Thursday, August 22

The learning curve


Students stress over GPAs, but grading varies by department

Adheesh Bhagat, a first-year computer science and engineering
student, scored what he believed was a disappointing 37 out of 59
on his chemistry midterm.

“I had been expecting at least an A-minus,” he
said.

Though the class average was a 34, Bhagat said his grade made
him feel “pathetic” and that he plans to study more for
the next exam.

This sense of disappointment is spreading throughout many parts
of campus as students are receiving their midterms back this
week.

Many first-year students, unfamiliar with UCLA’s grading
procedures, expressed anxiety about their grade point averages
““ an average that varies significantly in different
departments.

Students graduating from the engineering departments typically
have much lower GPAs than do some pre-med or arts departments.

Dustin Lee, a first-year materials science and engineering
student, was also disappointed by a midterm grade.

“I didn’t do well; things just don’t work out
like they’re supposed to. … Coming from high school you
have much higher expectations,” Lee said.

Lee said his mathematics exam score was “a kick in the
butt,” and caused him to stress about his overall GPA.

In the academic year of 2001-2002, GPAs by department ranged
from 2.70 in the materials science and engineering department to
3.80 in Slavic language and literature.

The average UCLA GPA was 3.21.

If past years are any indication, the average grade given at the
end of the course in Lee’s mathematics class will be around a
B-minus. The class grades will be structured so that about 30
percent of students receive As, Bs and Cs, respectively.

“It’s an old habit to use curves,” explained
Professor Ronald Miech, chairman of the mathematics department.

“As for the GPA being lower in the mathematics department,
you would get sarcastic remarks from the mathematics faculty about
the quality of the other programs,” he added.

Some professors give low grades in order to differentiate
between strong and weak students.

“The average grade in freshman chemistry is in the B-minus
to C-plus neighborhood. If the average grade was too high, then it
would be impossible to reward the best students with grades that
set them apart from the rest of the class,” said Albert
Courey, vice chairman of the department of chemistry and
biochemistry, in an e-mail.

Some students feel this grading system is unfair, and that UCLA
should make an effort to have all departmental GPAs be closer to
the university’s overall average.

“UCLA should regulate its grading policies so that it
keeps everyone on the same level,” said Emerald Nguyen, a
first-year molecular, cell, and developmental biology student.

Courey was concerned that students graduating from departments
that award bachelor of science degrees tend to have lower GPAs than
students graduating from departments that award bachelor of arts
degrees.

“I don’t think that bachelor of science students
should have lower GPAs than bachelor of arts students because this
would imply that the B.A. students are smarter than the B.S.
students, and I’m confident that this is not the case,”
he said.

“If such a discrepancy in GPA does exist, then this is a
problem that should be addressed by the university,” he
added.

But some officials said regulating GPA by department would be
unproductive.

“GPA comes from a lot of other courses outside your
department as well,” said Bob Cox, manager for the office of
instructional workload and enrollment planning.

In terms of grading by department, last spring the lowest
average GPA, 2.61, was in the microbiology, immunology and
molecular genetics department to and the highest, 3.86, was in the
music department.

Upper division classes ranged from 2.83 to 3.86 with the same
two departments being the highest and lowest.

The average GPAs for lower division and upper division courses
that same quarter were 3.13 and 3.25, respectively.

The range of grades given by department causes some students to
feel slighted.

“The GPA discrepancies are only fair if graduate schools
know the disparities,” said Chad Goffstein, a second-year
microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics student.

In light of differences between departmental GPAs, Andrea
Sossin-Bergman, the assistant dean of admissions at the UCLA Law
School, recommends that if students are from a department with a
particularly low GPA they include that information with their
application by having their department write a letter noting its
average GPA.

Some of the differences between departments may be due to
differences in grading styles. While classes on south campus might
grade on strict bell curves and often have predetermined average
grades, most north campus classes have no restrictions on how many
students receive a certain grade.

“Students are not competing against their neighbors,
they’re competing against the standards that I think they
should be held to,” said English Professor Charles
Batten.

Other professors said the differences in grading between the two
campus halves is a distinction many students seek.

“We cannot judge the students as in science classes, this
is the beauty of humanities,” said Inna Gergel, student
affairs officer for the Slavic language and literature
department.

In the end, the grading discrepancies and the material itself
causes many students to view south campus classes as being harder
than north campus classes.

“I think south campus would be more difficult and more
work,” said Michelle Watson, a fourth-year psychology
student.

Richard Julius, a first-year inorganic chemistry graduate
student, also said he believes south campus classes are more
difficult. Despite this, he said he was glad to have majored in
chemistry because he believes people take a bachelor of science
more seriously than a bachelor of arts.

“People already know you can read and write,” he
explained.

He added that the grading in south campus classes is reflective
of the courses themselves.

“The grading system shows the inherent competitiveness of
south campus. It’s not about how you did, it’s how you
did compared to everyone else,” Julius said.

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