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Education, Singapore

Amelia Teng
Friday, May 16, 2014

Education, Singapore

NUS eases pressure on grades for freshmen

The Straits Times | Amelia Teng | Friday, May 16, 2014

NUS students on campus. Provost Tan Eng Chye says the university hopes to put in place a full grade-free first year eventually, but is taking a "measured approach" to gauge the response.

The National University of Singapore has reduced the focus on grades for its freshmen.

Currently, students can choose to "remove" less-than-stellar grades from their records in three modules any time during their undergraduate years.

However, provost Tan Eng Chye has said that from August some 6,000 first-year students will be able to exercise this option in five modules during the first semester, on top of the existing three in the remaining terms.

The new initiative applies to nearly all NUS faculties and schools: arts and social sciences, business, computing, design and environment, engineering, music, nursing and science.

Known as the satisfactory/ unsatisfactory option, grades are still given, but students do not have to count them towards the computation of their overall scores unless they want to.

However, students still have to be graded "satisfactory" or they will have to retake the module or take another.

It is hoped the scheme will remove the pressure of having to score well and encourage students to explore subjects outside their specialisation - even those they may not be confident in.

Professor Tan said university life can be quite different from the years of education most students will have gone through.

"You're expected to be more independent learners; you're expected to come forth with your own ideas," he said, adding that not counting their grades initially will help students ease into school.

But those who do well will still be rewarded as they can keep their grades. "It's good to have some pressure," he said. "If there's no pressure, there's no urge to strive for excellence."

Prof Tan said NUS hopes to put in place a full grade-free first year eventually, but is taking a "measured approach" to gauge the response.

The law faculty is introducing a grade-free system for its 230 freshmen in August, similar to that operated by the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine and Yale-NUS College. The dentistry faculty is also planning its own "gradeless" scheme.

At Singapore University of Technology and Design, first-year students get only a "pass" or "no record" in the first term.

Institutions abroad, like Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Brown University in the US, also have gradeless policies.

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