Grade Point Averages: What’s all the fuss about?


There is currently a fair bit of noise in UK higher education about the introduction of a Grade Point Average (GPA) scheme possibly to replace honours degree classifications (HDC). The idea of such a scheme is to assign grades to each course and then average numerical versions of the grades to provide a final more precise score.

The Higher Education Academy has provided the details of such a scale running from 0 to 4.25 to be roughly comparable to the GPA scale used in the United States and elsewhere in the world. The additional 0.25 at the top of the scale is to compensate for additional merit awards common in the United States.

The proposed GPA scheme been given some prominence in Jo Johnston’s Higher Education Green Paper where English institutions will be asked to comment on their implementation of GPA. Although the University of Edinburgh remains sceptical about its introduction and even more sceptical about discarding HDC, we have provided a key ingredient in its formulation enabling the university to be prepared should it be felt that we need to provide GPAs to all students and to ensure that our students would not be at any disadvantage.

This part of the scheme is carefully crafted so that if we were to use GPA to replace HDC then it can reflect almost exactly current practice; HDC can be read back from the GPA score so long as it follows the same algorithm as HDC. It can even take some account of Board of Examiner’s discretion. However, if we were to have both schemes running, as would be perhaps more likely, then it can also provide a very different measure of student attainment.

It achieves this apparently paradoxical effect firstly by having a non-linear mapping between percentage marks and grade points in such a way that when averaged, the grade points emphasize consistency of performance more than a straight average would. Secondly, this effect can be combined with averaging over early years’ performance. Including marks from years one and two, or even just from year two, also helps to motivate students a little more to achieve higher marks rather than aiming for just a pass.

Next steps you can take:
Consult the GPA FAQ on the HEA website.
Read details of the GPA pilot project on the HEA website.

Antony Maciocia

Antony Maciocia is the Dean of Students in the College of Science and Engineering. He is also senior lecturer in the School of Mathematics and is leading the working group into grade point averages in the University.

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