Concept of Semesters and letter grading made easy


Nikita Tripathi

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With most universities in Nepal following the semester and Grade Point Average (GPA) system for Bachelor level onwards, it’s confusing for students who have been graded on the percentage basis throughout school, in SLC and Plus 2.
The idea of credit hours per semester and three internal tests before a final exam every six month is a new concept for students who have been used to studying the same course the whole year. 
Dr Pradip P Upadhyay, Principal of Camad College, Sukedhara (affiliated with Pokhara University), says, “We give orientations to new students but it takes at least two to three months for them to adjust to the idea of a six-month semester. They are used to studying the same course for a year but at the Bachelors level, the course is heavy and as soon as they join the college, we give them assignments because credit hours requirements have to be met.”
In Nepal, there are two systems of letter grading method, depending on the universities. Absolute grading is influenced by American teaching standard while relative grading is more European.
Absolute Grading System
Absolute grading follows the system of predetermined criterion or performance levels. In Nepal, Kathmandu University (KU), a few Departments of Tribhuvan University (TU), and Purbanchal University follow the absolute grading system.
Accordingly, a score of 80% and above is considered an A, 70% and above is B, 50% and above is C and 40% and above is D.
KU recognized the drawback of absolute grading system which allows students who score maximum percentile and minimum percentile to earn the same grading, for example a student who gets 90% and the other who gets 80%, both score an A when it’s converted into letter grading as per the set standard.
In 2009, KU started absolute grading by breaking down performance levels by 5% which initially was set on the 10% basis. The current structure of absolute grading system looks like this:
A =80
A- = 75
B+ = 70
B =60
B- = 55
C = 50
C- = 45
D = 40
Only the Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) program under Tribhuvan University follows the semester and GPA system while all the other faculties are graded on the percentage basis.
Purbanchal University has been following the absolute grading system in which students are evaluated against the absolute scale of 10% basis but the University has been considering breaking down the structure into 5%, as done by KU.
Relative Grading System
Relative grading or curve method grades students in relation to one another and instead of a fixed range of scores largely depends on the number of passing students. For example, if in a class the highest percentile scored is 60%, students who have scored 60% are awarded an A and grades are categorized accordingly.
Unlike absolute grading method, ranges for each letter grading keeps fluctuating, depending on the number of passing students and the range of highest and lowest marks obtained.
Pokhara University (PU) follows the relative system of grading at both Bachelors and Masters Level.
Credit Hours
A course credit or credit hour/s is a time requirement for the completion of an academic course within a semester.
For example, in a period of six months or a semester, there are a minimum four months of classes. Students are supposed to complete their assigned course within that period of 16 weeks (four months). Credit hours are calculated on weekly basis; that is, the unit of credit hours is the number of class hours per week required to complete the course.
A subject of three credit hours means that in a week, there has to be three hours of class for the respective subject.
Cumulative Grade Point Average (CGPA) for each subject depends on the credit hours allocated for the respective subject.
GPA and letter grading system are internationally accepted. With more and more students opting for A levels and The International Baccalaureate (IB) program, percentage system of grading has been limited to school, SLC and Plus 2 level.
Students applying abroad are often confused about converting their percentage into GPA and with so many changes taking place in the educational curriculum, starting letter grading from the school level would be feasible.
This proposal was introduced in the Study on Student Performance in SLC (2005) carried out by the SLC Study Team with Saurav Dev Bhatta. Out of many determinants of student performance in the SLC examinations, the traditional marking system is also a factor.
“The percentile system of marking has loopholes. If we could introduce standard deviation letter grading system from primary levels, students with passing grades could be promoted, and opportunities of technical, vocational or more employable study program could be provided for students who fail,” said CEO of Himalayan White House College (affiliated with Purbanchal University) Yubaraj Sharma.
Kripam Shrestha, a 3rd year student of Architecture and Engineering at Pulchowk Campus (TU-affiliated), says, “With the introduction of letter grading system, we can get accustomed to foreign standard of teaching and evaluation because ultimately students opt to pursue their graduate study program abroad.”
When asked if he would prefer absolute or relative grading, Kripam said, “Absolute grading makes students strive to perform better whereas students who score lesser than set standard end up getting an A when it comes to relative grading.
“Relative grading is competitive in terms of who scores more whereas absolute grading depends on individual performance. Personally, I think we shouldn’t be competing among our classmates and instead focus on learning. I prefer absolute grading system to relative,” he added.
(Source: Gennext, republica national daily)