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    Peking University Shifts From GPA to Letter Grades, Sparks Debate

    This new system, which assigns scores on a five-level scale with an A for scores over 85 and an F for those under 60, is designed to reduce competition for high scores and encourage broader personal development.
    Jan 05, 2024#education#policy

    In a bid to reduce academic pressure on students, China’s Peking University has announced a pilot grading reform project at the School of Life Sciences. Under this new system, students are assessed on a five-level scale (A to F) rather than the traditional grade point average. 

    Announced Wednesday through its official WeChat account, Peking University stated that starting with the class of 2020, professional courses at the school will adopt this new system. Students achieving scores above 85 will receive an A, while scores below 60 will result in an F.

    Wang Shiqiang, former associate dean of the School of Life Sciences, said in the WeChat post that students who can achieve an 85 in a course need no longer compete for a 95. 

    “We are allocating more time for students to enhance their personal development. This includes attending lectures by renowned experts, enrolling in humanities courses, and engaging in scientific and social research practices,” said Wang. 

    The change has sparked widespread debate online. While some students lauded the reduced pressure, others expressed concerns about applying to international programs.

    A 20-year-old student from the School of Life Sciences told Sixth Tone Friday that the new grading scale was implemented in 2022. “The new system frees us from relentlessly pursuing higher scores. It has also encouraged us to devote more time to practical academic projects in the laboratory,” said the student, requesting anonymity for privacy reasons. 

    However, three students at Peking University said they were anxious about the potential impact of the new grading system on applications to foreign institutions, which often require GPA assessments. 

    Addressing such issues, Wang stated that the university would issue certificates for students applying to postgraduate programs overseas. These certificates will explain the new grading system.

    “Once the first batch of students successfully receives offers from universities overseas with the new assessment method, students’ doubts will be alleviated,” Wang was quoted as saying in a China Daily report. 

    Xiong Bingqi, deputy director of the 21st Century Education Research Institute, told Sixth Tone that abolishing the GPA system signifies a move towards a more holistic evaluation approach. 

    This shift also aligns with China’s State Council directive in 2015, which urged domestic colleges to innovate their evaluation methods and foster creativity among students by broadening the focus from mere scores to exploring a range of possibilities.

    That year, Tsinghua University adopted a similar grading reform. By 2019, Tsinghua further amended this policy to allow a higher percentage of students per course to receive A grades, responding to student petitions against the strict cap on top scores. 

    In recent years, the East China Normal University and Shanghai-Tech University have also experimented with the letter-based grading system. 

    Chu Chaohui, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Educational Sciences, underscored the need for more reforms. He said: “Using either GPA or scale grades as the sole measure of academic level is too simplistic. We need a more comprehensive evaluation system in China, one that integrates grade points into a broader context, rather than relying solely on scores.”

    Editor: Apurva. 

    (Header image: Students prepare for exams at a university in Wuhan, Hubei province, Dec. 4, 2023, VCG)