For LSA students sweating over Spanish vocabulary, the possibility of a grade-free language course may seem like a dream. But for students studying an intensive foreign language in the Residential College, it’s a reality.
All students in the RC must meet the LSA requirement of two years of a language and then take a foreign language proficiency exam followed by a literature course. Since 2001, all classes students in preparation for foreign language proficiency exams in the RC have been pass/fail. Rather than give students grades, professors provide students with detailed evaluation sheets documenting their performances.
Dominique Butler-Borruat, head of the RC French Department, said that in addition to language classes, most classes in the RC also followed the same system until LSA mandated they use a normal grading scale starting in 2001. Though post-proficiency classes switched to a traditional grading system that year, pre-proficiency classes remained pass/fail.
“It’s not about getting an A,” Murphy said. “It’s about getting to where you can pass the proficiency test.”
Despite the changes, Murphy said he thought the new grading system was positively received among the RC community.
“In the grand scheme of things, students prefer having grades for their classes,” Murphy said.
Because the goal of the pre-proficiency classes is to prepare students for the proficiency exams, Murphy said the department has a valid reason for not basing evaluations on a traditional grading system.
“The priority of the RC language classes is to have students achieve proficiency in foreign language, and the pass/fail grading is one way in which it works to accomplish that goal,” Murphy said. “We’ve found ways to make it work. It’s the system we have, and it’s not going to change.”
The evaluations are detailed and vary based on the level of difficulty of the class, according to Murphy. Some are one page in length while others can be as long as six pages. Along with evaluations, other methods are in place to supplement students’ language proficiency like lunch-time conversation groups.
RC freshman Adam Molnar is a student in Spanish 294 — the final class students take before the Spanish proficiency exam. He said his class holds mandatory hour-long lunch or coffee meetings to practice speaking skills, and his group meets three times a week to hold conversations entirely in Spanish. Molnar said he thinks the pass/fail system as a means of making a work-intensive class less stressful.
“(The system is) super necessary because (the class) is really difficult …” Molnar said. “You feel like you’re failing at all times, so you pass the test.”
However, other students think the pass/fail system is unnecessary. RC freshman Bailey Binke, who’s taking French, said she would prefer letter grades over the written evaluations.
“Having a huge amount of credit to be pass/fail … I’d rather it just to be a letter grade,” Binke said.