Rate My Professors: Awesome or awful?

Owen Peterson, Opinion Editor

Ratemyprofessors.com, the ever popular review-aggregation site where students get to anonymously assess their professors, has been utilized by countless students since its inception in 1999, and still sees 4 million visitors a month, according to its about page. But exactly how helpful is it?

For the uninitiated, on RMP, users can write a review of their professor, give them a rating, scaling from “awful” to “awesome,” assign specific number grades in the categories of “difficulty” and “quality” and provide additional information such as the grade they received, if a textbook was needed or if they would take the class again.

Overall, RMP is a useful tool that can aid you in selecting your classes, but only if you use it right. In other words, there is value to be found here, but only if you dig for it.

I believe the most common misuse of RMP happens when users base their judgement off of the aggregate score provided at the top of any professor’s page.

First of all, the accuracy of the number, being an average, is largely contingent on the amount of reviews there are. For UW Oshkosh professors, the amount of reviews on professors ranges from one to 238, so caution must be applied.

So, if you ever see a professor with a 1.0 quality rating, make sure the rating is not just due to a lone, irate student who labels the professor a “terrible professor and even worse person” (an actual review for a UWO professor) just because they missed the deadline for their term paper.

This is not to say that any negative should be brushed off, of course. In the end, it is up to the user to make good judgements. If there are tons of negative reviews all with common, fair critiques, then it is probably safe to assume that the advice should be heeded.

One of the other big critiques of RMP is that it is more of an indicator of how easy of a grader the professor is rather than how “good” the professor is.

This concept is quite easily proven thanks to the fact that you can sort professors by “least difficult” on any university, and, if you do, you will see a deluge of professors with overwhelmingly positive quality ratings appear on your screen.

Just as overwhelmingly negative reviews beg caution, it is true that very positive reviews can be equally misleading. It goes without saying that professors who are more lenient with their grading are much more likely to be heralded as phenomenal at their job.

If you are looking for really easy professors to have, particularly when picking gen-eds, then this is very helpful, but when looking for professors who you will actually get a lot from, not so much.

In both cases, the faults with using RMP for advice stem from users’ proclivity towards hyperbole.

Personally, I think one of the more helpful aspects of RMP is the “tags” feature. On each review, users can select up to three of a multitude of tags, ranging from “test heavy” to “tough grader” to “hilarious.”

While the number ratings and written reviews can be useful, they are too often riddled with bias to be consistently helpful. On the other hand, the tags are generally more factual because they just provide simple tidbits on how the professor runs the class.

The effectiveness of these tags is because of their simplicity. When scouting professors ahead of time, every bit of information that I actually want to know, or will shape my decision, is found within these tags.

Are there a lot of tests? Papers? Is it lecture-heavy? Are there so many readings that I will want to claw my eyeballs out? All are seldom answered in the reviews, but often so in the tags.
While some, like “caring” and “tough grader” are a bit more subjective, they still do a good job to paint a general picture.

Everything being considered, RMP can still be a helpful tool for students when looking for what classes to take if you know what you’re looking for.