6 Jun 2014

An Idiot's Guide to The GPA.

Few things strike fear into the hearts of any undergraduate quite like the GPA. It’s something that is an integral part of the university system, showing up on your first day of class and shadowing you long after your final paper. Lecturers make jokes about it in class, or threaten about it during exams, comedians joke about some being so low you can’t use it to flash Glo to Glo. But no one ever bothers to actually explain what the GPA is and how to use it to your advantage. That’s what this idiot’s guide is here (not that you’re an idiot or anything, it’s just an expression, smh) to give you all the insider tricks.
When it comes to GPAs, there really are only three important questions:
  1. -          What is a GPA (and CGPA *shudder*)
  2. -          Why do I need to worry about it?
  3. -          How can I make the best of it (a.k.a cheat the system).

 At this point I’d like to assume we
all know what core and elective courses are, and are largely knowledgeable in most of the concepts concerning university academics. This Idiot’s guide will only expatiate on GPAs. If you want an Idiot’s guide on university academic lingo, tell us in the comments section.

For our first question, the answer is simple. GPA is an acronym for Grade Point Average. Now the GRADE refers to the alphabetical grades used to score your tests in primary and secondary school; A for excellent down to F for Fail/Resit this subject till your hair turns grey.  POINT AVERAGE means that your grade scores are converted to points and the total of these points are added and divided to give an average. Think of it this way; instead of the A’s and B’s that were on your WAEC certificate (hypothetical, we all know that there are only C’s and D’s there), all your grades are converted to numbers, 10 for an A and 0 for an F and these numbers were added together and divided by the number of courses you wrote. The number we’d get after dividing would be your WAEC GPA.

Okay, that was just an example. It’s slightly more complicated in university. First of all, the educational boards of most countries have different ways of calculating GPAs in universities, the strictest in countries like the USA and Japan where anything under 60 over 100 in a course is deemed an F. Nigeria with its high illiteracy is far more lenient, at least our government owned universities are. Here you’re only graded with an F if you score less than 40 marks out of a possible hundred. This is how we are graded in Nigeria, individually (by semester) and cumulatively (entire university performance).
-          70.00 - 100.00 – A
-          60.00 - 69.99 – B
-          60.00 - 69.99 – C
-          50.00 - 59.99 – D
-          50.00 - 49.99 – E
-          0.00 - 39.99 – F

Now like our WAEC example, every one of these grades is attached a numerical value, starting from zero, for an F and 5 for an A. This is where the Point average comes in. When after you pick your courses for the semester, each course comes with hour points. These points refer to how many hours a week you will spend studying them. A 1 point course requires only an hour of study a week, 2 points for two hours and so on. The more hours a course needs to be studied, the higher its hour points are going to be. Say you pick five courses in a semester, three 2 hour courses, one a 3 hour course and one a 1 hour course. Whatever you are graded at the end of the semester will be multiplied by the hours you spent studying the course. Also, the total hours you have for that semester would be 10. This is the denominator by which your GPA will be calculated. Time for another hypothetical example.

At the end of the semester taking three 2 hour courses, one 3 hour and one 1 hour, you make three A’s (3 pt.  and two 2 pt. courses), one C (1pt.) and one E (2 pt.). If we remember our grading, that translates to a three 5s, one 3 and one 1. When we multiply them by the hours studied, we get 35 points for the A’s, 3 for the C and 2 for the E; which is a total of 40 points for the semester. When we divide that by the total hours studied (10) we get 4. Which means the GPA for the semester is a 4 out of a possible 5, (not bad at all).
Most people manage pretty good results by the semester, when the results begin to accumulate, and then does GPAs become really scary. Cumulative Grade Point Average, CGPA is what happens when your semester averages begin to pile up. The CGPA follows the same process as the GPA; the only difference is what is being calculated. This time instead of dividing your grades for the semester against the hours spent studying them, what is calculated is your total grades accumulated against the total number of hours spent studying them.  

