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What's the Point in Getting More than 90% of all the Points in College?

  1. Aug 14, 2011 #1
    At my university professors are free to chose what total percent correct earns which grade, the total points earned divided by the total points that were possible to earn, by curving exams as they wish. My university, like many others, suggest that anything above a total percent correct of 90% or higher is worthy of a A. Most universities don't give out A+s so anything above a 90% or higher counts towards GPA as a 4.0. The student who got 90% of the total points has the same GPA as a student who would of had 100% of them. Walking away from college with a 4.0 would mean that on average you earned a A for every single course you took, you can offset a B if you earned many As. I can get 90% of the total points ever given while I'm at college, have a 4.0, and straight As on my transcript, or I can get 100% of the total points ever given while I'm in college, have a 4.0, and straight As on my transcript, nobody would be able to tell the difference? So what's the point of trying to get every single point in every single course you take when you can just aim for 90% of them and walk away from college with what would appear to be the same benefits, have a 4.0, and straight As on your transcript. Certainly earning every single point ever that you could of earned would be much more work and a greater accomplishment than just 90% of them, but what is point in trying to do so?

    Yes, I know it's nearly impossible to earn every single point and you want to try to do more than 90% to average lower grades, I understand and am not arguing about these aspects. I am however arguing the point in trying to be perfect and getting every single point ever, or trying to get much more than 90% of them, because I don't see one when you can just get 90% of them and do a lot less work, as it would appear you would earn the same exact benefits.
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 14, 2011 #2


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    Asking this question is the first step towards the realisation that university is about more than just the grades you earn.
  4. Aug 14, 2011 #3
    Are you suggesting that people intentionally get questions wrong, or intentionally avoid learning the material, such that they don't get above a 90?

    I really don't know what point you're trying to make.
  5. Aug 14, 2011 #4
    lol =O, thanks :approve:, it's a good question and made me realize it myself...

    the point I'm trying to make is that you can get 90% of all the points or 100% of all the points ever given out to you during college and you still come out with what would appear to me to be the same exact benefits. No I'm not suggesting that people intentally not answer questions or anything... what I'm suggesting is that there's a rather large range of the amount of work required in a difference of 10% of points, a huge difference, and it would appear that you earn the same exact benifits by earning 90% of them if you had earned ALL OF THEM :tongue2: and was wondering if someone could argue a reason to try to do more than 90% of them as if they would get more benefit in doing so that actually matters because I don't see one at all
    Last edited: Aug 14, 2011
  6. Aug 14, 2011 #5
    If all you care about is grades, then there's no point trying to get higher than 90%. However, if all you care about is grades, you're really cheating yourself.
  7. Aug 14, 2011 #6
    If you know the material well enough that you know you'll get at least a 90%, you'd have to intentionally hold back to get only a 90%. If you don't know the material well enough, you should put in enough work to learn all of the material, to make sure you get at least a 90%.

    If you aim for 100% and fall short, you get a 90%. If you aim for a 90% and fall short, you might only get an 80. You seem to be suggesting to aim for a 90%.

    I hope I'm being clear about why I don't understand what you're suggesting.
  8. Aug 14, 2011 #7
    Do you find it that easy? Can you go into a test and tell yourself "I am going to get a 92" and manage to get EXACTLY that?

    If you can then maybe you should be part of the circus and not university.

    Shooting for 100% should be everyone's goal, no-one WANTS to get things wrong on tests. No-one WANTS to fail. Tests (should be) are designed so that only those with the purest, most in-depth, knowledge of the material will be able to rise above a 90% or even obtain 100%.

    A 4.0 GPA means you know your stuff; it's as simple as that. Someone who got a 4.0 with 100% and 4.0 with 90% probably don't differ by much in the grand scheme of things.
  9. Aug 15, 2011 #8
    GreenPrint - earning over 90% might impress your professors. Letters of recommendation go a long way if you want to go to grad school, for instance, and even if professors aren't going to necessarily be obsessed with your test scores, it can really be an embellishing point if you come from a good background and utterly crush your exams.

    I never was that kind - I was more the sort of student who would strive for nothing short of an A, but would when push comes to shove think about what he wants out of his academics, and do independent reading, try hand at thinking about research problems that could be interesting, etc.

    But seriously, in theory subjects, crushing your exams is a good sign, because it predicts you'll have the raw firepower to tackle the preliminary requirements (quals, etc) and certainly will be quick enough to handle the intensity. But quickness is just one factor - curiosity, drive, knack for finding interesting ways of looking at things, expository skills - all of these are necessary for the academic path.

