What University Grades Should Represent?

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University grades, famously known as Grade Point Average (GPA), are the scale of measuring students’ performance in a formal under-graduation and post-graduation courses. The distribution varies from university to university and courses to courses. Lately I have seen so much debate on whether GPA matters or not in professional life. To be honest, sometimes this debate is somewhat an excuse by few people for their low performance although technically, the debate is valid. Whilst GPA matters in getting a start for your career, but it doesn’t really represent how capable or incapable a certain individual is. The point I would stress before going on further is that yes GPA matters for your future.

College Grades - What do they represent ?

Now the point is whether GPA can be trusted to be enough criteria for person’s variable abilities or not. In this case, it can only do so if the outcome is based on number of factors. Currently, specifically speaking about our own university, the distribution for courses is something like this: 50% final exam, 20-30% Midterms or Sessional Exams, 10-15% quizzes and 5-10% for assignments. Projects (if included) are mostly no more than 15%.

Here appears the real issue, what does GPA represent in this scenario of distribution? The answer is that while it is a good measure of person’s theoretical knowledge, concepts & amount of effort put throughout the semester yet the checkpoints are far apart and anyone who can hit the nail on the head at the right time takes away the laurels whilst for a person who just didn’t keep it together when it mattered falls behind. The culprit here is the distribution. 50% is too much for a final exam and assigning most of the 100 to theoretical practices is a bit of unfair to engineering & business studies. This percentage rewards typical FSc type mindset where if you manage to pull out a preparative effort in last 2-3 days, you can go quite ahead in standings regardless of what you did all the year.

Another thing is the lack of consistent assigning of small projects given during the semester and sad low percentage given to them. I argued in my previous article “What Engineering Education Should Like Be” that a day spent in pondering over a project issue teaches stuff you would learn in 10 days reading books. IMO for engineering students (especially those in junior and senior years), the percentage for practical work and projects should be at least 20% and they should be marked honestly. Currently I’ve seen the trend that teachers give away marks for projects almost same for the job-well-done work and “chill guys’ work” which makes no difference in the end. It’s very discouraging for students who want to work like engineers & develop a practical attitude in their learning.

The percentage for theoretical part can still be kept significant though if the pattern of paper is of purely engineering approach. Rather than giving students circuits to solve (which even if they will do in future, will do it on softwares), design problems and case studies should be given to see who is thinking like an engineer and who goes home just studying contents of the textbooks. Same for business students, their management thoughts should be tested rather than testing them over textbook taught strategies. I can be wrong in my picturing of business studies as I never had a chance to talk to a business/finance student about their curriculum and exams.

At the end of this discussion, we can now fully understand that why GPA doesn’t matter in cases where it really doesn’t. People hiring fresh graduates are aware of the grading system that how it works and who is the winner & loser. If the system represented person’s knowledge, creativity, personality, presentation and communication skills, outlook they would love to save time in testing individuals by using the GPA yardstick which if good would mean person holds versatile qualities and bad indicates lagging in not just one but many traits. But if the grades were given merely on basis of exam hall performance and affected by crying and complaining in front of teachers, copying assignments and carrying little consideration for practical work, they would definitely like to check the person other way which many times, results in someone talented being overlooked and someone not skilled enough making his way up albeit, these things are maximum times influenced by luck & we cannot do anything about it.

Senior Mechanical Engineering Student by profession, Formula One fan by passion. I have keen interest in engineering and the way it can be used to change things around. Other interests & activities include Writing, Hiking, Aviation, Blogging, History, Politics, Life & Career Development.

5 Comments to What University Grades Should Represent?

  1. well yes GPA does not pertray real talent in most of the cases

    however it gives a fair idea about the general attitude of the student.

    also there is hell of a difference between relative and absolute systems

    you are stressing on practical aspect. an easy way fr universities which they cd do themselves is to divide the credits of practicals from theory and grade them separately

    and yar theory is also important!! 🙂

  2. @ Mr. Abdullah

    just read your profound but "no different than others" article. Only the "theory" in your article changed to "practicality"

    Point of appreciation: Your approach towards examination system and the role of luck is admirable. You really presented in words what I feel about our examination system. Hats off for that.! 🙂

    If you wrote this article market-wise, I am no one to criticize you on it because the people working in the market just know how to plug-in some wires and fix the bugs. You don't wanna be one of them, do you?

    Let me ask you a question: Imagine you are done with your degree and you know only to fix/make things in order by having slight knowledge of reading a diagram or if you are pretty genius, intuition. Now, put yourself in the situation and ask yourself, what is the difference between you and an experienced illiterate mechanic working in a garage? Shaken???

    That's my point, without theory an engineer is no more than a robot which can assemble things and in the modern world, we don't even need such persons. We've got faster, smoother, agile and almost no failure rate robots now.

    Kindly include this in your next article if you think I have a point.

  3. I agree a 100% with the author. I am currently on my 6th semester of Environmental Engineering at IESE and quite frankly, I can't recall much of what I have learned since my A-levels. Reason? The people at NUST blindly force-feed us with bookish knowledge with very little emphasis given to concept building and hands-on experience.

    Theory is important, no doubt, but 50% weightage to the finals results in poor depiction of the students' knowledge. Especially since the questions are straight out of books and class handouts. Sure we have vivas, but uptill now we have never been disclosed about its percentage share.

    The reason that this world produces laureates and innovators of all sorts is that their educationalists are fully aware that pure theory can never replace hours spend in the lab nurturing one's creativity and curiousity. Besides, many students are simply NOT wired to rote learn.

    The result? My topper (3.88/4) CGPA friend goes completely blank in lab and field work, has no clue how to go about it while my (3.00/4) CGPA friend makes all the manuals and reports.

    Conclusion: There is something SERIOUSLY wrong with our education system. If have not already taken a 180 degree turn, Pakistan is heading nowhere.

  4. Well, GPA’s do matter. Afterall, that’s how employers hire you, moreover, a good knowledge of theory is needed, that’s when you start enjoying your course and your ‘committed’ to it.

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