B plus or minus? B plus or minus what?

Some of your classes run on a plus/minus scale, but some just give out standard letter grades. In a way, this adds or subtracts a new level of stress by the time finals come around. In some of your classes, you only have to worry about getting a certain score on your final to get the A, B, or C that you want. In others, you have to do a fair bit better to get that plus or to avoid that minus. Are you a proponent for standardization? You are? Well you’re in luck, because now the school is working toward standardizing the grading system for all classes. This means either all classes will be on the plus/minus scale or none will.

The good thing about the plus/minus system is that is rewards you for extra work. Without it, it doesn’t matter if you get an 89% and your friend gets an 80%—you will both get B’s in the end. But with the scale, now you get a B+ and he gets a B-, showing that you were clearly superior in the mastery of the class. One point for self-confidence!

Unfortunately, this isn’t always a good thing (of course it isn’t). In the end, these letters are converted into grade points (GP), which actually go into your GPA:
GPA= ∑(Class hours * GP)/Total hours.

The current scale is as follows:
Percentage Letter GP:
93-100 A: 4.0
90-92 A-: 3.7
87-89 B+: 3.3
83-86 B: 3.0
80-82 B-: 2.7

The problem with this is if you score in the lower percentile and receive a minus. You are penalized with a grade point value seemingly equivalent to a lower grade. For example, if any of you have received an A- and it’s your only class, your GPA is now 3.7. You could have straight A’s, but if any of them are an A-, you will not have a 4.0 GPA. And to make things worse, you cannot receive an A+ for your extra effort, so, like, what’s the point? (The whole “focus education around GPA” thing is another discussion. I won’t go there.)

Some professors say, “I can’t give you an A+, so I won’t give you an A-” and will just ignore the plus/minus system. Others, I hear, will only give out standard grades and pluses because, “students only ever ask me to bump their grade if it’s a minus, never if it’s a plus.” That last one was a word-of-mouth quotation, so while it’s not mine, I don’t know who originally said it. Some ChemE professor, I think, according to my roommate.

So what do we do? If I’m not mistaken, a lot of us want to be rewarded for our extra work, but simultaneously fear getting that dreaded minus. My proposition? Redefine grade points. Well, the percentage range, at least. Two years ago I took a circuits class, EENG 282, with Prof. Ravel Ammerman and he did things slightly different.

Percent Letter GP:
90-100 A: 4.0
87-89 A-: 3.7
83-86 B+: 3.3
80-82 B: 3.0
77-79 B-: 2.7

See anything different? Now the grade points line up with your percentage (3._ for 8_%, etc.). I felt really good in that class (i.e. much less stressed) because I knew the percentage grade I receive would be (what I believe to be) properly reflected in my GPA.

Now, I say this is how it “should” be, only on the notation that A’s are associated with the top tenth percentile, B’s the next tenth and so on. Maybe you have a different perception about the translation between percentage and GP. Maybe you think we should overhaul the whole grading system and pass/fail based on a new assessment. Don’t ask, I’m not the one proposing to overhaul a well-grounded, archaic system of assessing progress.

Educational reform talks aside, I would be all for a standard, plus/minus grading system if all professors based their grading on Prof. Ammerman’s (and I assume some others’) grading scale.


Hey, all! If you're reading about me, you are probably thinking, "who the heck is this guy and why is he writing in my newspaper?" Though probably not in those exact words. Well, as you probably know, my name is Braden Egtvedt. As you probably don't know, I am a graduate student in Electrical Engineering here at Mines. I am also a Staff Writer for the Opinion section. You will mostly be seeing my name on satirical articles, particularly the horoscopes by Bob the Astrologer.

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