Why McGill needs an A+

A number of issues have been raised in the campus debate on a 4.3 grading system that pertain to graduate studies. There are also some misapprehensions that have been expressed that can be informed by a graduate perspective.

Why introduce a 4.3 grading system at McGill? From the perspective of the Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research, there are two primary reasons for such a move.

  1. The 4.3 (A+) system allows high achieving students to demonstrate their full potential while not harming average achievers. Studies reported by the Educational Testing Service have demonstrated that the introduction of an A+ (not necessarily a 4.3 since there are some 4.0 systems with an A+) does not change average grades. It simply allows students with "A" grades to have a range of performance that is not possible in a system without an "A+." In other words, the only change to the numerical scale is between the 4.0 and the 4.3. This is demonstrated in the following adaptation of a CREPUQ chart:

    Class of gradesConcordia (4.3)McGill (4.0)
    First ClassA+ (4.3) 
    A  (4.0)A  (4.0)
    A- (3.7)A- (3.7)
    Second ClassB+ (3.3)B+ (3.3)
    B  (3.0)B  (3.0)
    B- (2.7)B- (2.7)
    Third ClassC+ (2.3)C+ (2.3)
    C  (2.0)C  (2.0)
    C- (1.7) 
    Fourth ClassD+ (1.3) 
    D  (1.0)D  (1.0)
    D- (0.7) 

    This chart makes it clear that a 3.0 average is a 3.0 average regardless of whether there is an A+ or a 4.3 grade. For admissions purposes in graduate school, grades are not converted into ratios. A student with a 3.0/4.3 is considered to be the same as a student with a 3.0/4.0. This equivalency is charted in admission decisions. On the other hand, a 4.3 demonstrates truly outstanding performance in a way that is camouflaged in a 4.0 system.

    Undergraduates at McGill will make themselves more competitive for admission to graduate school and medical school by having the lid lifted off their high performance. As it stands now, our students are at a disadvantage when applying to medical school in Ontario. Their 4.0 is automatically converted to a 3.9, leaving the 4.0 grade for students from universities with an A+. This kind of disadvantage also occurs with regard to graduate funding. Each year the Graduate Studies Office has to remind the granting councils of the fact that McGill has no A+ and is on a 4.0 grading system so that our students are not at a disadvantage.

    Some undergraduate students have been worried that the students in science will be at a greater advantage with a 4.3 system than the students in arts disciplines. The belief is that arts professors never give grades high enough for an A+ because they mark qualitative rather than quantitative work, where a student can presumably score 100 on an exam. If there are such discrepancies in marking, they exist already and a 4.3 system will not change them. It is important to remember that political science students do not compete with chemistry students for places in graduate school or generally for jobs. Political science students compete with other political science students for entry into a graduate program in political science. Graduate programs in political science presumably understand the nature of grading work in their discipline. Hence, arguments based on disciplinary advantages and disadvantages appear to be a red herring in the discussion about the merits of a 4.3 system.

  2. The second reason to introduce the 4.3 system is so that McGill can have a compatible grading system with other Quebec universities. Being compatible with is not to be mistaken with being comparable to. These two ideas have been confused in the debates on the 4.3 system. The reason to have the same grading system as another university is not to compare ourselves to that university but because we are in a position to share resources with them. Increasingly, for instance, there are joint graduate programs (there are already six such programs). There are also students taking courses, at all levels, using the interuniversity transfer system that is in place within the Quebec system. Having different grading systems is extremely cumbersome for students taking advantage of joint programs and transfer courses. McGill is now the only Quebec university that is not on the 4.3 grading system.

Martha Crago
Associate Vice-Principal (Graduate Studies)