    If you're not going into academics, almost always someone spending too much time getting a 99 percent on all the exams is missing out on something more important.
  10. Aug 15, 2011 #9
    I'd say this isn't the point of the post - it seems to be not hinting about being able to reach exact scores, so much as the distinction between playing it safe to get an A vs. trying to really crush everything.

    Sure, you can try to argue that even trying to crush everything is only a safe approach, and in the end one may not do as well as one expects. But it's a question of mindset. 10 percent is a pretty large margin - an extra level of obsession with getting an A++++ level score almost always helps a lot in doing so, but the question (asked here) is, I think, whether such obsession is useful.
  11. Aug 15, 2011 #10
    Oh I fully understand what the point of the post is. I'm just being a little sarcastic in my way of approaching it. I don't understand how anyone could have such a definitive knowledge about the grade they're going to achieve in the end. Everyone should be aspiring to do their absolute best; whether that's an 85, 90, or 100.

    In my eyes since everything is fitted to a curve anyway you should be more focused on doing better than your classmates than getting 100%. I got 60% on one of my finals but that translated into a 97% because everyone else did MUCH worse than me.
  12. Aug 15, 2011 #11
    The one time I didn't try to crush everything, and I expected to coast to an A, I ended up with my first A-. I missed it by half of a percentage point, in freshman-level general chemistry.

    Holding back because you think you'll get an A is an excellent way to get less than an A.
  13. Aug 15, 2011 #12
    Or, it's an excellent way to use your time doing other things. I think it boils down to what your priorities are.
  14. Aug 16, 2011 #13
    Well, at our university, we use a plus-minus system (A and below)... so if you're in my course and you get a 90-93, you'll get an "A-" :biggrin:

    I'll agree with other postings that there's a point to balancing grades and doing other activities that will be useful to your later career and current sanity... but I'll add that many people can do this balancing quite well and still distinguish themselves by being in the 99th percentile (in a class, in a field, etc.).
  15. Aug 16, 2011 #14
    At my university it's completely class dependent. If a professor wants to, they can give out ridiculously hard tests and then make anything above 40% an A+. In the sciences, they have to tell you at the beginning of the semester what the minimum threshold is. i.e. if you get at least _____ your letter grade will be at least _____. I do have to say, though, that I like engineering/math classes where they do no such thing. Until you get your final grade, you have no idea whether you need an 80 or a 98 to get an A+. It means that you have to focus on doing as well as you can and not just doing well enough to get a certain letter grade.
  16. Aug 16, 2011 #15
    Because the person who is both capable of performing at 95% proficiency and is willing to make the effort to do so is better than you, to be blunt.
  17. Aug 16, 2011 #16
  18. Aug 17, 2011 #17
    For me, it's not about the grade so much as it's about showing myself how proficient I am in a particular area. When I get less than 100% it means that there was something I should have learned but didn't, and in a cumulative field like mathematics this can kill you later on. However, I have to say that's what I love most about it; there is only one right answer! Unless you're dealing with theory, there is no "feminist perspective" or "Chinese version" of mathematics (and Singapore Math doesn't count!). It's just cold, hard, awesome reality. You either get it right or you don't.

    I'll also echo the thoughts of others. Always try your hardest, strive for nothing less than your best. If you don't, you may be disappointed with your final grade. I know I have been. The rare B or C on my record have always been due to my laziness, I've never gotten less than an A when I've applied myself.

    Hrm. In response to Bourbaki's 'fixed' quotation, I have to wonder.. what are the motivations of someone striving for less than 100%, but higher than 90? It boggles the mind. As has been said, it's rather difficult to predict with certainty what grade one will get, so I would tend to think that the difference between a 90 and a 95 would in fact be intellect or work ethic instead of priorities. Not to mention the fact that there is a much smaller gap between 89 and 90, and thus it's much easier to land below the mark by a single point (resulting in a B) than above it by five.
  19. Aug 17, 2011 #18
    This is probably a product of my having gone to a small, unknown university, but I've never had an undergraduate course that I've worried about lacking the intellectual ability to master. I have had times when my work ethic was not up to par, however. In any event, I can say with great confidence that I've learned more studying on my own than studying at my university, so I might be an unusual case. It's paradoxically difficult to keep up work ethic when I don't feel like the course is actually challenging me.

    The difference is that you don't have to waste as much time, and thus can focus on other interests, mathematical and otherwise. However, for me, I usually demolish tests but tend to slack off on out of class material, so I'll have a good deal of control over how many points I end up with (by selectively opting out of homework).

