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MIT grading

Some MIT students have trouble adjusting to the freshman year, so the first semester is
pass/no-record, and the second is A/B/C/no-record. After that, any grade you get appears
on your transcript. (After sophomore year, you may take two non-departmental or Institute
requirements P/D/F, which means if you have a C or better, it appears on the transcript as
a pass, otherwise, the grade appears.)

I suppose MIT has done a lot of research on this, so they are able to justify this
policy. However, I'm sure there are quite a few students who have more trouble after
freshman year, e.g. when they hit a time sink/weed-out type of class like Unified
Engineering in the Aero/Astro department. There is something called "sophomore
exploratory" that allows someone to change the status for a class from graded to
listener. It serves to encourage students to try out classes in prospective majors and to
ease them into sophomore year. (I don't remember offhand if this existed while I was a
student there.) However, I wonder if things might be easier if students were allowed to
designate, say, any four classes as pass/no-record, and any four others as
A/B/C/no-record. (Four classes per semester is usually enough to graduate in eight
semesters.) This way, you can apply your "adjustment" wherever it's most needed.

Personally, I would have benefited more from no-record options in my 2nd semester freshman
year and 1st semester sophomore year.

Comments

( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
madcaptenor
Nov. 20th, 2005 02:19 pm (UTC)
They began offering the sophomore exploratory option with the class of '06 (that is, in the 2003-04 academic year) as they were the first class to not have second-semester P/NR.
cellio
Nov. 20th, 2005 06:13 pm (UTC)
That could backfire, though. If a potential employer sees a bunch of "pass"es on a transcript, he's naturally going to assume he's looking at a C student. If you really got As or Bs in most of those classes, but you didn't think you would going in (hence the decision to take the grading option), you lose.

I like the idea of non-required courses having this option. Courses in your major, though, should probably leave a real trail, lest graduates of the school get downgraded regardless of skill.
gregbo
Nov. 20th, 2005 09:51 pm (UTC)
Yeah, but right now if you get As and Bs during first semester freshman year, they don't count towards your transcript GPA, and you're just as hosed. Also, under my policy, you won't likely see any more "pass"es on the transcript than you currently do; you'll just see them at various times during someone's academic program.

It's fairly common at MIT for people to load up on classes during freshman year to satisfy departmental requirements on either the P/NR or ABC/NR options, so there's already a fair amount of information missing from someone's academic trail. With regards to my employers, I guess some use transcripts, but my impression is that most use their own methods of determining whether someone is qualified (such as their own tests at interviews). Besides, if you get less than a C, you have to take the class over again anyway.

My policy isn't so much designed to hide information from people that might need to know it as to ease students' angst.
jessiehl
Jan. 2nd, 2006 10:21 pm (UTC)
Hi...I saw your comment in my journal, so I read a bit of yours and found this.

It was good for me to have first term pass/no record, because the required classes that I took that term were classes that I was awful at, and I would have come out with an A and three Cs. Personally, I've often felt that it would make everyone's lives easier if grading was done on pass/no record in general. I've always been told that most employers don't care what your GPA is anyway, and it would make grad and professional schools focus more on your research, recommendations, demonstrated initiative, statement of purpose, etc. Of course, being an undergrad with a less-than-stellar GPA, I'm biased.

Sophomore exploratory is a wonderful concept. I really think it should be expanded to allow a student to have an exploratory subject every term. It encourages students to take interesting and useful (but non-required) classes without fear.

Come to think of it, I should put some feelers out and see if the admins would be open to expanding it, especially with the new Dean of Undergraduate Education...
gregbo
Jan. 6th, 2006 02:50 am (UTC)
It was good for me to have first term pass/no record, because the required classes that I took that term were classes that I was awful at, and I would have come out with an A and three Cs. Personally, I've often felt that it would make everyone's lives easier if grading was done on pass/no record in general. I've always been told that most employers don't care what your GPA is anyway, and it would make grad and professional schools focus more on your research, recommendations, demonstrated initiative, statement of purpose, etc. Of course, being an undergrad with a less-than-stellar GPA, I'm biased.

Under my policy, you'd get to apply pass/no-record to four classes whenever you wanted, including freshman year.

I don't know about other fields, but in CS, a lot of employers are designing their own tests, rather than using GPA as a screening device. Some still do, however; I've seen a few asking for transcripts and minimum GPAs. Some even have extra stipulations such as "must be from a top-ranked school."

One of the things I don't like about grades is that sometimes they're used as a screening device without taking into account anything that happened after the class. There's no consideration for someone who goes back and brushes up on material they were weak in, thus bringing themselves up to a level of a student with a higher grade. Likewise, someone who never bothered to review the material again could conceivably be weaker than the student who did.

While I wouldn't be critical of anyone who did well academically, I don't think I should assume that no other factors come into play. I don't think there's anything wrong with companies giving their own tests. (I wish they would share the results with the applicants, but that's another issue.)

There may be extenuating circumstances, e.g. a person who's career doesn't have anything to do with something they studied. For example, I did really well in linear algebra, but I haven't used it in over ten years, and have forgotten nearly all of it. If a company needs a person whose skills aren't up-to-date in linear algebra, I probably shouldn't get the job. However it is frustrating to be in that position.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )