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When an ‘A’ might not really be an ‘A’

Photo: Lauren Horsch

Maintaining your GPA can be tough. Papers, tests, projects, labs — the workload can sometimes feel like it’s never-ending.

But you sigh in relief when final grades are posted and you discover that you just made the cutoff for an ‘A’ with a 90 percent, which gives you a 4.0 on Drake University’s grading scale.

Unlike many other colleges, Drake, with the exception of the Law School, doesn’t use a plus-minus grading scale for its students.

Student Records Analyst, Nancy Geiger said the graduate, undergraduate and pharmacy programs have been without the plus-minus system since the 1950s.

If a plus-minus grading scale was in place, a 90 percent would be an ‘A-‘ and a 3.7 GPA.

Some students find it strange and frustrating that a 100 percent and a 90 percent are weighted the same, while other students feel that this system is overall easier and less stressful.

“I prefer Drake’s grading system. Master’s programs require certain GPAs, and if there isn’t a plus-minus system then it’s easier to get a high GPA,” said junior actuarial science and finance double major, Earl Hall. “The only situation I can see it being good for is if you get a ‘C+’ or a ‘B+’ because it’ll boost your GPA.”

Sophomore health science major Alex Wagner also prefers Drake’s grading system, but says that whether or not Drake’s system has more benefits depends on the student’s situation.

“I think it depends on what situation you are in,” says Wagner. “If you get a ‘B-’, you are obviously going to want Drake’s grading system.

With Drake’s grading system there is a better opportunity for students who frequently just make the percentage cutoff for a letter grade to get a better GPA.

“Kids aren’t as pressured or stressed out,” said Hall. “With a plus-minus system kids will argue every last percentage point of their grade.”

Another negative of the plus-minus system is that it “reduces the ability of students to branch out and take a risk,” said Geiger.

Geiger is afraid that if a plus-minus system were in place, students wouldn’t want to take classes that they’ve heard are challenging.

But there are some positives to a plus-minus system, depending on your major or what program you are in.

“I think it could be a good thing because you would have to work harder to get a higher GPA, so you would be forced into having to learn the material more,” said first-year pre-pharmacy major Pamela Sanford.

According to Geiger, Drake’s Law School implements a plus-minus system because they are highly competitive and rank their students based off of their GPA.

There has been some talk about whether or not the pharmacy and business schools should also implement a plus-minus system.

“For pharmacy, they look at your math and science GPA apart from your overall GPA, so everyone is working hard to keep their GPA up, especially in the math and science classes,” said Sanford.

“It makes pharmacy more competitive because you have to compete to get into the program,” Laura Zbinden, a first-year international business major said.

When it comes to the College of Business and Public Administration, Associate Dean Chip Miller said that having a plus-minus system wouldn’t have much impact on the business students because GPA doesn’t matter much unless you are trying to get into a graduate program.

Employers are “more concerned about how well you can do things,” said Miller, while explaining that application is ultimately more important than grades. “They are aware that tests make up a portion of the grade, and some students don’t test well.”

However, he explains that a plus-minus system would be advantageous when writing letters of recommendation for students because it would help better distinguish which students have consistently done the best work.


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