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Pros and Cons of Pass/Fail College Course

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Authored by Douglas Mefford in College Education
Published on 12-18-2009

The concept of rating college courses rather than grading them has a long and checkered history. The debate about whether a Pass/Fail College course is better than the traditional 4-point grading system has been recently renewed. A number of top-ranked Universities and Colleges are reintroducing the Pass/Fail system on elective and non-major classes.

The major complaint about the Pass/Fail system for college courses is that many educators feel it leads to the student not applying himself or herself to the work as diligently as they might otherwise do. Some studies do show a drop in student interest when the competitive grading system is removed. Students on the other hand feel the Pass/Fail system allows them to concentrate on favored topics while not becoming academically depressed in subjects they do not excel in. Also, a Pass/Fail ranking is not an option for college courses that are required or needed to fulfill the requirements for a Major.

One of the major concepts behind the 4-Point Grading System is the public exhibition of performance; a competition to achieve the highest possible grade. This grading system does provide a more stratified modifier on the passing grade levels. It can indicate the difference between a student that excels and one who merely manages to keep from failing the course. This lack of distinguishing between outstanding and ordinary students is why the Pass/Fail system is not universally used for indicating students’ academic achievements.

Pass/Fail ratings are handled differently than grade points. Where the 4-Point system is used to determine one’s Grade Point Average (GPA), Pass/Fail is usually only partially calculated in a student’s overall scoring. A Pass grade, while being registered as a passing grade on the student transcript, is not used to calculate into the cumulative GPA. A Fail grade does, however, affect your GPA. They are generally entered as a 0.0 when calculating the average. This is regardless of whether you barely failed or if you made no appreciable effort in the course.

Even among proponents of the Pass/Fail system in college, they recognize that the 4-Point grading system is needful on the high school level. This helps monitor the effectiveness of the education the student is receiving and creates the GPA that helps determine scholarships and loans. In college the main focus of your education should be on career training. Having to maintain a high GPA is not as critical for placement. Regardless of the system used, the bottom line when job hunting is whether or not you have the degree, not what your GPA was.

Since there are good uses for both systems, there will always be a place for their use in the world of academics. The Pass/Fail system tends to be more popular with students as it removes some of the pressure to donate excessive time to less important subjects. Education professionals still have a higher tendency to want the 4-point system to encourage that same drive in any course taken whether it is applied to the Major requirements or not.

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