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Princeton...Fewer A's?


The 9th Flotilla
15+ Year Member
Apr 7, 2003
New Jersey
  1. Medical Student
Princeton University announced today that they are seeking a proposal to reduce the the number of A's given to undergrads.

This was posted on their website:

A set of proposals to bring grade inflation under control at Princeton will be presented to the faculty at its April 26 meeting.

The proposals, sent by Dean of the College Nancy Malkiel to faculty members on April 6, are intended to establish a common grading standard across the University of less than 35 percent A's for undergraduate courses and less than 55 percent A's for independent work. They also seek to provide clear guidelines for faculty and students about the meaning of letter grades.

Malkiel distributed the proposals on behalf of the Faculty Committee on Examinations and Standing, which first called for faculty to take "collective responsibility for halting grade inflation and grade compression at Princeton" in February 1998.

She also has distributed the proposals to students, is beginning a series of discussions with undergraduates and has made background materials available on the Web.

"By adopting [these proposals], the faculty will be better able to give students the carefully calibrated assessment they deserve of the quality of their course work and independent work," Malkiel wrote in a cover memo. "The proposed grading standard responds to the desire of the department chairs that all departments be asked to meet common expectations. It responds to the desire of students for evenhandedness in grading across the departments. And it positions Princeton to take national leadership in tackling what has seemed an intractable national problem."

The proposals call for departments and programs to award less than 35 percent A's (A+, A, A-) for undergraduate courses and less than 55 percent A's for junior and senior independent work. These percentages resemble the grading patterns at Princeton in undergraduate courses and independent work from 1987 to 1992.

According to data provided by seven other Ivy League institutions, Stanford University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Chicago, the more recent percentages of A grades given in undergraduate courses at these institutions range from about 44 to 55 percent A's. Between those two poles, two institutions fell around 45 to 46 percent, four (including Princeton) between 47 and 48 percent, and three in the 49 to 51 percent range. There is no systematic way of comparing independent work grades.

Rather than prescribing a set of rules, the Faculty Committee on Examinations and Standing is advocating a "social compact" in which departments would agree to meet an institutional grading standard and determine how to meet that standard.

"It does not require every faculty member to grade the same way," according to the proposal. "It does not require that every course have the same grade distribution. Rather, it seeks to vest maximum flexibility and room for judgment in each individual department, at the same time that it asks each department to agree to meet a common institutional standard."

In addition to the cover memo and the grading proposals, the materials made available to faculty and students include an extensive list of questions and answers about grading. One question is dealt with at length: "How would a new institutional grading standard affect the fortunes of our students in graduate and professional school admission, national fellowship competitions and the job market?" The answer includes testimonials from correspondence and conversations with medical schools, law schools, fellowship administrators and employers. Most applauded the effort to get grade inflation under control, saying it would not compromise the futures of Princeton students and, in some cases, would be looked upon favorably.

The background materials also include: grading definitions; tables showing the distribution of grades in 100 to 400 level courses, in junior independent work and in senior thesis/independent work; and a summary of grading initiatives that dates to February 1998.

In her cover memo, Malkiel noted some progress over the years in increasing awareness of grading practices through the widespread distribution to faculty of grading data and a "Guide to Good Grading Practices."

"Curbing grade inflation will require more aggressive steps than we have taken," she wrote. "These proposals are designed to serve that purpose. They grow out of an explicit mandate from the department chairs to develop a grading standard that applies across the institution. Because no single department has any incentive to act unilaterally to address grade inflation, the chairs reasoned, the provision of a University-wide grading standard that all departments must observe will make it possible for all departments to cooperate."

So what are your thoughts on it?
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im a fatty
7+ Year Member
15+ Year Member
Oct 14, 2003
if i'm not mistaken, a few years ago, princeton sent out a press release that said they would stop giving A+ as a grade because too many students were getting it. this whole article sounds like a high-sounding joke to me. a student should choose to go to a good school because the academics are challenging and inspire a student to do their best -- not because good grades are easy to get and everyone gets an A.


Full Member
7+ Year Member
15+ Year Member
Mar 7, 2003
It's a pretty good idea if actually implemented. None of the basic science classes have this kind of a distribution anyway, so the primary effect of this change will be is to make the grading in the humanities and the grading in science and engineering more consistent. It will also shut up all the annoying state school people who seem to cognitively be incapable of grasping that while 60% of Intro to Art History students at a top school get As, only 20% of its Intro to Polyfunctional Compounds students do.


