The arbitrary meaning of A

A standardized grading system does not exist among Canadian universities. Nor does one spanning faculties–or even departments–exist at the University of Calgary. Standardization does not even exist within a department or subject at the U of C. The percentage required to earn an A in one class is often completely different from that of another class. The choice of what percentage constitutes what letter grade falls to individual professors–an unwise decision on the university’s part.

Because grades are critical to a post-secondary student’s success, it seems incomprehensible that grades are manipulated the way they are. Grades are essential for scholarships, entry into various programs and transfers to other universities. Marks are the be-all, end-all for many students as they are a permanent mark on each student’s academic record.

Every student knows that course outlines at the U of C contain a scale indicating what letter grade corresponds to each range of percentage grades. For the majority of classes, this rubric varies; it may be slightly or significantly different from one class to the next. In many classes, students are assigned letter grades based on a percentage scale for an entire semester. This letter grade is arbitrary, and without inquiry, a student may never know the exact percentage he or she actually received in the course.

As a transfer student, I have first- hand knowledge of the discrepancy between different grading systems. At my former university, grades were given as percentages. When my marks were transferred, I was given an A by the U of C for every class in which I received a mark of 80 or greater. However, the majority of U of C instructors reserve A grades only for percentages above 90. If university administration doles out letter grades according to a specific rubric, instructors should be tied to the same system.

It is essential that universities across Canada address this issue. It would be far simpler to transfer to other universities and apply for scholarships if a common grading system existed. Instead, transcripts contain grades requiring an extensive handbook to decipher what an A really means. The most straightforward and meaningful grading system would be a simple percentage, which could, in turn, be understood globally. It is time for the U of C to abandon the outdated letter grade/4.0 GPA system and to adopt a universal one to minimize confusion. As in Occam’s Razor, the simplest way is the best way.

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