## How to describe the grading system

• This has become our largest and most active forum because the physics GRE is just one aspect of getting accepted into a graduate physics program.
• There are applications, personal statements, letters of recommendation, visiting schools, anxiety of waiting for acceptances, deciding between schools, finding out where others are going, etc.

huyichen
Posts: 17
Joined: Sat Oct 22, 2011 7:28 pm

### How to describe the grading system

So, in the application for MIT, it asks you to describe the grading system of your college. My college uses the standard 4.0 grading system, so A+=A=4.00, A-=3.67, B+=3.33, etc. How should I describe this grading system more formally?

midwestphysics
Posts: 444
Joined: Thu Dec 16, 2010 12:37 am

### Re: How to describe the grading system

huyichen wrote:So, in the application for MIT, it asks you to describe the grading system of your college. My college uses the standard 4.0 grading system, so A+=A=4.00, A-=3.67, B+=3.33, etc. How should I describe this grading system more formally?

Well, for one saying A's and B's equal this and that means nothing. Different schools have different percentages that convert into letter grades and that's what they're interested in. The 4 point system is standard, but the way that your school determines how your work translates isn't. For instance, at my undergrad we never used letter grades because it's pointless. A 4.0=96%, 2.0=70% and so on and so forth. However, I know other schools where a 90%+ or 93%+ meant 4.0, and even 60% or 65% was a 2.0. That's what they want to know, how well did you need to do to earn a 4.0.

huyichen
Posts: 17
Joined: Sat Oct 22, 2011 7:28 pm

### Re: How to describe the grading system

I have checked my official transcript, there is nothing about what percentage does each letter grade stand for. So, what should I say in that section?

midwestphysics
Posts: 444
Joined: Thu Dec 16, 2010 12:37 am

### Re: How to describe the grading system

huyichen wrote:I have checked my official transcript, there is nothing about what percentage does each letter grade stand for. So, what should I say in that section?

Of course it's not on your transcript, which is why they ask you to explain it. What constitutes a 4.0, 3.0.... at your school, in a way they can understand it like percentages.

grae313
Posts: 2297
Joined: Tue May 29, 2007 8:46 pm

### Re: How to describe the grading system

I thought this always varies from class to class? A hard test could have an average of 30%, that doesn't mean everyone should fail the class. Do you mean percentile rather than percent?

I'm not sure this is what the application means... the 4.0 scale is not standard across the world and they may just be giving people an option to explain any different or unusual grading systems. I would just call them up and ask.

midwestphysics
Posts: 444
Joined: Thu Dec 16, 2010 12:37 am

### Re: How to describe the grading system

grae313 wrote:I thought this always varies from class to class? A hard test could have an average of 30%, that doesn't mean everyone should fail the class. Do you mean percentile rather than percent?

I'm not sure this is what the application means... the 4.0 scale is not standard across the world and they may just be giving people an option to explain any different or unusual grading systems. I would just call them up and ask.

Maybe my system was just unforgiving compared to most, but if a class had an average of 30% on a test they either needed to have done well on the previous exams or the upcoming ones because my profs lost no sleep failing people. I always thought they had crazy standards too, but it is what it is.

grae313
Posts: 2297
Joined: Tue May 29, 2007 8:46 pm

### Re: How to describe the grading system

Mine had no problems failing people either, it's just very difficult to write test after test across every single class and subject where the difficulty is perfectly normalized such that the standard for a certain grade is always equivalent to the same score on the test. I had very few classes that didn't apply some adjustment factor to the raw grade distribution to go from percentage to letter grades.

Grades as scoring percentages are essentially meaningless to outside evaluators because they don't know how difficult the tests or assignments were. More typically, grades are used to show where you are relative to the rest of your class. "A" means, perhaps, that you were in the top 10% of your class. Outside observers can more easily make conclusions about what it means to be in the top x% relative to your peers than what it means to score x% on a test of essentially arbitrary difficulty...

But even that is not standardized across most universities. Schools don't force the grade distribution into a Bell Curve -- they leave it up to each instructor to determine what level of knowledge constitutes which letter grade. I honestly think MIT is just asking if there is anything special or different they should know about the grading system in cases of other countries or unusual schools. The standard 4.0 scale doesn't have any meaning in terms of percentages at most schools (which is why we have the PGRE).

midwestphysics
Posts: 444
Joined: Thu Dec 16, 2010 12:37 am

### Re: How to describe the grading system

grae313 wrote:Mine had no problems failing people either, it's just very difficult to write test after test across every single class and subject where the difficulty is perfectly normalized such that the standard for a certain grade is always equivalent to the same score on the test. I had very few classes that didn't apply some adjustment factor to the raw grade distribution to go from percentage to letter grades.

Grades as scoring percentages are essentially meaningless to outside evaluators because they don't know how difficult the tests or assignments were. More typically, grades are used to show where you are relative to the rest of your class. "A" means, perhaps, that you were in the top 10% of your class. Outside observers can more easily make conclusions about what it means to be in the top x% relative to your peers than what it means to score x% on a test of essentially arbitrary difficulty...

But even that is not standardized across most universities. Schools don't force the grade distribution into a Bell Curve -- they leave it up to each instructor to determine what level of knowledge constitutes which letter grade. I honestly think MIT is just asking if there is anything special or different they should know about the grading system in cases of other countries or unusual schools. The standard 4.0 scale doesn't have any meaning in terms of percentages at most schools (which is why we have the PGRE).

I see where you're coming from and you may very well be right, huyichen should just ask MIT to be safe and sure. In fact he should definitely do that because we're pointing out exactly how these things vary. Also, I was always told that rec's should address this too. There are obviously differences. Two are clearly shown here, where one is built around the curve relative to your performance compared to your peers and another built entirely around the material taught without recognition of peer performance. Again, this is why it is good to have your rec address anything like this that you feel should be cleared up. For instance in my E&M class I got a 3.3 and that was the highest grade, that definitely needs to be mentioned.... As to the adjustments profs make, I agree they do happen but like grading they vary. The adjustments we had were built into the weight of exams. Cumulative finals always carried a lot of weight, that was because profs would look at exams and see patterns in the questions. If there was a certain question nearly everyone got right a similar one wasn't on the final, but if there was one that everyone seemed to miss a variation of that certainly was. It was sort of like a second chance to prove you knew what you were doing, and it helped that you realized this ahead of time and could prepare for those questions..... Needless to say our attrition rate was horrible, but the math department was even worse. A lot of us hated how unforgiving it all seemed to be.

huyichen
Posts: 17
Joined: Sat Oct 22, 2011 7:28 pm

### Re: How to describe the grading system

I will just call them up and ask.

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