Which Option You should Choose: Pass-Fail or Letter Grade

This post describes when to use a pass-fail option and when not to use the pass-fail option. It gives you scenarios in which to select what.

If you do not know the maths of how a CGPA is calculated, and you have never put your courses on an excel and computed the CGPA by inputing your grades and points as shown in Figure below, then you are playing with fire. You first need to read my post Top 10 Reasons Why Students Fail in Semester System, before you come to this blogpost to see whether to take a graded course option or a pass-fail option.

A sample computation of CGPA. You need to build your own sheet by
 assigning your university’s grade ponits to grades. [copied from google]

What is Pass-Fail Option: 

  • A pass grade would not impact your CGPA but would count towards the completion of the degree programs total credit hours requirements. However, unfortunately a fail grade is still an F grade and will mean 0 points and may impact your CGPA as per your university’s grading policy. You must read the fine print of the pass-fail policy of your university to understand how your particular university deals with the F grade impact on CGPA. 
  • The teacher converts your passing grade (D, C-, C,B-, B, B+, A-, A, A+) for a course into a Pass Grade. The pass grade simply means that you are given credit for the course, that is, if the course is 3 credit hours and before this course you have earned 30 credit hours, then the course would add 3 hours towards your degree completion, and the transcript section will consider that you have completed 33 credit hours. However, this total credits earned would not be counted in the denominator of your CGPA calculation.  (Some schools are more strict, and only pass you for C and above. Please read the fine print. )
    • Please note that your university may already be offering pass-fail courses. For example, if you transferred from another university, then the grades that you secured there are not counted, you are only given credit for those courses. 
    • This is also true for courses that you do during an exchange visit to a foreign country for a semester. If you have taken at that foreign university some pre-approved courses from your parent university, then on your return the grades that you secured there are not counted towards the CGPA. However, you earn credit for those courses and the required credit hours that you need to complete for your degree program become less by the count of credit hours that you have passed. 
  • Generally the Pass doesn’t impact CGPA, but unfortunately an F (the zero) does. This is probably the most important thing that you should take into account. If you think you are going to get an F, then it is better to either drop the course, or take it on a Credit/No-Credit basis. [A credit/No-Credit course is one whose failure (not getting credit) or passing (getting credit) doesn’t impact your CGPA, for example internship courses. ]
  • It is the responsibility of a teacher is much more than a graded course.  The dividing line between a pass and fail needs to be clearly specified. The students should know precisely what they need to pass the course.  

When to take the Pass-Fail Option:

  • If you are just exploring a new field, and would like to take it to see whether you like it or not such as painting, or Yoga or Graphics Designing which is totally unrelated to your major. You don’t want worry about getting a good grade, because you were only interested in the exploration. This is typically the case for completing the minors. 
  • If you are under severe stress and you want to just pass the course and not let your CGPA be affected, then Pass-Fail option is for you. This is especially true if you think you will pass but you don’t want a C or a C- to pull down your CGPA. 
  • Another great thing about the pass/fail option is that if you pass, you’ll get the credits from the class. It is good to get off the yuck courses that are huge load off your head and still get credit!
  • If according to your university’s rule passing of a failed course knocksout the failed course, then you can take it on pass fail basis. This will improve your CGPA. The pass would reduce the total count of credit hours in the denominator. 

When Not to Take Pass-Fail Course

  • If you are aspiring for a scholarship for which you need to take some minimum number of graded courses then pass-fail course is not for you. Pass-fail course will not be beneficial for you in keeping high CGPA. 
  • Yes, your stress for getting a good grade is less in a Pass-Fail course. However, you still have to do the home work assignments, participate in the class, and go through the motions necessary for passing the course. Pay really close attention to what the teacher’s guidelines are for passing the course. Ask the teacher what is the minimum requirements. If you think you can’t meet the requirements and may fail, then it is better to drop the course. 
  • You are on probation, and you have to improve your CGPA in order to come out of probation, then it is matter of life and death for you. You must keep only those courses on graded basis in which you can score. 
  • If you are on probation and you are likely to drop and you have taken a failed course, then you need to take it on grade basis so that your CGPA moves up. 
  • If you liked the class, the Pass/Fail option will allow you to slack off in the attendance area a bit. You still have to do the work, but you would lose some incentive to go to class when you know that it wouldn’t matter if you got all the participation points. Please note that some faculty members would really get upset if you do not regularly participate in their class. The faculty members who want their students to fully participate to get a grade would become upset if they find less than necessary students in the class for carrying forward the discussion. This is especially true for case based classroom discussions. 

As explained in my post http://syedirfanhyder.blogspot.com/2016/09/top-10-reasons-why-students-fail-in.html you need to have friends and you need to listen to their advice. It is not necessary for you to follow. It is just necessary to get as many perspectives incorporated in your personal decision making. You must have at least a couple of good students (much better than you) in your group, whom you can trust. This is further explained in my other post. Do also consult academics department, academic counsellors, your HoDs and faculty members with whom you can go for advice.

Please remember that a CGPA is an average and if you get in a course a grade which is lower than your current CGPA, it would cause it to decrease whereas if you get a grade which is above your current CGPA, it will cause your computed CGPA to further increase.

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