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Friday, 24 January 2014

NUS moves to curb grades obsession

IN A bold move by the National University of Singapore (NUS) to reduce the obsession with grades, how its freshmen perform in exams may no longer count in their final mark.

The initiative, already in place at its medical school, will be rolled out in phases to other faculties, which could include law and engineering, from as early as this year, revealed NUS president Tan Chorh Chuan.

Details are still being worked out for what NUS has called its “grade-free” system, which will be extended to the whole school over the next few years. But while there will still be tests and exams, first-year students will no longer get A to F grades.

Instead they will just be given a distinction, pass, or fail in their modules – and these will not form part of their Cumulative Average Point, which determines the quality of the degree awarded at the end of their course.

“We think that it is important to reduce some of the over-focus on grades as the most important thing to go for, as opposed to actual learning,” Professor Tan said last Friday. “Grading – in terms of Pass or Fail – will still occur. But this is really to help students know where they are in relation to a subject.”

NUS, which has the biggest intake of freshmen among universities here, currently has about 6,900 full-time first-year students.

The move to take some pressure off freshmen, who typically take on 10 modules and help them cope with university life, comes amid a broader shift towards an education system less fixated on grades. Top universities, such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), have already gone “gradeless”, Prof Tan pointed out.

At the Singapore University of Technology and Design, which partners MIT and took in its first cohort in 2012, Term 1 students get a “pass” or “no record” in each subject and there is no Grade Point Average (GPA) given. In Term 2, students receive A, B, C or “no record”, but only passing grades are used to calculate their GPA. — The Straits Times / Asia News Network

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