    If it is a subject that I greatly enjoy, I ask the teacher for additional interesting problems. I did this in my algebra courses and this led to a number of independent studies. I study mathematics quite a bit, but not always the subject matter of my courses. I also study the sciences quite a bit and have a broad variety of academic interests and read journals in multiple subjects.
  20. Aug 17, 2011 #19


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    The question isn't so much about aiming at particular marks in particular classes, rather, whether or not you should change anything if you find yourself consistently just barely getting into that maximum bin - recognizing that it has a width to it.

    One school of thought is that a person should strive to achieve a perfect score on all graded material. And I think, to an extent, one should. Aiming for less than 100% from the onset tends to encourage one to allow small gaps in the material.

    But here are some catches.

    1. You can't know everything.
    2. Even if you do know everything, you can't articulate it perfectly, everytime, in the discrete periods of time allowed for you to do so.
    3. Getting less than 100% may have absolutely nothing to do with your knowledge or abilities in a subject. Sometimes you may interpret problems incorrectly. Sometimes the questions are asked in an ambiguous manner open to interpretation. Sometimes you make minor, trivial mistakes. A student who has a near-perfect mastery of a subject, but has difficulty interpreting questions would be much better served focusing on his or her test-taking skills than studying further on the subject at hand.

    So coming back to my original comment, there is great value in asking this question because the more you think about it, the more it connects you to everything beyond the coursework.
  21. Aug 17, 2011 #20
    But that's the whole thing - you may not get an A even if you DO NOT hold back. There is no way to guarantee you will. And I don't agree that your time is thus always best spent striving for an A+, so you "at least" end up with an A. The question is how to achieve the best result for yourself. And often you can get an A with less effort, and *shudders* very occasionally dropping below isn't going to kill you. Not unless you want to go to medical school or something (I don't even know about that case).

    You're also assuming by using the word excellent that it's very likely to happen, yet that simply would indicate an inability to predict effectively. I'd say it's not actually as difficult to tell how you're doing as you'd expect.

    A simple strategy is to be very, very careful at the beginning of a course, and make sure you start off on the right footing. As you figure out how things generally work, it should become a bit clearer what is expected, and I say proceed accordingly, rather than applying all the brute force one can to get all the points.

    Quoted for truth. And, I'd add, sometimes there are things you could be doing to improve your knowledge more than just fighting for an extra percentage point.
  22. Aug 17, 2011 #21
    Well, I think it is customary in most math/science classes, due to their difficulty, that a score about 85 is very good, and a score above 90 is basically a guaranteed A (even lower than that qualifies, at times).

    Like you said, if a class is curved, you should be aiming to be doing very well in a relative sense.

    But often, this will leave you some margin to either spend every last energy on class, or spend some time doing something else (academically) useful.

    I agree with you that one should be careful, and if possible, do both (aim for best scores and do other meaningful stuff).

    Anyway, our discussion is greatly dependent on the professor, school, and student concerned.
  23. Aug 22, 2011 #22
    Well see I was thinking how much room for error and mistake there is... walking away from college with 90% of all points that you could of earned earns you the same exact benefits as if you had earned all of them. 10% is a rather big range. Even if the material does build on itself you could essentially get away with not learning 10% of everything your suppose to, when your suppose to, and be considered perfect even though in actuality your far from it, assuming you learned the material at another point in time if needed for other courses if the material built on itself...

    Like mentioned earlier about homework... homework in most courses are only 10%, some it's even less or nothing at all. In this one course I'm taking however it's indeed 10%. If you know the material you could opt out of certain homework assignments and still be perfectly fine and be left with room to make mistakes.

    I agree that even if you have mastered the material the chances of you being able to demonstrate you have, although high, are not 100%. You could punch into your calculator something wrong, you could misread a question and so forth. I don't see though why a 10% gap is needed to make up for the fact that people are human and do make mistakes even if they mastered the material. When I was in high school you had to earn 98% of all points ever given to you in a course to be considered perfect. This 2% gap of points to be considered perfect and get a A+ I thought was fair due to the mistakes you will make because you are human and not perfect.

    I feel as if the 10% gap in points to be considered perfect allows you a tremendous amount of freedom to do other stuff outside of the course like your own research on other topics outside of the course just because they interest you like mentioned in other posts. Doing so however would mean that you didn't learn something. If I were to get 90% of all the points in a course I would feel as if I didn't learn something and that the other 10% would be the points I lost as result, yet I would still get the same benefits as someone who had 100% of the points.

    I just find the 10% gap of points to get yourself thrown into the "perfect" category is larger than it needs to be. There's also the fact that GPA is not normally calculated out to 1000 decimal points and often rounded after 3 or 4 digits after the decimal. This makes the 10% gap slightly larger.
    Last edited: Aug 22, 2011
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