Uni life to perk up as NUS offers grades-free option

Uni life to perk up as NUS offers grades-free option
National University of Singapore (NUS).

SINGAPORE - She hopes to study at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) at the National University of Singapore (NUS).

However, 20-year-old Koh Han Yan is not sure what she should major in.

She thinks that she may be good in Chinese Studies, but is afraid that her grades may take a hit if she is wrong.

To her, Sociology would be a safer bet but she fears she may not be passionate about it.

Now, Ms Koh can have her cake and eat it too.

NUS has reduced the focus on grades for its freshmen and given them the option to try out five potentially grade-free modules in their first semester.

This means Ms Koh can get a taste of Chinese Studies as well as Sociology. If she does well in Chinese Studies, she can major in it and have the grades counted.

If it's not her cup of tea, she merely has to get a "Satisfactory" grade, which will not count towards her cumulative average point. But she has to take care that she does not slip up so badly that she is rated "Unsatisfactory" or below a C grade. Otherwise she would have to retake the module or risk seeing her scores dragged down.

"This way, I will be able to truly discover what I am passionate about before deciding on a major," she said.

NUS provost Tan Eng Chye said that from August, some 6,000 freshmen from nearly all the faculties and schools in the university - arts and social sciences, business, computing, design and environment, engineering, music, nursing and science - will have the flexibility to opt for a Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory (S/U) option for up to five modules, but only in their first semester.

Currently, students can exercise only up to three S/U options at any point during their undergraduate years.

Students will still be given a specific grade for their performance in these modules, and can choose to keep the grade if they want to.

Stephen Naylor, campus dean at James Cook University Singapore, thought this is a sensible move as there will be a movement towards "a formative learning experience as opposed to a summative learning experience".

First-year students, particularly full-time national servicemen, who have completed national service, can ease into university life.

Under this system, students can also try out some modules just "for the fun of it", instead of worrying whether they might pull down their grades, said Prof Tan.

Lim Biow Chuan, chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Education, told My Paper: "This initiative will tie in with the demands of today's society as companies are no longer looking at just good GPA (grade point average) as the ability to find answers is more valued today than knowledge. This is because knowledge is readily available today, especially on the Internet."

Cheong Chong You, a 20-year-old student who was accepted to do chemical engineering at NUS, thinks that the move will help him adapt better to university life, while letting him take part in more extra-curricular activities.

But there are caveats.

"Some students perform better when grades count and may not be as highly motivated with such a system," warned Prof Naylor.

Currently, the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine and Yale-NUS College already have their own grade-free systems in place.

The law faculty will also not be giving grades to its freshmen from August.

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