It’s Time to Take a ‘Pass’ at a Better Grading System



The letter-grading system prevents students from escaping the high expectations maintain a high academic standard rather than exploring their identities through adolescence.

Coming from a city like Irvine that places a lot of emphasis on academic achievement, students often fill their schedules exclusively with rigorous honors and AP courses. So, it is not a surprise that there is always pressure to do well in school.

However, this experience raises an important lesson: one’s self-worth should not be determined by grades. Instead of focusing on their passions and future career opportunities, high-achieving students are constantly told to pursue the best possible grades. 

When students define their positive traits as “being smart” or “getting perfect grades,” getting a few Bs can quickly lead to lost confidence and motivation. 

By implementing a permanent, but optional, pass/fail grading system into standard curricula, students can opt into using this system at the beginning of the year or semester, ensuring their focus on mastering subjects they truly enjoy. 

In a recent study conducted by Colgate University, 67% of high school students said they feel that a majority of their self-worth and future are solely dependent on their grades and course loads. Those who were in their junior year of high school were most likely to express feelings of immense disappointment upon receiving a grade below B-.  

“I feel like grades are definitely only a measurement of your achievement in one course or one specific topic,” junior Eric Hsiao said. “It’s not an overarching measurement of your personal skills or your achievements in other aspects of life and is not the entire landscape or picture of what you’re doing in class.”

The pressure to get straight As in every rigorous course is simply too high of an expectation for most students who wish to maintain an adequate personal life. Additionally, this pressure may dissuade students from taking more rigorous classes they are interested in out of the fear of getting a poor grade.

“A lot of students forget that grades are just a small part of your academic life,” science teacher Michael Tang said. “I know many cases where students that had excellent academic records did extremely poorly [in their career] while those with mediocre records succeeded and in fact surpassed their high-achieving counterparts.” 

For most students, the answer to getting better grades is not simply to “work harder.” What students fail to recognize is that all this “try-hard” attitude does is foster resentment toward learning, according to the LA Times. In fact, it is more important for students to put energy into the subjects that they want to pursue as a career, not just for a specific letter.

While it is true that spending a lot of time hammering away at a subject does result in higher scores, it is not always proportional to those who understand and enjoy the course or subject.

Through the addition of a permanent pass/fail grading option available for students, the pressure for students to score well in every single subject, especially ones that they are not particularly strong in or passionate about, will be relieved. Additionally, students will no longer be dissuaded from taking more challenging courses they are interested in out of the fear of not scoring well.

For example, the advantages of a pass/fail system include the fact that students perceive less pressure because they are not actively against their peers and instead focus on comprehending and using the information they learned, according to the LA Times. Additionally, according to a comparative study published on PubMed, there is no significant difference in information retention between students in a pass/fail and letter grading system, but students in a pass/fail system were less stressed overall. 

By allowing students to select which classes they would like to have the pass/fail system while making sure that at least two core classes still are maintained as letter grades. This allows for students who are applying for top colleges a chance to only have letter grades to better their chances at admission. But also, students who are struggling academically in a certain subject can choose the pass/fail system to lessen their academic stress.

Honors and AP classes will not be considered weighted in the pass/fail system as the student’s GPA is unaffected by their classes in this system

GPA is solely a small snapshot of who a person is. Rather, one’s experiences and skills in life are much more beneficial to both careers and life in general. There is so much more to life than just a number.