Educators assign grading scale pluses, minuses

By Tara Kulash


Though SIU’s grading system may differ from some universities, grade point average outcomes could be very similar.

The university presently dispenses grades only as whole letters. A student’s final grade for a class may amount to a B, for example, but it’s not possible to receive a B+ or B-. Some area universities use the same method while others employ the plus and minus system.


For SIU’s method, an A counts as 4 points toward a GPA; B counts for 3; C counts for 2; and D counts for 1. When a plus or minus is used, it alters the GPA. A B+ is worth 3.33 points at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, for example, and a B- is worth 2.67.

Charles Tucker, vice provost of undergraduate education and innovation at U of I, said the plus or minus system was first implemented in the mid ‘90s. Having a more precise grading scale helps to accurately represent how students are doing in their classes, he said.

“The student gets a better picture of how they did, and anyone they send their transcript to gets a better picture of how they did,” Tucker said.

One disadvantage to the system, he said, is that not all teachers use the plus and minus, so there can be some inconsistency across campus. He said there’s also concern sometimes that a student who receives an A- might not look as good in the competitive field next to a student who receives an A at a university that does not use minuses.

One other issue revolves around the number value of an A and A+, Tucker said. Both grades amount to four points, he said, and occasionally a student or parent will complain that an A+ should be worth more. This issue was brought to the Faculty Senate within the past decade, Tucker said, but the senate decided to keep the same points for an A and A+.

University of Missouri-Columbia faces the same problem, said Jim Spain, MU vice provost for undergraduate studies. The A and A+ are worth the same number of points under its plus and minus grade system, but enough students have expressed concern that there are plans to bring the subject before the university’s Faculty Council.

Ronald Rosati, Southeastern Missouri University provost, said his institution considered switching from full letters to the plus and minus system in the past, but the change was never implemented because too many students indicated they wanted to keep the whole letters.


“Issues like this on our campus, we have quite a bit of discussion about them with the whole university community before we would even get to the pilot stage,” Rosati said.

The advantage to whole letter grades is it simplifies grading, he said, but the disadvantage is it takes away from precision.

However, Spain said Mizzou conducted an analysis where recent semesters’ grades were calculated with the plus and minuses in one version and whole letters in another version. The difference between the two results was less than .1 in the overall GPA, he said.

At SIU-Edwardsville, a similar analysis found the same results. Ryan Fries, SIUE department of civil engineering graduate program director, said the two grading systems didn’t make a big difference toward the GPA.

“For some individual students it may have a significant impact, but for the overall GPA of all students collectively, it doesn’t change,” he said.

Fries said SIUE also considered moving to a plus and minus grading system last year, but a recommendation was made not to make the change after a study was conducted. The study looked at published documents’ findings as well as what grading systems comparative universities use. SIUE also surveyed its faculty and students for feedback.

Of the 2,090 student responses, 89 percent wanted to stay with the whole letter grade system. Out of 277 faculty responses, 59 percent favored the switch.

SIUC students and staff are also diverse in their opinions of how effective the university’s grade scale is. University spokesman Rod Sievers said the administration has not received many messages of concern about the university’s grading system. The administration has considered moving to the plus and minus method, but it’s not a priority at the moment, he said.

“Maybe someday they might take a look at it, especially if a lot of faculty and students say we need to do this, but right now I don’t think they’re getting those messages,” Sievers said.

Faculty Senate president Meera Komarraju said she thinks the university’s system works. The plus and minus would work well for graduate students because they typically only receive As and Bs — If a graduate student begins to receive Cs, he or she is typically kicked out of the program. For undergraduates, though, she prefers the whole letter grades because it makes grading simpler, she said.

However, John Legier, Faculty Senate member and technical resource management assistant professor, said it’s unfair for the students who put in extra effort.

Jinkoo Kim, a freshman from South Korea studying business, said he prefers the grading system as it is.

“With this I can get a better grade,” he said.

Enrique Borges, a sophomore from Chicago studying biology, said the university’s system helps students who try their best.

“If you are determined to get an A, then you are going to get an A,” he said. “At the end of the day, the plus or minus doesn’t accumulate to GPA.”

Kelsey Tuthill, a junior from Elkville studying exercise science, said she would prefer to receive a plus or minus grade. Students aren’t as motivated to push themselves with just a whole letter, she said.

“I feel like I’m in the clear,” she said. “I know that if I have an A, then whether it’s a 92 or a 97, then it’s just an A, so I think it does change your mindset a little bit.”

Maryam Javani, a junior from Schaumburg studying mathematics and German studies, said she finds the present system convenient when she has barely a C in a course and it’s recorded as a full C, but the scale doesn’t always show how hard a student has worked to earn their grade.

“I work hard for my grades and there are times when I’m almost at that next grade level … and you don’t see that on the transcript,” Javani said. “Without the plus and minus, it doesn’t always show a student’s work ethic.”

Courtney Taylor, a junior from Chicago studying biological sciences, said she agreed.

“Being a student in the science department, it’s kind of hell fighting for those Cs or even Bs,” she said.