizational citizenship behaviors: A meta-analysis”. Citing these sources in his article boosts Grant’s trustworthiness and validity by showing his audience that he has done his research and has presented facts and professionals opinion. Grant also uses personal experiments with his students which show he has taken firsthand experience with the problem or issue.


Concerning the logos appeal, Grant uses facts, statistics, and progression of ideas throughout his article. He points out facts in his experiment with his students on the effects of not using the grading curve on the performance and teamwork among students. Through his experiments, he is able to prove that when the grading curve is not used, the performance and teamwork among students improves. These results are paramount in introducing and supporting his idea. Grant quotes statistics from his study indicating how the lack of utilization of the grading curve influences the students to score to improve year after year. These statistics are some of the very many he uses to support his claims in a logical way. The numbers are slowly built on logos with the aim of trying to impress the reader that it’s an issue worth critically discussing.

The article does not employ the use of pathos in the introduction and middle parts but applies it mainly towards its end. He uses emotionally charged phrases and statements at the end of the article mainly to create a sympathetic image to his audience. Grant, states that great challenge that colleges and universities have in trying to reduce the suicide peril among students and the growing risk for mental disorders such as depression and anxiety. He also indicates that he wonders whether there would be an improvement in student’s mental health if the classes were devised in such a way that they encourage support of one another. His goal for using these statements is to evoke negative feelings towards the utilization of the grading curve among the readers by showing its effects on mental health.

Mostly, Adam Grant delivers a cogent argument through utilization of logos ethos and minimal pathos. Despite his efficient use of logos and ethos, his argument would have been more effective if his pathos was more developed in all the sections of the article. This would have made his more credible in the eyes of the audience.


Grant, A. (2016, September 10). Why We Should Stop Grading Students on a Curve, The New York Times. September 10, 2016. December 11, 2016. Web.

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