Attractive students receive more favourable marks

Published 13 September 2016

Researchers have uncovered a grading bias depending on a student’s ethnicity, education level, physical attractiveness and quality of prior performance, according to a University of New England study.

Associate Professor John Malouff and Einar Thorsteinsson from the School of Cognitive, Behavioural and Social Sciences conducted a meta-analysis of 20 studies on grading biases, and found that students who had unfavourable characteristics received 4 to 5 marks less (out of 100) than students with favourable qualities.


Dr Malouff said a lot of the bias from teachers was unconscious.

“They would swear in a court of law that they did it fairly but they just would not know. The type of bias includes students who have negative educational labels, students who are members of specific ethnic or racial groups, students who have previously performed poorly, and less attractive students,” said Dr Malouff.

Some universities require instructors to keep students anonymous when possible during grading. According to Dr Thorsteinsson, academics have used various methods, including asking students to submit work with a student number, code number or bar code rather than their name.

“So it may be worthwhile for graders to keep themselves unaware of potentially biasing information about students. Our goal from the study is to get universities, schools and individual teachers to keep students identity anonymous during subjective marking, where practical to do so. We want to use this as a case study for further research on the topic,” said Dr Thorsteinsson.

All the studies looked at by the researchers involved graders being exposed to a specific type of information about a student other than the student’s performance on task.

Dr Malouff said the findings do not offer evidence of why the biased grading occurs.

“But one could hypothesize that all the types of bias examined involve implicit expectancies about the quality of student performance on the present task. When the grading has subjective elements involving opinions as to quality based on characteristics external to the assessment piece, these expectancies may colour the work of the student enough to affect assigned scores.

The article Bias in grading: A meta-analysis of experimental research findings has been published in the Australian Journal of Education.