With midterms week, today begins the period during which students can elect to use the pass/D/fail grading option for one class in lieu of receiving a letter grade. According to the University’s 2014-15 Undergraduate Announcement, the P/D/F option is in place in order to “encourage exploration and experimentation in curricular areas in which the student may have had little or no experience.” The P/D/F option allows students to take classes that interest them in areas outside their comfort zone without the added pressure of the usual grading system and its effect on their GPAs. Despite the many merits of the P/D/F option, however, the Editorial Board proposes that University’s existing policy could be improved by extending the P/D/F deadline to the beginning of reading period and allowing students to rescind but lose a P/D/F selection after seeing their final grade in a class.
The current P/D/F selection period, beginning the seventh week of the semester and ending during the ninth week of the semester, largely undermines the University’s original intent for the P/D/F option: the encouragement of intellectual curiosity and exploration. When students permanently select the P/D/F option for a class, they no longer have as significant of an incentive to complete the class’s required readings, carefully complete problem sets and diligently study for exams. This is problematic because many of the assignments or discussions that carry the most intellectual weight often times occur at the end of a semester when students have developed a thorough understanding of a class’s subject material. Risk-averse students who select the P/D/F option are placed in a position where it makes sense to focus on graded courses and ignore their P/D/F course. These students rationally choose to forgo full engagement with a class’s most valuable material. A reading period deadline and an option to rescind a P/D/F selection, for many, would change incentives to encourage working diligently in all classes through the entire semester.
The current policy also asks students to select the P/D/F option without complete information. The late assignments that tend to be more rigorous also tend to have a significant impact on students’ grades. These assignments have the ability to generate course grades that are much higher or lower than the grade a student receives on a midterm. When the deadline is only after midterm exams are completed, students simply do not have the necessary information needed to make a well-informed decision. In addition, many students in seminars without a traditional midterm exam experience even more difficulty in choosing whether to use a P/D/F since they have little to no way to assess their performance in a class until they receive a grade for a paper or project late in the semester. The Board fears that the early deadline deters students from taking courses with uneven and unpredictable grade distributions. The Board believes placing students in a position to make better informed decisions is the solution to this problem.
Finally, the Board believes that students who elect the P/D/F option and proceed to earn a high grade in a class should be have their achievement recognized. In such cases, the Board proposes that students be given the option to have their grade converted to a letter grade but still have one fewer P/D/F selection available for the rest of their time at the University.
Extending the P/D/F deadline would encourage students to genuinely explore topic areas unfamiliar to them and allow students to make better informed decisions. The Board encourages the University to adopt these measures to encourage intellectual curiosity and improve the overall academic experience for its students.
TheEditorial Boardis an independent body and decides its opinions separately from the regular staff and editors of The Daily Princetonian. The Board answers only to its Chair, the Opinion Editor and the Editor-In-Chief.