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The Unfair GPA System Compromises Academic Standards

By Zahi Sahli
LAU Tribune staff

Knowing the hawkish, corrupt minds anticipating the instigation of any argument to counter it aggressively –and yet through prose and poetry– few would want to slog their way through the criticism swamp.

The majority’s unwillingness to address the imperfections of the academic system changes nothing of the fact that the Grade Point Average (GPA) compromises standards of education.

The fact that the GPA system is the offspring of a model that claims to encourage individuality should instigate –perhaps in a near date– a traditional work of black comedy.

The ‘equal’ treatment of individuals supposes that they have the ability to work at the same rate and acquire the same amount of knowledge at the end of an (exceptionally fruitful) semester.

When respecting students’ individuality, universities must consider their exclusive variables. Financial, emotional or psychological instabilities can hinder a student’s academic progress. It is not about ‘people with special needs.’  Rather than alienating the ‘unfortunate some,’ a fresh system should realize that every individual has ‘special needs.’

If Albert Einstein were enrolled in a physics course today, but – for any conspiracy-clear reason – did not do well on an exam, he might very well miss out on a chance to get the coveted A in a ‘proficient, professional, harmonious, accredited…’ academic institution.

Not even showcasing his genius outside class, conducting unimaginable experiments and deriving the most ear-twirling theories would save him. Poor Al is doomed.

His teacher, who boasts much-celebrated modern-world attributes such as mechanic professionalism, says that Al’s performance in the course –despite acquiring unforgettable knowledge from the material of the course– was still insufficient to deserve an A.

Despite the efforts at ‘unifying’ the standards of exam correction, different instructors will always rate differently. The student, who gets an A, might not always be the one who has deserved it; instead, he or she might be the one who knows which instructors have an ‘Easy As’ tag slapped on their foreheads.

The obsessive culture of mass production makes some believe that perfection is attainable – just ask plastic surgeons. Teachers’ rating of students will always be influenced by students’ words and characters.

Knowing how presenting their students with low grades would likely diminish students’ chances at having a wide scope of decent educational and vocational options, most instructors would be tempted to twist their policies to boost the grades of underachieving students.

However, do extra-credit assignments not undermine the significance of classwork?

While there might not currently be any reliable and universally-accepted grading method other than examination, a new approach ought to be introduced to ensure the performance of students, who face temporary difficulties or are aided by a sudden flash of genius (aka cheating), is evaluated accurately.

If the system is to be honest about its own promotion of individuality, it must find a way to establish a one-to-one relationship between students and instructors, whereby teachers’ rating of students’ overall knowledge about a certain subject, ability to grasp material and other attributes form the final evaluation.

But the grade, which in itself becomes an obsession for students, can be something other than an ABCDF ladder.

A committee, formed by the different instructors in a department, evaluates the students’ performances on annual basis. Different teachers can say their opinion about the student, based on their rating of a student’s skills, abilities and knowledge.

Exams would no longer be relied upon in evaluating students. Students would bid farewell to the inconsistency of exams, and instead focus on grasping the material and proving –through personal contact with their instructors– that they have acquired knowledge from the course.

But even the current system would not seem too monstrous and inefficient had students not been exploiting its loop holes. However, it is not entirely their fault; they have been raised in a world that supports the unbalanced consumer-producer relation and justifies the means if they lead to the desired ends.

Three credits –added up by attending three easy A, one-credit courses– are calculated based on the same point-accumulation scheme regardless of the courses taken.

I, therefore, modestly salute the moral and cultured students who would rather register for a Cultural Studies or History of Art course as a free elective to grab knowledge with willing hands.

After all, a student with the right principles could have taken easy A courses and registered their names on the parade team list where the celebrated bunch, who always manage to be more equal than others, hear their names at the sound of rusty trumpets.



