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Dropping of GPA grading discussed

By Zhao Yimeng | China Daily | Updated: 2024-01-05 07:43


A pilot reform of the grading system at Peking University and some other institutes of higher education in China has sparked discussion. While a large number of college students favor a relatively vague assessment of their academic achievements rather than precise points, some worry about the impact it might have on their application for further education.

The Peking University's School of Life Sciences has begun a pilot reform to "unbind" students from scores, abandoning the current GPA, or grade point average, ranking system and evaluating students' performances with a letter grade of A, B, C, D or F, according to a release from the university on Wednesday.

As the key indicator of college student assessment in China, GPA is an essential reference when applying for overseas master's programs or domestic postgraduate recommendations. Under high assessment pressure, many students were trapped in unnecessary competition for just a slight increase in exam points.

Wang Shiqiang, former vice-dean of the school, said the reform aims to leave students with more time for improving their abilities by attending more real-world activities. "We assume students have absorbed the knowledge well when they obtain 85 points or higher for a course. It is not necessary to deplete energy to reach 95 points," Wang said.

Students at the school need to grasp knowledge of both life sciences and other subjects such as mathematics and computer sciences, while most of them start to conduct experiments in laboratories early in their school life.

Tang Ping, deputy Party secretary of the school, said students are exhausted from earning a high GPA and barely have time for social practice or courses that interest them.

"Many review exam questions from previous years or even write letters to teachers begging for higher points," Tang said.

About 88 percent of students at the school supported the new five-grade evaluation system, according to a survey conducted before the reform.

"The new grading system is a relief for me and means I can better balance scientific research and schoolwork. No matter if I am pursuing further education at home or abroad, I will have more backup plans for the future," said Ma Qiwei, a student from the school.

College student Chen Jialu's curriculum choices were limited due to fear of a low GPA. "Although it's necessary and I'd love to learn math and physics, I had to choose as few of these courses as possible for a higher GPA. Now I can select courses more freely after the GPA assessment has been canceled," Chen said.

Apart from Peking University, Tsinghua University, East China Normal University and Shanghai-Tech University have also tried the letter-based grading system while some still use a percentile system for grades.

However, as GPA is an essential factor in selecting students in terms of awards, further education overseas and postgraduate recommendation, college students are anxious about the impact of canceling the GPA system.

"Replacing GPA with a letter-grade system is acceptable within the school, but some other schools haven't recognized the grading system and higher institutes abroad only accept GPA," Chen said.

Wang, the former vice-dean, said the school will provide a certificate for students applying for postgraduate studies overseas to explain their new grading system.

"Once the first batch of students successfully receives offers from universities overseas with the new assessment method, students' doubts will be alleviated," Wang said.

Luo Jiayuan, a postgraduate student at Beijing Foreign Studies University, believes college students will still be competitive in the rankings despite the cancellation of GPA.

"GPA is only a part of general assessments when selecting students for awards and recommending them for further education," Luo said.

The general evaluation of students also includes extra points for attending activities on campus and conducting social practices, which students will attach more importance to after the cancellation of GPA assessment.

"Compared with other assessment standards like extra points for attending events, exam scores are more equal," she said.

Fan Xiudi, director of the Education Evaluation Research Center of Tongji University in Shanghai, said she doesn't agree with the comprehensive cancellation of the GPA system.

The positive meaning of replacing accurate scoring with grading evaluation is that students won't be lost in vicious competition to increase a small number of points, but implementing a relatively vague assessment system is not necessarily good for cultivating cutting-edge talent, Fan told Wenhui Daily, a newspaper published by Shanghai United Media Group.

"It's fundamental to build a solid foundation in nurturing exceptional innovative talent. It may not be fastidious for students to fuss about minor points, but rather show a scientific attitude and a spirit of dedicated research," she said.

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