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Plus/minus system punishes ‘A’ students

tgwinford@bellsouth.net

 

Picture this: Student A has a class, required by her major, for which she spends an excessive amount of time working. Hours of homework here. Cram session here, cram session there. After all of the work she put into this class, she finishes with a 93.

That, my friend, is a very good grade. The only problem is that her final letter grade has a little minus sign next to it. That minus sign means the difference between a 4.0 and a 3.7 for the hours involved with that class.

Suddenly, her immense effort is worth a lot less.

For many students, it will not be hard to picture this scenario at the end of the semester.

Let us flip this hypothetical situation: Student B has a class, not required by his major, to which he does not devote the proper amount of time. Putting off homework here. Skipping class here, skipping class there. At the end of the semester, he finishes with a 78.

That, my friend, is an average grade. The good thing, though, is that his final letter grade has a little plus sign beside it. That plus sign means the difference between a 2.0 and a 2.3 for the hours involved with that class.

Suddenly, his lack of effort is worth a lot more.

For many students, it will not be hard to picture this scenario at the end of the semester, either.

Let us now analyze the effects of these two situations.

Student A, who put in much more effort than Student B, saw her GPA decrease by .3, while Student B saw his GPA increase by .3.

In a plus/minus system, average students see a benefit while excellent students see a punishment.

Obviously, there is little room for error when it comes to getting a grade. On a 33-question test, missing one question versus two questions is the difference between an ‘A’ and an ‘A-.’ On that same 33-question test, missing 11 questions versus 10 questions is the difference between a ‘C’ and a ‘C+.’ Which student are we trying to help here? Should the student who missed just a few questions be hurt relative to a student who missed a double-digit amount of questions?

Also, a student who finishes with a 98, which is nearly impossible in most courses, receives no benefit. There is no such thing as an ‘A+.’ No student can earn a 4.3. 

Under the plus/minus system, it is easily possible for Student C to finish every class through her undergraduate career with a 90 or above, yet she might graduate with a 3.7 GPA. When competing for jobs or graduate school placement upon graduation, that 3.7 can be very misleading. Anything less than a 4.0 suggests that Student C earned grades lower than an ‘A’ at some point.

If Student D takes five three-hour courses each semester for four years, he will finish with 120 credit hours, or 40 classes. On a normal 10-point scale, Student D will have to finish with an ‘A’ in 28 classes and a ‘B’ in 12 classes in order to graduate with a 3.7.

Compare the GPAs of Students C and D. Both have a 3.7. However, Student C finished with a 90 or above in all 40 of her classes in a plus/minus system. Meanwhile, Student D finished with a 90 or above in 28 of his 40 classes in a standard system. Obviously, Student C should have a better GPA, which she would in the standard system.

Ultimately, the plus/minus system helps ‘C+’ students, punishes ‘A-’ students and does nothing for ‘A+’ students.  

Houston, we have a problem. It appears our priorities are faulty.

Trenton Winford is a sophomore public policy leadership major from Madison.