About LAU Tribune

The official student newspaper at the Lebanese American University


10 thoughts on “The Unfair GPA System Compromises Academic Standards


    Posted by Sirine | April 27, 2012, 10:31 pm
  2. Zahi Sahli, this is a great article on this topic. The GPA system must be reevaluated in every aspect, just as you said. I especially enjoyed reading your point on the common student that cheats and yet receives A grade. Yet when compared to other students, who wouldn’t bother looking at another person exam paper would receive a much lower grade – with the hopes of actually learning. Its almost as if the majority of student prefer to pass no matter the process.
    I think it would be great to see a professors input on this article.

    Posted by Elena | May 7, 2012, 6:14 pm
  3. Thanks a lot for your feedback Elena. The GPA system is frustrating, to say the least. And the point about cheating is that it’s become a very common tool to get an A and that students with morals (those who do not cheat) get lower grades.

    In all honesty, I think not cheating or doing ‘extra work’ or begging for an A should make a student have better chances than others who take such steps. Learning is not about getting grades. Is it good when a student gets an A (even when memorizing and getting a 100 on a multiple-choice exam i.e. without cheating) but never really having the data stored in their minds.

    Another point I might have missed, but in which I believe is the following:

    Let’s say a student (X) takes a Science course. X is good at writing. X does not benefit from writing. Y, who’s good at science, can get an A and benefit from their skills.

    Then when X takes a Cultural Studies course, for example, he/she writes a brilliant essay. But Y writes the same content. Despite Y’s poor language, he/she gets an A!

    So if one is a good writer, editor, proofreader – even if they were as good as Shakespeare – can’t get a better grade than one who just memorizes the content and writes poorly. But a person who’s good at calculation will always have the upper hand over one who does not really have the skills/base to calculate.

    ABSURD 🙂

    Zahi Sahli

    Posted by Zahi Sahli | May 7, 2012, 9:41 pm
  4. Zahi, Okay. Great point of view. But do you have any alternative? IT is not enough to criticize a certain policy without finding a certain solution or an alternative instead. As I enjoyed reading your point of view, it will be a great pleasure to read another point of view regarding the solution for such an unfair matter.

    Posted by William | May 8, 2012, 7:07 am
    • Though human relationships will always intervene in the final judgment, I think it would be much better to have a collectively-written annual report of students’ performances submitted by a committee formed by instructors within the department. That would first allow a more accurate judgment since it’s not down to one person to evaluate. It would also mean that exams aren’t the source of judgment, but rather the committee’s stance is.

      Can this committee commit errors or have ‘wasta’ or etc. ? Yes, one of the members can. Two, three. But when the committee members each has to write an individual and then, all write a collective report, then you get different point of views, which means that the student isn’t clearly excelling nor failing, somewhere down the middle.

      In order to establish that one-to-one relationship with students, the number of students must, of course, be limited. This means higher standards in the admissions, which would be GREAT 🙂

      Zahi Sahli

      Posted by Zahi Sahli | May 8, 2012, 10:38 am
  5. I wonder what were Albert Eisntein’s grades in school. Do you know?

    Posted by Ramez Maluf | May 9, 2012, 11:07 am
  6. I totally agree … The GPA system is far away from any educational values, but rather it is a system that supports ” the end justify the means”, where students can only focus on the grades, and learn nothing, but how to do anything to get an A. I also liked your idea about how to evaluate the students based on the interaction with the instructor and the course. Anyways Bravo, it is a great article, but I believe it is really hard to develop a new concrete educational system.

    Posted by aseelbaidoun | May 9, 2012, 5:57 pm
    • Thanks Aseel. Yes, it’s definitely hard to set different standards, especially with the standardization of the education system (and everything else, making us like machines – don’t get me started on that!).

      But finding a new standard way to assess learning outcomes is really important because today’s world claims to be interested in making individuals focus on their individuality. The educational system grants them nothing of that, instead placing them all in the same position, exposing them to the same material and exams and rating them based on the same method.

      Posted by Zahi Sahli | May 9, 2012, 7:13 pm


  1. Pingback: Few Instructors Encourage Students to Cheat « LAU Tribune - June 7, 2012

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