Pros and Cons of Using a Plus-Minus Grading System Essay

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Student and Faculty Views of Plus-Minus Grading Systems
Working Paper Series—07-11 | December 2007

Jim Morgan
(928) 523-7385

Gary Tallman Robert Williams

All professors at:

Northern Arizona University The W. A. Franke College of Business
PO Box 15066 Flagstaff, AZ 86011.5066

Student and Faculty Views of Plus-Minus Grading Systems
Introduction Many colleges and universities have adopted or are considering adopting a grading system that provides a larger number of marking choices than the A through F whole-letter system. This usually takes the form of a plus-minus (+/-) grading system in one version or another. While a variety of reasons have been put forth for the move to +/- grades, a key motivation
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Note that about one third of the schools continue to use whole-letter only grading systems. Among public schools, 30 of 71 (42.5 percent) use only whole-letter grading. Plus-minus grading systems are clearly the most prevalent type of grading system among this group of schools. To clarify the notation used below, the A+ to C+ system would use the grades A+, A, A-, B+, B, B-, C+, C , D, F, while an A+ to D- system would use A+, A, A-, B+, B, B-, C+, C, C-, D+, D, D-, F and so on. The plus or minus typically raises (lowers) the grade by .3 or .33 grade points. As the table indicates, many schools

do not allow pluses and minuses across their full range of grades. The grade of A+ creates the possibility of a GPA greater than 4.0 and, probably for this reason; only 9 of the 60 schools with a +/- system include an A+. Four of the 9 schools using the A+ resolve the GPA problem by recording the A+ as a 4.0 when calculating GPAs, so that the A+ becomes just a notation on individual course grades. Schools also differ with respect to the bottom of the +/- range. Most frequently, pluses and minuses are used all the way down through the D-, however, due to issues relating to transfer grades and determining the grade required for satisfying prerequisites, a number of schools terminate the use of pluses and minuses with the D+ (they do
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