George Mason Law School

Science classes give 10% fewer ‘A’s than arts

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November 6, 2007

2:05 AM

__Twelve percent of all grades awarded are lower than ‘B’__

In the spring 2007 semester, science departments gave out 10 percent fewer ‘A’ grades than liberal arts departments did. GPA averages in the natural sciences were also 5 percent lower than those of the humanities and arts.

With an average GPA of 3.81, the music department ranked highest overall, while the math and economics departments ranked lowest, with respective average GPAs of 2.98 and 3.02.

Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Carl Strikwerda said the 10 percent divide does not seem unusual.

“More students experiment with sciences courses, thinking of going pre-med, and find that they aren’t very good in the discipline,” he said. “There’s not quite the same phenomenon in humanities courses.”

He added that many other colleges experience higher divides.

“This data speaks well of our faculty,” Strikwerda said. “It doesn’t seem unusual to have this divide, and [the 10 percent difference] is small compared to other colleges and universities.”

Overall, A’s comprised 45 percent of undergraduate grades, while B’s made up 33 percent. About 12 percent of all grades awarded were lower than a B.

Strikwerda said that this distribution, with a high number of A’s and B’s in the spring semester, tracks closely with the gradual increase in incoming freshmen’s high school GPAs and test scores. For Strikwerda, the College’s grades reflect the increasingly competitive and “highly-gifted” student body.

“We think of ourselves as having less grade inflation than other universities. National data supports that grade inflation is significantly lower in public universities,” he said.

Many of the highest averaging departments are in the performing and visual arts.

Music Department Chair James Armstrong attributes this to the fact that there are auditions for every applied music course.

“You don’t exactly have to audition to get into an economics class,” he said. “The capacity and skill level of [music] students is already relatively high, so it stands to reason that a majority of the students tend to do better.”

Armstrong said that there are both academic and performance courses offered in music and the other art departments.

“Boiling things down supports uniformity, which isn’t always the case,” Armstrong said. “Invariably there are different grading schemes, class structures and styles.”

Department size also contributed to differences in GPA.

Government and history, two of the largest departments, fell in the lower third of the average GPA ranges. Unlike many other departments, government gave more B’s than A’s, while history gave out an almost equal amount of both. Religion was one of the only other humanities departments to award fewer A’s than B’s.

At the other end of the spectrum, everyone who took a film class in the spring semester received a B or better.

In every department, the number of F’s received made up less than 4 percent of the total grades awarded. Economics had the highest percent failure, with 3.6 percent of students receiving F’s. Three departments awarded no Fs: writing, Chinese, and women’s studies.

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