What does it mean to “blow the curve”? I've heard the phrase in educational contexts and Googling failed me: I get very few search results and they all don't explain the concept properly.

Does it mean to perform well? To perform badly? And why would some professors and classmates not want you to “blow the curve”?

Possibly related: What does 'on the curve' mean?

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    What is an example of a sentence where it's used? Mar 30, 2019 at 18:32
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    The collocation has no meaningful currency. But here's This would be just one course where I would blow the curve for the entire class, where preceding reference to the natural "Bell Curve" distribution pattern implies the writer means his performance would be well outside expected boundaries. I can't be bothered to read enough context to establish whether he's expecting to be much better, or much worse, than the average (either of which might be a desirable outcome from others' perspectives). Mar 30, 2019 at 18:35
  • ...in other contexts, You're on the curve may be used to mean You fall within the bounds of "normal" distribution. You're not a complete "outlier". Mar 30, 2019 at 18:40
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    @FumbleFingers I suspect since you are unaware of it, it must be limited to the US. It is very familiar to me as an AmE speaker. Also, a sentence in context from the OP would help everyone immensely.
    – Mitch
    Mar 30, 2019 at 18:45
  • @Mitch: Well, I guessed the intended meaning immediately from just the sentence I cited above (which was one of only two relevant instances of blow the curve where I could read any context at all in Google Books). It was just "confirmation" that I was able to follow that link myself and find a fully-expected reference to Bell curves. And I am perfectly familiar with being on / within the curve (of normal distribution). But "blowing" it does sound like something on an "Americanism", sure. Mar 30, 2019 at 19:26

1 Answer 1


'To blow the curve' is a phrase that originates from certain grading systems found in American universities. Usually on any given exam the grade result for the class will fall into a basic bell curve shape. If there are no 'A' grades on the upper end of the bell curve, the professor will shift the curve up until there is at least one 'A', but the spread is still a basic bell curve. So, no one is graded against an absolute standard but against everyone else in the class.

Let's say that the bell curve for an exam has a peak in the mid 70% and the range is 50 to 85%. The professor shifts the curve until 85% is equivalent to 100% and everything else shifts with it. However, if there was just one student who scored above a 95%, then the curve can't be shifted and everyone is stuck with the grade that they made. Which means that a lot of people failed. So the one guy who got the 95% 'blew the curve' and is very unpopular with his classmates for a while!

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