2011-04-22

Grades When You Want Them, Not When You Don't?

One of the nice things about freshman year at MIT is the grading system of Pass/No Record. Letter grades are recorded, but they are for the student's personal records only, and if the student gets at least a 'C', the grade is recorded as 'Pass', while if the student gets lower than that, the grade is not recorded at all (though no credit is earned). The big benefit to this is that it helps new freshman proverbially get their feet wet at MIT and explore different areas of study without fear of getting poor grades. For the second semester, however, letter grades of 'A', 'B', and 'C' are recorded instead of just 'Pass', though grades lower than a 'C' aren't recorded at all.

I've been chatting with quite a few people on how the second semester is going generally, and one of the things I keep hearing over and over again is that they did really well and got great (hidden) letter grades, so they wish that those grades could be present on their transcript to give them a good starting GPA. At first, I agreed with this, because I also did pretty well even in terms of hidden letter grades in the first semester, if I may say so myself. But now, as I have thought about it more, it makes sense that all freshman students are treated on the same footing. Why?

Well, suppose a group of MIT students applied for an internship, and the internship organization asked for their transcripts. Furthermore, suppose that some of these students got great grades like mostly 'A's and some 'B's, while some of these students got some 'B's and some 'C's. Finally, suppose that 'A's are recorded as 'A's to give the students a good starting GPA, while 'B's and 'C's are simply recorded as 'Pass's. The internship organization will probably compare the transcripts of the applicants and see that the students with 'Pass's didn't get 'A's, or else they would have 'A's recorded just like the students who did actually get 'A's. In such a situation, 'Pass' becomes a placeholder for "I got a 'B' or a 'C', but not an 'A'", at which point there is only marginal benefit to A/Pass/No Record over A/B/C/No Record. And that's why I think it's important that 'A's are still recorded only as 'Pass's. What do you think? Please let me know in the comments below!

On a side note, I am now officially majoring in MIT Course VIII – Physics, and I further plan to pursue the focused option. Yay! I'm excited!

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