The Pass/D/Fail option is available for students between the beginning of the seventh and the end of the ninth week of classes. Commonly referred to as P/D/F, this option is designed to encourage students to explore disciplines that they have little prior knowledge of without fear of negatively impacting their GPA. Currently, students may P/D/F up to four courses throughout their time at the University.
The P/D/F option is an effective and helpful tool for students in most, but not all, classes. Personally, it has encouraged me, a comparative literature major, to take a math course this semester. I enjoyed calculus in high school and I wanted to continue, but I was also scared of Princeton math classes. If I did not have the knowledge that I would have the P/D/F option available to me if I didn’t do well, I would have never enrolled to begin with.
I will decide whether or not I’m going to P/D/F my math class after I get my midterm grade back, which will give me a rough idea of what my final grade will look like. However, the way many courses are structured makes such an approach inefficient. Final exams for classes such as ECO 100: Introduction to Microeconomics or CHV 310: Practical Ethics can be a significant portion of a class’ overall grade, sometimes 40 percent or higher. That it is possible for someone who performed at a mediocre level on the midterm to receive a good semester grade or vice versa leaves room for a lot of uncertainty. It would be more beneficial if students did not have to P/D/F prematurely and could choose wait until after finals.
Besides enabling students to make a more informed decision, the extended deadline would also keep them motivated to do well for longer. According to the Class of 2019 Academic Guide, “Every year a significant number of students fail courses they take on a pass/D/fail basis, either because they underestimated the amount of sustained work required to complete the courses successfully, or because they rarely attended lectures and precepts.”
The University has a way of being incredibly time-consuming and hectic. It is only natural that students would neglect P/D/F courses if they have no incentive to try harder. On the flip side, students will continue to work diligently if they think that they still have the possibility of turning it into a good grade.
The extended deadline is similar, but preferable to, making P/D/F choices retractable at any time, which has been proposed in Daily Princetonian columns before. It means less administrative work. Also, it motivates students in a different way. Those who have already chosen to P/D/F are not actively looking to retract. Therefore, they would not be motivated to the same level.
Further, I only support extending the P/D/F deadline rather than extending the option to P/D/F more courses. Yotam Sagiv argued two years ago that the P/D/F option should be available in introductory language courses for those who have already completed their language requirements or those who do not need to take them here. I definitely agree with his assertion that students are hesitant to start a new language here, since these courses are known to be difficult and time consuming. I had this fear before I started with LAT 101: Beginner’s Latin this fall. So far, the class has been almost on equal footing as the Humanities Sequence in terms of its demands. I’ve also found it hard to compete against people who have taken Latin in the past. Even so, there is something distinct about languages that would make the P/D/F option less useful.
Given the amount of time, introductory language classes can only provide only so much. Frankly, if a student took an introductory-level class to explore and used a P/D/F on it, they probably learned little. In many cases, they may not be ready to move forward to the next level, in which case they will forget the little they learned quickly. This is why a student needs to complete up to the 107/108 level in a given language for it to count toward the language requirement. Language classes are unlike math classes; I have only a limited understanding of Calculus from taking AP Calculus BC in high school and multivariable calculus now, but it is good to have an intuitive understanding of concepts such as limits and differentiation. Knowing “hola” and a few other words is less useful.
The P/D/F option is not for every class. It is, however, a valuable tool for most. It is consistent with the University’s goal of providing a liberal arts education, and it has allowed me to venture outside my comfort zone. A slight change in its deadline can serve the students even better.
Erica Choi is a sophomore from Bronxville, N.Y. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.