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May 20, 2004
 Student View

 


Making the grade

Katie Norman
Katie Norman

University and a person’s achievements there are made concrete through an academic transcript. The reality of such a document makes students constantly aware of the bottom-line: the grades you receive will remain on your transcript. With no section for professors to add comments, transcripts may seem to be insufficient to summarize a person’s achievements. There is no room for extracurricular activities or work experience. Since this is the case, many graduate schools require students to submit personal statements or resumés to supplement their report card. However, marks remain a major factor in trying to get into any graduate program.

With an economy that demands educated employees, students today feel the need to keep going with their education. Thirty years ago an undergraduate degree was much rarer than it is today. The combination of the necessity to succeed and the heavy weighting graduate schools place on undergraduate work creates a very important role for the grade point average system.

Students should be aware that their GPA is not a permanent number that they can carry with them to all other universities

The grade point average (GPA) system is an unknown territory for many first-year undergraduate students, whose past experiences with marking revolve around the alphabetical grades and “great” stamps. Honestly, I first thought the GPA system was a way to simplify normal per cent grades. This supposed standardization of grades, however, is often very confusing and misleading.

People make many comments about unfairness in marking: “This professor marks much harder than that professor and that’s why I got a 60,” or, oppositely, “I took his/her class because they mark so easy.” Perhaps there is some variance between professors in the same discipline and course, but finding a way to restrict the judgement of professors so that every class is the same seems entirely contradictory to the essence of higher learning and the independence and individuality it breeds. This is not to say that a paper should be given an “A” by one professor and a “C” by another. There must be compromise. No matter what people say about unfairness, the professor’s name never appears on your official transcript so their “legendary” reputation as the hardest marker in the department will not help justify your barely passing grade.

Standardization is a problem, but not in the way that the above case shows. Little can be done to ensure that every mark given in English 1080 (or Math 1000 or whatever course is in question) is marked exactly the same. My problem with the GPA system is its inability to create a standardized system across universities. Many students I have spoken with assume that their GPA is the same all across Canada and the world. The truth is that if I went to the University of Toronto or Columbia University in New York my GPA would be very different. The difference I am talking about is the relationship between percent grades and GPA points. A 77 at Memorial gets you a “3,” while at many other Canadian universities it would be a “3.3”. This means that a student who consistently gets high 70s would have a higher GPA than their transcript at Memorial says. Another student who gets many low 80s would see those marks drop from a “4” to a “3.7” at other Canadian schools. Many American schools have an even less kind system for Canadian students assigning only a “2.67” to an 80.

I am not asking for every university to change their system to assimilate into a unified marking scheme, however all students should be aware that their GPA is not a permanent number that they can carry with them to all other universities. Whether American schools compensate for the differences in marking in Canadian universities remains to be known, and in all likelihood it varies from school to school. The most important thing for all students to do is contact the schools they are considering for graduate school and specifically inquire about the conversion. It is also unclear as to whether professors at Memorial cap grades in the 80s because they give students a “4” which is full credit for excellent performance; perhaps when the GPA system is tougher the per cent marks are easier. Students and professors should be aware that the GPA system is not as concrete as many people suggest. This can all be avoided by choosing Memorial as your graduate school of choice.


 


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