The concept of “minuses” on grades, often referred to as a grading scale with both plus (+) and minus (-) symbols, is a topic of debate in education. While some educational institutions use such a grading system, others use a simplified version without the pluses and minuses. Drexel University’s system is a combination of the two: each plus grade translates to a higher GPA than each plain letter grade, and each minus grade counts as lower. The only exceptions are A pluses, which are counted the same as A’s (4.0).
Pluses are rewarding, even congratulatory. They symbolize the value of a little extra effort, time management and aptitude. Pluses are what grades should be — positive reinforcement, or rewards for learning and applying material thoroughly. Motivators in their essence, pluses foster a strong sense of pride and accomplishment, all while encouraging students to go beyond what is expected of them.
Minuses are demotivating, even discouraging. They have a negative psychological impact on students, as getting a grade with a minus symbol, such as a B-, might make a student feel like they just missed the higher grade, which creates disappointment and decreased motivation. A student who is just trying their hardest to pass a difficult class with a 70 will be content with a C, but annoyed with a C-. The minus is telling the student that their effort was not enough, which is simply degrading and almost feels like a punishment.
Receiving repeated minuses can absolutely result in a bitter attitude towards education and learning as a whole, as they inadvertently instill a fear of failure and a reluctance to take risks, hindering students’ willingness to explore challenging academic pursuits. Long term, this can lead to burnout, decreased well-being, and even academic disengagement as students prioritize avoiding negative outcomes over the joy of learning.
Beyond the psychological effects, minuses lower a student’s GPA more significantly than just receiving the regular grade without the minus, impacting graduate school admissions, scholarship eligibility, and possibly co-op and job offers. Nit-picky grade intervals inaccurately represent a student’s true abilities and can hinder their chances of reaching their full potential.
While some may argue that the plus and minus system sets higher academic standards and promotes a more competitive environment, the difference between an 82 (B-) and an 83 (B) in many cases is negligible, accounting for one more correct test question. This overly critical scale only promotes unhealthy stress and failure to look at the big picture.
For these reasons, the solution is clear: keep the pluses and subtract the minuses. Students should feel that Drexel wants them to succeed academically. Removing minuses from our grading scale will promote a culture of ambition and optimism, putting the focus back on the talent of students, instead of on their “shortcomings.” This shift would encourage students to develop growth mindsets, embrace challenges, and pursue intellectual growth without the fear of being penalized for minor discrepancies. The removal of minuses will very likely lead to a more curious, motivated and proactive student body.