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Tamara Keith: Passed/Not Passed Can Be a Game of Russian Roulette

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Passed/Not Passed Can Be a Game of Russian Roulette

By Tamara Keith, Public Affairs
Posted March 10, 1999

Photo: Tamara Keith

Tamara Keith

In junior high and high school I was totally obsessed with getting high grades. But one semester into my career at Cal, I realized that A's were going to become more scarce and my grade-point average was going to suffer. Then I discovered this neat little option called "passed/not passed," which means that your final score in the course won't affect your GPA.

The first thing I learned about p/np was that College of Letters and Sciences students, of which I'm one, are allowed to take up to 19 percent of our units p/np. The second was that most departments require you to take all courses in your major for a letter grade.

Armed with that information, I had my first bad experience with p/np the second semester of my freshman year. All philosophy majors are required to take a course in logic. Those who click with logic usually get A's; those who don't try to take it passed/not passed. I loved the class, but by the midterm it was clear that I was one of those people who just didn't get it. The deadline to switch grading options was the very same day, but I hadn't yet learned that the philosophy department allows its majors to take one philosophy class passed/not passed. The deadline came and went and my GPA took the hit.

My second mishap came that same semester. I needed to meet the quantitative reasoning breadth requirement, but was afraid of college-level math. My numbers skills had been substandard ever since I was forced in ninth grade to take trigonometry from the high school basketball coach. So I opted to take my required Cal math class passed/not passed.

Since I was not taking the course for a letter grade, I didn't do much homework. A C- is a passing grade and that's all I was aiming for. After finals, I learned that I had pulled a C. Since the letter grade didn't affect my grade point, I was pleased with my poor performance. A few months later, L&S sent a nice letter informing me that courses taken p/np do not count for the quantitative reasoning requirement. I had to file a petition to retroactively switch the grading, and my GPA ate the C.

You'd think that by senior year I would have figured out how to play the game, but I must be a slow learner. Snafu number three came last semester with my Heidegger class. I figured that since Heidegger is supposed to be one of the most difficult philosophy courses, it was the ideal time to take advantage of the one p/np philosophy course to which I was entitled. Unfortunately for me, the class was so well taught that I got an A- despite my best efforts to do poorly. The A- would have counteracted my earlier p/np mistakes -- if it had counted toward my GPA.

They say that when you gamble, the house always wins. When it comes to grades, it seems the university holds all the cards.



March 10 - 16, 1999 (Volume 27, Number 26)
Copyright 1999, The Regents of the University of California.
Produced and maintained by the
Office of Public Affairs at UC Berkeley.
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