Point/Counterpoint: Should exams be pass/fail?


Krista Fleming

As midterms approach, reporters Krista Fleming and Madeline Rivera discuss whether the pass/fail grading system for finals is beneficial.

As students start taking midterms, complaints about having the test pile up. One of the biggest arguments against the test is about the way it’s graded and the effect it has on students. That’s why many students want the controversial pass/fail (P/F) grading system, but is it beneficial or a hindrance?


For the pass/fail grading system: Madeline Rivera

Energy drink cans pile up at the corner of my desk. The digital clock beside my computer displays 2 a.m. In order to cram a semester’s worth of information in just a few nights, I have to stay up until an ungodly hour each night. This is an unhealthy routine many students experience during the dreaded finals season. 

I often associate my self worth with how high my grades are. Even if I am passing a class, academics have been heavily emphasized throughout the entirety of my childhood – and I know nothing but this mindset. In order to achieve my academic goals, I often push my limits in order to remember each vocabulary term. However, a pass/fail grading system could positively change the way high schoolers take exams.

Typically found in colleges, a pass/fail grading system grades exams based on if a student has passed the exam or not. A numerical grade is not provided, and, as a result, GPA is not affected. Many of my peers and I would no longer have to congregate in study groups late into the night and, instead, gain a proper night’s rest for the exam. With pass/fail, students would not have to feel as though one bad exam grade could potentially damage their grade point average or class rank — key components that can either make or break a college application.

The most defining issue that comes with finals season is the stigma of receiving a “bad” grade, a concept that a P/F system eliminates with a simple letter grade for each student. If each student were to either receive a P or F, they would either pass or fail, nothing in between – eliminating any form of negative academic competition with their classmates. Some may argue that introducing a P/F grading system could potentially decrease the desire to “work hard” for a good grade – that is simply not the case. It would promote less stress in the classroom and create an environment where students, who have often felt intimidated by numerical grading, can feel more inclined to take academic risks, knowing they are on the same “level” as their peers. 

Students will always feel inclined to assume they could have done better when numerical grading is used for exams. If pass/fail grading were to be implemented into high schools, students would be able to finally take a sigh of relief, instead of a shudder upon the mention of finals season.


Against the pass/fail grading system: Krista Fleming

My grades have always been a source of pride and stress for me. No matter what grade I might have in a class, I always feel like it could be better; that B could be an A, and that A could be higher.

This feeling is what finals season offers: redemption

Having a grading system with numbers, instead of just a pass or fail, gives students a chance to raise their grade. A midterm is worth 15% of an overall grade, which means that if a student studies effectively and has a strong grasp of the material, it could potentially benefit their GPA. Whether the grade jumps from a C to B, or only goes up by a few points, a good score on a midterm could make a difference on a student’s transcript or class rank. All those potential benefits would be eliminated from exams if graded solely on a P/F scale. 

Of course, the benefits depend on getting a decent grade, which may not be incredibly easy, but is doable. Most exams prioritize general knowledge of the material rather than the finer details. This can teach students better study habits. 

The P/F grading system limits the benefits students can receive by a substantial margin, and it only brings more negatives with it. By only assigning a student a “pass” or a “fail,” a teacher is effectively grouping a large number of students under the threshold of failing together, regardless of how the scores vary. A teacher would be marking students who only failed by a few points with the same grade as students who only got a few questions right. It would also group together all passing students, whether they got a perfect score or barely passed. This reduction in competition would also reduce the incentive to work harder to achieve a better score, thus invalidating any potential results on how well students know the material. 

While a simple “pass” or “fail” may benefit those who do not do well on their midterms, the perks students will receive if they do well outweighs that positive. Our grading system should be based on students willing to apply themselves to maintain good grades, not unprepared students trying to take the lazy way out and scrape a passing grade.