prison

Have you ever wondered why your grandparents had the time to catch spiders and have fish fights when they were your age, as if they did not have homework? Have you wondered why your parents cannot even do your E Maths question, as if they had never encountered these questions in their schooling years? Because the truth is, your grandparents never had that much homework and your parents did not do such hard Maths questions. As a student, you have it harder and game theory can explain why.

Game Theory? What is that? Is it a conspiracy theory about how Pokemon Go will be the downfall of us all?

That is what moderating your score means. This is so that no matter how easy or how hard your paper is, only a certain percentage of people will get “A” or “B”.

No, Game Theory is not an analysis of the game that is all the rage right now. It is the analysis of a situation involving conflicting interests. It looks at how decisions result in gains and losses among opposing players.

Game Theory is usually taught at the university level. However, the insights of game theory have been touted as being useful in many areas—business, politics, sports and even everyday social interactions. As a student, you will definitely benefit by having a knowledge of game theory. Today, we will be using the Prisoners’ dilemma to explain why you have such a tough life as a student.

Refer to the 2 minutes’ video below to understand what the Prisoners’ dilemma is.

Regardless of whether you are taking O level, N level or A level, you will be graded relative to your peers. That is what moderating your score means. This is so that no matter how easy or how hard your paper is, only a certain percentage of people will get “A” or “B”.

So what happens when everyone agrees to slack and everyone agrees to not study for their exams? Theoretically, even if everyone flunks their exams, there will still be a certain percentage of people getting A and getting into the best schools, because of the moderation of scores.  “Wow. That is easy. As students, we will just unite and boycott all exams and we can still easily do well because of moderation.” Is that what you are thinking? Because the truth is, your alliance will not hold up for long. Collectively, students will have an easier time if they all choose not to study. However, if you know that all your peers are not working hard, and by studying just a little bit harder, you will be the one getting the A and going to the best school… The temptation to gain an edge over others by studying harder will be overwhelming as the weeks pass. However, if everyone thinks and does the same, then the extra effort you put in will not get you anywhere. Your grade relative to other people will still be just a B.

This is a real life example of the famous prisoners’ dilemma whereby looking to one’s own interests results in a sub-optimal collective outcome.

This has other implications. Many years ago, just paying attention in class is sufficient to guarantee you a good grade. My generation had to pay attention in class and practice on assessment books in order to do well. Now, on top of all this, students also have to go to tuition classes in order to ace their exams. Many people observe that life as a student is getting harder but few realise that this is an inevitable consequence of a meritocratic society. When working slightly harder will get you further in life, everyone will follow suit and the bar will be raised. Conversely, if everyone is working harder, and you do not match their efforts, you will lag behind. As such, now almost all students have tuition.

What will be the next new norm? Taking pills to boost your mental faculty? Who knows? But one thing is for sure, the life of students will only get harder.