As late October rolls around, we find ourselves in the middle of midterm season. In fact, we completed our first midterm exam just this past Friday. Yay!
One of the aspects I love about UCLA is the Pass/No Pass/Honors grading system. In our first class session, our professor establishes a Pass/No Pass threshold (e.g. 70%), and indicates the percentage of Honors that can be earned (e.g. up to 10% of the class). Students spend less time worrying about how to be top-ranked and more time on helping each other learn material and pass. When I was applying, some dental school friends told me about how their school’s cutthroat atmosphere stemmed from their A-F grading system. Needless to say, I chose a P/F/H school. Why stress?
The P/NP/H system is designed to reduce competition and increase collaboration, and I believe it has. The is a shift from focusing on individual success to focusing on communal success. Classmates openly share their study habits and study spaces. I cannot tell you the number of guides, Quizlets, and other external links that have been posted in our class page – there are a lot!
Comparing UCLA dental school’s learning environment to that of my undergraduate school makes me feel incredibly relieved. A case in point would be my first accounting class. On the first day, our professor instructed us to look at ourselves, the person to our left, and the person to our right. He said only one of us would earn an A-range grade. People laughed nervously and shifted in their seats. Even if 50% of the class put in the time and effort to earn an A or A-, only ~30% of the class would be awarded such a grade. Later that semester, circulating articles about grade inflation at Harvard added fuel to the fire. Students were upset, and for good reason.
In that atmosphere, it is difficult to imagine that students would collaborate. Why share notes, learning mnemonics, and previous exam questions if helping out your classmate might adversely affect yourself? During my time in student government, we sought to change the parts of Penn’s grading system that fomented excessive competition and seemed to compound our poor mental health climate. Adam Grant, one of Penn’s most renowned professors, recently wrote an article for the New York Times. He writes about how the aforementioned grading system results in a hyper-competitive culture, and how adopting new grading schemes can reduce competition and increase collaboration. Go Adam!
Circling back to UCLA’s midterm season, I’m extremely happy that the dental school has a P/NP/H system. We have one of our biggest midterms this coming Tuesday, but people are more than happy to help each other.
Together, we’re better.