UT needs to abandon the A- for more forgiving grades

Sam Thielman

My first winter break of college, I was home catching up with one of my best friends from high school. She’d just gotten her final grades back and was relieved that she’d barely eked out a 90 in one of her classes, so she’d held onto her 4.0 GPA.

I thought that was weird because my lowest grade was a 93, and I couldn’t say the same.

UT’s plus/minus grading system punishes high-performing students without offering them enough in return, and encourages unhealthy work-life balances.

UT switched to the plus/minus grading system in 2009. The motion from the Educational Policy Committee on Plus/Minus Grading reasoned that the system “may be used to reduce grade inflation” and “allows for more accurate representation of students’ performance.” It also said, “All 11 of our peer institutions … use some form of plus/minus grading.”

The motion even includes an entire section dedicated to the impacts of the new system on A students. 

“Top students who receive the occasional B are much more likely to benefit from the B+ grade (than they are to be harmed by the A-),” the report said.

Admittedly, the B+ is nice. It makes the difference between A and B less severe. UT’s only arguments for the inclusion of the A- without the A+, however, are that “faculty who now assign very few A’s may be more willing to assign A minuses,” and “given that all our peer institutions use plus/minus grading, this change would increase the equity of comparisons for students from different universities.”

While this all sounds great, not every university uses this system. Other students are allowed to benefit from grade inflation, potentially giving them an advantage when applying for jobs or graduate schools. While UT’s peer institutions do all use a plus/minus system, they don’t all use the same type of plus/minus system. The University of Illinois, for example, puts the cutoff for an A at 92. Even within UT, there isn’t a standard system. The cutoff varies, and some professors just omit the plus/minus system entirely.

I’m sure at least some of you are rolling your eyes at this point. After all, we’re talking about differences of just one or two points here. The thing is, at the top level of grades, the margin for error is so small that one or two points can make a huge difference. 

This kind of pressure forces students to sacrifice their physical and mental well-being as they spend days preparing for major assignments. They’re disincentivized from spending time on student organizations, jobs or research — all valuable experiences that UT urges its students to take part in — because any studying time that they lose could make a huge difference.

“I wish it wasn’t like that,” history sophomore Loren Fiebrich said. “I feel like it would be a lot easier on the students if it wasn’t.” 

Getting rid of A- could help hundreds of UT’s highest-performing students see a greater reward for all the work that they put in. They can shed a little of that collegiate stress, get some time back to work on their physical and mental well-being, and, with any luck, hold onto those sweet, sweet bragging rights anytime they’re back home.

Thielman is a history and rhetoric and writing sophomore from Fort Worth.