Plus/Minus Grading System: The pluses and minuses

UTSA recently adapted a plus and minus grading system. The system is both challenging and necessary for UTSA.

The six categories of A, B, C, D, F and INC now have a different distribution of numerical values. A+ and A count for 4.0; for values below 4.0 subtract .33 for each step down.

The system will be a challenge for many students because it now requires them to maintain a 2.0 GPA, which is a class average between 74 percent and 76 percent. Before the change, a student only needed to maintain a class average of 70 percent or above to keep a 2.0 GPA.

Faculty are also being challenged with this new system because they must differentiate more precisely between each individual student. For example, how can someone differentiate between an A paper and an A+ paper? Figuring out these differences has always been a task required of the faculty, but there is now increased pressure to make more precise evaluations of student work.

Since the new GPA distribution will most likely take a slight shift downward, obtaining university honors will now be more difficult. Latin honors, such as summa cum laude (3.9 or above), magna cum laude (3.7 to 3.8) or cum laude (3.5 to 3.7), will be harder to achieve. Students in the Honors College will also be affected: the college requires a student to maintain a 3.25 GPA. With this slight shift downward, a few students might not be able to meet this requirement and will be dismissed from Honors College.

While this new system has its challenges, the system is also necessary for the advancement of UTSA and its students. Tougher grading will build the reputation of the university. If the university works on differentiating the students more, and not haphazardly placing students into broader categories, then UTSA will be taken more seriously academically. The increased scrutiny of grades is continual at academically prestigious schools. If UTSA wants to join those ranks, it will need this system in place.

Another reason the system is necessary is that it will help students get into graduate programs. Because there will be less doubt about a student’s academic standing, graduate schools will be able to make more accurate admissions decisions.

One demographic that will benefit from the new system is students applying to law school. If a student earns an A+, the Law School Admissions Council (LSAC) will calculate his or her GPA as a 4.33. The LSAC then sends these grades to the law schools. This .33 bonus can help balance out a lower grade somewhere else.

This grading system will also make students who are just coasting work harder. Students who don’t exert the amount of effort necessary to excel in college will no longer be able to make a 70 percent and give up. They will have to make a 74 percent.

Each department has chosen whether its courses will participate in the system. Consult with your professor if you have any specific questions.