For most classes, I know what I have to do to get a good grade. Math, do more practice problems. Science, study the book and make flashcards. But with English classes, I feel powerless to increase my grade through sheer hard work. Writing is an extremely important skill for all majors. If you are able to write well, you will succeed in more jobs and be more valuable to your field of study. It is important to be able to communicate your ideas to other professionals, but students should be focusing on improving this vital skill instead of pleasing the professor. English classes are extremely subjective, and 100 level classes should be taken pass/fail. Of course, it is possible to take any class pass/fail, but that option tends to look bad on a transcript. Most students, professors and professional or graduate schools see a pass/fail class as a way to hide a C-.
There is such variance in English professors. English 100 level classes are taught by a variety of instructors, from graduate student instructors to lecturers and professors. Each level has different standards for A, B and C papers because of their differences in experience. English professors also do not put papers through a scantron — there is no formulaic standard for grading and instead, the grade is based off the specific professors’ nuances. The best way for students in different English classes to be treated equally is to change the format of the classes to be taken pass/fail.
It is usually easy to tell if a student has put effort into a paper. If the paper meets requirements, has insight, an interesting thought process and has been edited, it usually will receive at least a C. The variances come in the passing grades, Cs through As. But this can be the difference in getting into a good graduate school.
An A paper for one professor may be a C to another. Students applying to medical school, the Ross School of Business or any graduate school in general, need a high GPA. Some students enroll in the College of Literature Science and the Arts to go into the sciences and do not need to be the next Hemingway. They need to be able to communicate their ideas clearly, not tell amazing stories in fantastically creative ways. Most students expect English to be a class that can boost their GPAs and, for some it is, but for others who are stuck with hard graders it can cause their GPAs to suffer. The difference in English professors’ grades can artificially inflate or deflate a student’s GPA regardless of the academic ability of the student. Graduate or professional schools do not know which students had harsh graders and which had easier ones. The schools might pass over a student with a lower GPA for a higher one — unaware that the student with the lower GPA was writing better papers for a more-difficult-to-please professor.
The point of English classes is to increase the writing ability of students. Professors stress that the class is not about getting an A but exploring oneself through interesting topics. Grammar and clarity can be improved by learning the rules, but a person’s writing style is entirely their own and should not have to be compromised to fit the likes of a professor. Writing is an art form and personal opinion on how something should be communicated. Making English 100 level classes pass/fail would allow students to keep their creative license without sacrificing a good grade.
Jesse Klein is an LSA freshman