Students relieved that math department drops ‘one letter grade’ final exam policy


TPN File Photo

The Cathedral of Learning and Litchfield Towers.

By Ryleigh Lord, Staff Writer

The Pitt math department’s decision to permanently disband the “one letter grade” rule is a breath of fresh air for students in the midst of finals preparations. 

The department briefly removed the prior rule for the fall 2020 semester and then put it back in place in the spring, only allowing students in math classes to end with a final cumulative grade no more than one letter grade above the percentage they received on their final exam. Several students expressed relief over the policy change including Skylar Lee, a junior actuarial math major, who said the decision to fully get rid of the policy was a positive one. 

“It wasn’t really fair because some people aren’t good at taking big exams, like finals and midterms,” Lee said. “It just really stressed me and a lot of other people out.”

Lee said even though the policy never severely impacted her grade, the overhanging possibility of it significantly increased her anxiety. 

“I don’t think the policy ever really affected my grade overall, but it made me really anxious to think about leading up to it,” Lee said. 

Gabby Cosmiano, a junior astronomy and physics and math major, said the policy reversal allows students to focus on holistically performing well and understanding the mathematical concepts. 

“Professors lean more heavily towards things like homework problem sets now, which is a better representation of your understanding of the math concepts,” Cosmiano said. “If you’re consistently doing well in the homeworks and then one factor severely impacts your final performance, it skews everything.” 

Cosmiano said the change helps take into account different circumstances that might affect one final exam versus the rest of the class assignments, quizzes and exams.

“A lot of factors can go into taking an exam, especially a final, and taking that policy away makes sure that students are given a fairer chance and that an entire semester’s worth of work is being taken into account,” Cosmiano said. 

Javon Key, a sophomore math education major, cited the department-wide final exams as making the policy even more difficult to succeed under. 

“It’s really hard to take department tests because everyone is taking the same test,” Key said. “If you had a professor who didn’t teach well or didn’t teach the material on the department-wide final, it trickled down to your final grade.” 

According to students, professors’ reactions ranged from relatively apathetic to openly supportive of removing the policy according to students in a variety of math classes.

“I don’t think I’ve seen any reactions,” Cosmiano said. “I barely heard that they decided to change the policy, so it’s not something we’ve talked about much within our classes.”

Key said one of his professors actively supported the reversal of the policy for students. 

“My professor was vocal about wanting to get rid of the rule, so they definitely talked about it and their feelings to the class,” Key said. 

Lee said her professors didn’t enthusiastically make their opinions known, but they would acknowledge the challenge the policy posed. 

“My professors didn’t openly say they were against the policy, but they would tell us that they knew it was difficult,” Lee said. “Mostly they didn’t really talk about their opinion, but when they did it seemed to be more that they were supportive of removing it.” 

Students agree that the prior plans made them prioritize studying for math finals and left them feeling less prepared for exams in non-math courses. 

“Under the old rule I definitely focused more on studying for math classes,” Lee said. “I didn’t really have enough time or the ability to manage my time for the other classes.” 

Lee said she still studies and prepares for her math exams, but without feeling the need to overstudy anymore. 

“I feel like I’m preparing the same way, but I just feel less stressed than I was when it was in place,” Lee said. “Now it’s just that I can equally spread out my studying time between all my classes.” 

Key said the change in the policy encouraged him to keep his major, and if it remained in place he would have heavily considered changing his entire course of study. 

“It’s no longer unrealistic to take these math courses,” Key said. “I was going to completely change majors if the policy stayed in place.”