7+ Year Member
15+ Year Member
Dec 17, 2003
this policy will have little to no effect on the real sciences at princeton. for instance, i took biochem last semester at princeton and there were only 21 A's and A-'s out of 125 people, or about 16.5 percent A's. that's pretty standard for our molecular biology department. it's the history/politics/english/sociology departments that are suddenly going to have major changes in grading policy.


Senior Member
7+ Year Member
15+ Year Member
Feb 28, 2004
Originally posted by What the pho
35% A's is still way too much, why don't they do what most schools do, that is one standard deviation above the average means you get an A. This is Ivy league BS.

at some ivys, they lists % A's receivedon the transcript.


7+ Year Member
15+ Year Member
Feb 19, 2004
so it's like having the class average on the transcripts then? at my school, i think they class average is around a 3.0. is this similar to ivey leagues or do they have a much higher class average?


7+ Year Member
15+ Year Member
Oct 26, 2003
February 27, 2004
Ivy League Schools Examine Grades

by Teah Colson

Grade inflation has long been a topic of serious discussion in the Ivy League. After a 2001 investigation that revealed that 91 percent of Harvard University's graduating class graduated with honors, the institution vowed to reform their grading system. However, a 2003 study has shown that the number of "A" grades at Harvard has increased to nearly 50 percent, resparking the debate in several academic journals.

"I get the feeling that maybe Harvard's leading the pack a little in terms of inflation, but I don't know by how much and I don't think there's a huge disparity between us and other schools," said Najeeb Tarazi, a Harvard freshman.

Princeton University grade reports show that in 2002, 45.5 percent of the freshman class's grades were some form of an "A." Also, the number of "A" grades received has increased since 1997, while the number of "B," "C," "D" and "F" grades has decreased over the same period of time. While at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, new proposals for an intermediate grading system will take on its own form of grade inflation. An intermediate grading system could give a student expecting a "C+" a "B/C" on his or her transcript. Yale University no longer posts grade reports, though they openly admit that grade inflation is a problem. Grade inflation is also an issue at Cornell.

"Cornell is very similar to other universities in this respect [grade inflation], but we are very different from Harvard in that our percentage of graduates receiving honors is much lower. This has much to do with the fact that less Cornell graduates choose to commit to a honors program their senior year," said Associate Provost Isaac Kramnick.

Only 30 percent of Cornell graduates received honors in 2000, while that figure was between 70 percent and 90 percent for Harvard. With such a presence in the Ivy League having endured since the '70s, grade inflation has perplexed faculty in almost every university, especially when it comes to the causes and solutions for the phenomena While everything from affirmative action to lower SAT scores have been said to initiate the trend, there is still much debate about the subject.

"We don't know exactly what explains it, we have some hunches, some hypothesis," Kramnick said. "One of them is the decline between hierarchical difference between teachers and students. This means the rise in student involvement in evaluating professors creating a decline in the formal distance. Some faculty have lost confidence in the ability to label students 'A' or 'C,' while the students feel a more legitimate ability to question these grades and get them changed," Kramnick said.

Still, there are differing opinions about the cause of inflated grades.

Charlie Walcott, dean of faculty at Cornell, has cited a different case.

"I think it started around the time of the war in Vietnam," Walcott said. "The idea was to give students higher grades to avoid the draft."

According to Nancy Malkiel, nobody speculated that it would reach the level that it is at today. She was baffled by the grades found in Princeton's recent graduating classes.

"Who could have ever imagined that we would reach a point where a student with a straight C average would rank 1,078 out of a graduating class of 1,079?" Malkiel asked.



Senior Member
7+ Year Member
15+ Year Member
Nov 3, 2003
and of that 16.5%, only four were straight As (distinguished from A-'s)... (so i hear from a buddy, straight from his profs mouth...)

Originally posted by yeeester
this policy will have little to no effect on the real sciences at princeton. for instance, i took biochem last semester at princeton and there were only 21 A's and A-'s out of 125 people, or about 16.5 percent A's. that's pretty standard for our molecular biology department. it's the history/politics/english/sociology departments that are suddenly going to have major changes in grading policy.
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