SU1101: The Science (and Art) of the S/U Option

Season’s Greetings!


As the year draws to a close, many people (myself included) are beginning to wind down and recharge, before gearing up for the new year. It also marks the end of the grade-free first semester which the University implemented for the new freshman cohort in August.


With the release of exam results, it will also be the very first time the freshmen are exercising the Satisfactory / Unsatisfactory (S/U) option on your modules. These are decisions you have to deliberate carefully within the three-day window after your results are released. Revocation or retrospective declaration is not allowed.


Some of you may turn to your seniors for guidance, seek advice at online forums, or try out different combinations with the CAP calculator. Let me also share my views about making sound S/U decisions.


(Disclaimer: this is NOT the Provost’s secret to attaining a perfect CAP, just a mathematics professor sharing the mechanisms of S/U 🙂 )


First of all, know the rules!


Modules taken in the first semester are eligible for the S/U option, with some exceptions. Do double check the eligibility of your modules before participating in the declaration exercise.


Each freshman may exercise up to 20 MCs worth of S/U options within the first semester only. Unless otherwise approved, unused S/U options may not be carried forward to the next semester.


Next, do the math!


Remember that a Satisfactory (S) grade is the equivalent of a C grade and above, while an Unsatisfactory (U) grade is the equivalent of a D+ grade and below.


You have been told that S and U grades are not computed into the CAP. Let me explain how this works with the formula used to derive the CAP:



Suppose a student obtains 4 Bs and 1 C for 5 modules read this semester, and each module carries 4 modular credits (MCs).



Assuming he keeps his grades, his CAP will be

(4 x 3.5) + (4 x 3.5) + (4 x 3.5) + (4 x 3.5) + (4 x 2.0) = 3.20

4 + 4 + 4 + 4 + 4


If he chooses to exercise S/U on the C graded module, his CAP will be

(4 x 3.5) + (4 x 3.5) + (4 x 3.5) + (4 x 3.5) + (4 x 2.0) = 3.50

4 + 4 + 4 + 4 + 4


Every time S/U is exercised, the module is removed from both the numerator and the denominator in the formula. Ideally, you should aim to exercise the S/U options in a way that would improve your CAP. (For instance, in the above example I wouldn’t S/U a B!)


Note that with each S/U option exercised, your remaining modules will influence the CAP more significantly. For instance, if a student pursuing a four-year programme converts four modules (out of 40 modules) as Satisfactory, the CAP will be calculated based on 36 modules.


This can work for or against you depending on your academic performance in subsequent semesters, so think carefully about how many S/U options you wish to exercise.


Now, which grades should you keep?


If you obtained A or A+, well done and keep the grade!


If you obtained B+ or A-, I would generally encourage you to keep the grade as well. For those who may be thinking of exercising S/U on a B+ to qualify for the Dean’s List, do note that there will NOT be Dean’s Lists for the first two semesters.


If you obtained Bs and Cs, it is a little tricky. In theory, you should exercise S/U on your worst grades. However, the challenge is to do so without foresight of the grades that you will get for subsequent semesters. You should base your decisions on your academic goals and your self-assessment of your expected academic performance for the rest of your candidature. If you do not have a goal right now, your first semester CAP (before any S/U options are exercised) may be a good guide.


In general, it would be helpful to S/U modules whose grade points fall below your desired CAP. Let me illustrate with two examples.


Student X from the School of Design and Environment obtained the following exam results for the first semester:


AR1101 B

AR1121 B-

GEK1016 C+

LAF1201 B+

PF2102 C+


Without S/U, Student X’s CAP will be 3.10 – this is an important number to keep in mind. Presumably, Student X is still adapting to the university academic environment. Now order the grades in descending order: B+, B, B-, C+, C+. Obviously, one would consider applying S/U from the modules with C+. If Student X applies S/U to the two modules with C+ grades, then his/her CAP becomes 3.50. Suppose he/she thinks that he/she could maintain a CAP of 3.50 and above, then that’s it. However, if he/she is more optimistic on his/her future performance, it may make sense to keep the grades for LAF1201 and AR1101, and exercise S/U on the rest, thereby giving him/her a CAP of 3.75. A word of caution here: if his/her eventual CAP (i.e., after 4 years) is less than 3.00, then he/she may regret applying S/U to the module AR1121 with the B- grade. Generally, it would be wise to consider applying S/U to the modules with grade points below 3.10, i.e., you S/U the modules with B- and C+ grades to give a CAP of 3.75. It is also possible, if one is confident of an average of 3.50 in future, to S/U the modules with the C+ grades, leading to a CAP of 3.50.


Now, consider Student Y from the Faculty of Science, with the following exam results:


CM1101 C+  

EN1101E B

FST1101 B+

GEK1505 B+    

LSM1101 A-


Without S/U, Student Y’s CAP would be a commendable 3.70. It is useful to order the grades as follows: A-, B+, B+, B, C+. Suppose Student Y is confident of maintaining a CAP of above 4.00, he/she can get closer to his/her goal in two ways: solely retain the grade for LSM1101 but exercise S/U on the rest (which gives a CAP of 4.50, but I would think is too risky!), or keep the grades for his/her three best modules, LSM1101, FST1101 and GEK1505 (giving him/her a CAP of 4.17). Generally, if he/she assumes that the first semester is a good reflection of future grades, then he/she should just S/U the modules with grade point less than 3.70, i.e., the modules CM1101 and EN1101E.


Remember that what matters is not the impact of S/U on your first semester CAP, but its impact on your expected CAP for the remaining semesters.


If you obtained D or D+, it is generally advantageous to convert it to a U in the first semester. Your CAP should improve (unless you get all Fs in subsequent semesters!), and you will have the opportunity to retake the module (or take another module) for a better grade. However, do note that this comes at the cost of a heavier workload in one of your remaining semesters, as you have to make up for the missing MCs. It could also lead to additional financial costs, if you choose to read a module in Special Term. Such a move may not be too wise if you are approaching your final semester.


If you obtained an F grade, please exercise the S/U and try again next semester.


Last word of advice: remember the C in CAP…


The S/U option offers a second chance to those who may take a while to adjust to university life, be it in the academic setting or the overall campus experience. However, it is not a quick fix for a lack of effort or complacency. CAP is still a cumulative measurement, and ultimately, it is consistent hard work that will determine your overall academic performance.


While this will hopefully serve as a guide to optimise your CAP (after you have sat for the exams), I am not advocating that you prioritise CAP optimisation over all other goals. There are many other things you can get out of university life. Even after the first semester, I hope you can continue to read modules of intellectual interest (remember that you still have 12 MCs of S/U options!), try out different study-life combinations by taking part in different co-curricular activities, or simply spend time to bond with your friends.


For now, know the rules, do the math, and use your S/U options wisely. All the best.