A Different Grading System in the First Year for Undergraduates – Part II


Thank you for your hearty responses to my earlier blog post on the proposed grade-free system for first year undergraduates. I have read through and given thought to each of them. Concurrently, we have had many constructive discussions with Deans, Vice Deans, Department Heads, faculty members, the Board of Undergraduate Studies, the University Committee on Educational Policy and the University Senate.


There is broad consensus on the rationale and intended objectives of a grade-free system. There are, however, a range of views on how this can be implemented at NUS, and the appropriate options to adopt, given the current curriculum structure and the need to ensure compatibility with existing educational policies. While many recognised the merits of encouraging students to optimise their learning experience and build a positive and conducive learning culture, there were valid concerns with student motivation and calls to ensure that students develop strong disciplinary foundations in their freshman year.


Many stakeholders have taken a keen interest in this issue, and the proposals have been sharpened and refined in the course of this iterative consultation process.


I am pleased to share that we are now ready to present the details of a new grading system for modular degree programmes that will be applied to the cohort of freshmen matriculating in AY2014/15.


NUS will be introducing a new S/U policy, where students may exercise the S/U option for up to 20 MCs during the first semester of their candidature. This new policy will apply to all Level 1000 modules and Level 2000 modules offered without other NUS modules as pre-requisites as these are the modules that freshmen read in the first semester. (The non-credit-bearing English Language proficiency modules offered by the Centre for English Language Communication (CELC) are not included.) The fine details of the new S/U policy are being worked out by the Board of Undergraduate Studies, and these will be communicated to students through their respective Faculties.


Unused S/U MCs from the first semester may generally not be carried forward to subsequent semesters. The current S/U option for up to 12 MCs at any time during the candidature will remain unchanged as this encourages students to learn broadly via cross-faculty electives during the senior years. However, it will be broadened to include Major, Faculty and USP requirements read in subsequent semesters, so long as they are Level 1000 modules or Level 2000 modules without NUS modules as prerequisites.


In essence, students can exercise the S/U option for up to 32 MCs during their candidature, of which up to 5 modules or 20 MCs may be exercised during the first semester. This is effectively an expansion of the current S/U policy to allow for a grade-free first semester for freshmen.


As you know, under the S/U mechanism, letter grades are assigned to modules. However, students can decide whether to have these grades counted towards their Cumulative Average Point (CAP). When students exercise the S/U option on a module, the letter grade will not be shown on the transcript nor computed towards the CAP. An ‘S’ grade will be assigned if the student obtains a grade of C or above; a ‘U’ grade will be assigned if the student obtains a grade of D+ or below. Alternatively, a student may choose to retain the letter grade and have it factored towards the computation of his or her CAP. The S/U declaration exercise is conducted upon the release of examination results, and will end by the stipulated deadline, which will be announced each semester.


The S/U mechanism encourages students to put in effort for the modules they read, as good grades can be recognised and contribute to their CAPs. Students will also avoid being penalised for experimenting with modules they are less familiar with; they are thus free to pursue and widen their academic horizons without having to worry about the repercussions of poor grades.


Concomitantly, to prevent students from deliberately overloading in the first semester and thereby missing out on the spirit and benefits of a grade-free semester, NUS will limit the workload in the first semester: students may only read up to a maximum of 20 MCs during the first semester. Exceptions may be granted for students on special programmes such as the Double Degree Programmes and the Global Engineering Programme.


We will be monitoring and evaluating how students and faculty members take to this new grading system. If it turns out to be a highly positive and beneficial initiative, we may eventually move towards a full grade-free first year.


I am glad that education at NUS has been evolving and maturing, and that as a community, we are now ready to take this bold step that will hopefully lead to an even more transformative educational experience for our students. Our end vision is to seed and imbue a strong culture of inquiry, exploration and discovery at NUS.