As I look back, I don’t consider myself to be a decent school student. I often avoided homework and put minimal effort into my schoolwork to avoid punishment. Anyone else would have been punished by my school rules for less than that, however, I always got away with it because I did fairly well in my exams. In other words, I was an ‘A’ grade student even though I put in bare minimum effort.
During my time at school and high school, results were displayed as percentage and not as grades. Now, the education system is on the road of revolution and the grading system has been deployed in school level, high school level and most university level courses. The grading system is believed to be superior to the classical percentage system.
The grading system can alleviate some of the pressure and anxiety associated with the percentage system. In the percentage system, students are often focused on achieving the highest possible scores, as even a slight decrease in percentage can significantly impact their overall performance. In contrast, the grading system allows students to focus on their overall performance in all of the subjects and there is less pressure to score the highest possible points in the exam. This can lead to a healthier learning environment and a more balanced approach to education.
Is the current education system in Nepal fully aligned with the objectives of the grading system? Is relieving pressure from students and making them focus on all possible subjects all the grading system is about? It certainly isn’t.
The news was massive when the percentage system of SLC (now SEE) was changed to GPA system. Many people misunderstood the real meaning of GPA and simply multiplied it by 25 to convert the GPA to percentage. There were numerous articles in the media explaining that GPA cannot be converted to percentage but the other way around is possible. However, merely converting the percentage to GPA is not what the grading system is about. Apart from encouraging students to focus on all the coursework, the grading system has to be more comprehensive rather than just taking into account the outcome of a single exam.
The grading system should take into account multiple factors beyond just exam scores. It should consider various aspects of a student's performance, such as class participation, assignments, projects, and other assessments throughout the academic term. This holistic evaluation provides a more comprehensive view of a student's abilities, strengths, and weaknesses compared to the percentage system, which primarily focuses on exam performance alone. Well, the grading system hasn’t been implemented in this way, just yet. Just over a year ago, the schools were instructed to consider 50% of final grades from exams and 50% from yearly performance evaluated through assignments, project work and group projects. But, I would assume this has rarely been implemented in most schools. While I was a teacher back in Nepal, I tried to abide by this system and tracked the performance of most of the students, noted their progress, encouraged them to participate in the class and gave the grade they deserved after due consideration. But, this required more effort compared to the classic evaluation system.
If a student scored an overall A grade when they graduate in Nepal, what does that mean? It means that they did a good job understanding the course content and did well to put that on the paper. What does it say about the overall attribute of the student? Are they good in class participation? Did they work well to do all the homework assigned to them? Do they work well as a team? Do they have good presentation skills? Were they willing to do any extra work related to the subject? All these questions are probably unanswered.
I want to give an example of two courses that I had to attend for my Master’s Degree, in the USA, during the first semester. I will be talking about how the exams were and how the final grades were calculated.
The first course consisted of four exams and interestingly, for me, the exams were taken from home and we had more than a week to finish it. The questions were open-ended, and one had to go over different articles to answer the questions. The exam demanded effort rather than knowledge that made it superior to classical exams where the capacity of students to remember the content would be tested.
The exams only accounted for 40% of the final grade we received. The rest 60% came from presentations, post presentation discussion, scientific article review, designing info-graphs, weekly assignments and participation.
The second course I took had five exams taken in class. We were allowed to take a page of a help sheet. The help sheet made it sound like the exam would be easy but it turned out the help sheet would be useless if I had no context of the subject matter. The help sheet would help to fill my answers with specific details because the questions were highly conceptual and needed a story to be built rather than merely asking straightforward questions.
The exam covered 50% for the grade while presentations, peer reviewing and participation consisted of the other 50%.
Upon inquiries with some of my friends who are studying in other universities within the USA, I found the grading system of these two classes represented the grading system of many universities in the USA. Moreover, some professors seem to make the last exam of the course optional, i.e. if you have done pretty well in other exams and have done the required homework, it is not mandatory for you to take the final exam. The final grade accounts for not only efforts in the exam but the work one puts throughout the semester. You could have one or two dreadful exams but you could still end up getting an A if you just show the effort in the class. Also, I have to mention that the exams feel more logical than classical exams. This is very different from the system in Nepal where one could show no visible work in an entire academic session but ace the exam and end up with an A.
The meaning of A
The meaning of A is different in the education system in Nepal compared to universities elsewhere. If a student ends up getting an A in Nepal, it means they have good knowledge of the subject matter. However, consistency, punctuality, presentation skills and discussion skills are unaccounted for. The grading system still only fulfills its objective if all these factors are accounted for.
Where does the Nepali education system actually stand? Is it where exam marks are simply converted to grade or does grade include all the above-mentioned factors? I would say midway. While some universities in Nepal tend to allocate a certain percentage for the final grade on the basis of a student's dedication throughout the semester (or year), the students who achieve more in exams usually get high points in that category.
Was I an A-Grade student in school?
If the grades were calculated the way it should have been, I wasn’t. I did well in exams but my efforts throughout my school life was least possible to not get me in trouble. I seldom completed my assignments, unless the teacher was strict and all the project work was just par to get me over the line. However, I was lucky to grasp the concepts of the class quicker than most. That helped me get good grades in exams with a lot less study hours.
Would I be an A-grade student if the grade considered all the elements I have been mentioning? Yes I would. My efforts would have been different if my assignments, project works and overall class presence was considered in the final grade. This is because I still consider myself as an academic student who would do his best to get an A. This would have changed the way I presented myself as a student. The habit of being consistent would come handy in jobs as they are more about experience and dedication rather than just knowledge.
What has changed now?
The education system in the USA has changed my approach a lot. Courses demand students to put in effort throughout the semester. As a Master’s student, my grade would probably matter for me to be shortlisted as a job candidate or candidate for further studies. The ‘A’ in my transcript now might not tell that I am someone with vast knowledge of the subject but it shows that I can be trusted with responsibilities and I would put constant effort to meet any deadlines in the job.
While an individual exam may not determine one’s future, consistent effort throughout an academic program can have a significant impact