Time for a hypothetical example: First semester, total 55 from 12 hours studied, second semester 66 from 19 hours studied. If we add them up we get 121 points from 31 hours studied. Individually, each semester would give our hypothetical student 4.58 from the first semester and 3.47 from the second. If we calculated for the CGPA we’d get 3.91; better than his second semester GPA and worse than the first semester. So this is how GPA’s work.

Now that we know what GPA’s are and how they work, we can tackle the second question. We need to worry about GPA’s because they have one fundamental flaw; GPA’s have a ceiling and no floor. What means is that no matter how well you do, your GPA can never exceed a particular number, 5.0 for Nigerians. Secondly every single mistake will cause your GPA to drop. This means in a perfect world, you would have to match or exceed whatever your GPA is after your first semester of your first year in University or risk your GPA dropping. If your first semester GPA is 4.83, you would have to make at least 4.83 every single semester of your degree to keep your GPA at 4.83. A lot of people have the misconception that they can ‘make up’ for a bad semester.

 You can’t.

 Even if you got a five point 0, your GPA would only rise marginally, the courses you failed that semester, those points are lost forever. Is this a bad way of gauging how well students are learning, YES. But this is what we have to work with. This brings us to our final question.
These are a few tested ways of using the GPA system to your advantage. We’ll call them the GPA Truths.
-          Contrary to all the stuff you hear, your first year in University isn’t your most important. Your first year is for you to flex your academic muscles, see how high a GPA you can get if you wanted to be an efiko (make sure you send your parents copies of those 4.5 GPA result print outs, you probably will never get numbers that high again). But your first semester will also be your easiest. It’s a revision of sorts, full of introductory courses. So it doesn’t really define you as a student.
     Your second year in university is your most important. By your second year, you should have settled into a rhythm, found friends and extracurricular activities and carved yourself a social life, After your first year brain muscle flexing, disregard that CGPA and ask yourself a few questions. You need to ask yourself;

 What kind of student am I?

What do I think I can comfortably match for the rest of my degree with everything else I have on my plate?

 Write that projected GPA score down and go about your routine. If at the end of the semester you are able to match that GPA then great, if not re-evaluate and cut out a few things, and try again. By the end of the second semester, tabulate your cumulative GPA for that year and use that as your yardstick. That will be the range your GPA’s will fall, for the rest of your degree, unless you make drastic changes. (You should have enough common sense to know you need the drastic change if your second year GPA is anything less than a second class upper).

-          Do not take any courses you don’t need. You’re a chemical engineer but you love painting, do not get any ideas about taking an elective course in painting. Odds are you won’t have time to actually enjoy the painting and you will fail it. Nobody cares that it’s an elective, a fail is a fail. Besides you already have enough on your plate with your core courses. Stick to them, you’ll be grateful for the extra study time
-          There is such a thing as office politics. Your university is a political organisation and many of the departments are in competition with one another. If you take an elective course from a department not on good terms with yours, the odds that you will be given less attention than the department’s students or worse, graded badly. That goes for causing conflicts between lecturers in your department. Keep yourself as neutral as possible and in your own department. Better safe than sorry. Your Industrial attachment and project are GPA boosters, use them. These are the only two courses in most degree that offer six hour points and no written exams. Put your best into them and get A’s. Those A’s will go a long way.
      An extra semester is not failure. Now this one I will need to explain. Many of us are misguided into thinking finishing your degree within the suggested number of years for a first try equals smartness. It doesn’t. Most courses require courses with 120 hours total to graduate. To reach this number many disciplines require you to take elective courses. Many people take these elective courses alongside their core courses and end up neglecting the electives in favour of their main courses and fail terribly. As we said earlier, a fail is a fail and their CGPA suffers. If you must take electives, don’t take them alongside your cores, leave those extra hours and use them for your ‘leisure’ semester.

You can take courses on subjects that really interest you and not have to worry about clashing with courses from your department. There will be no pressure of failing core course and resits.  The odds are you will do better in them because you are genuinely interested in the material. A leisure semester is like your gift to yourself for slaving through years of courses you didn’t like, with the added plus of a final GPA boost.

Now this isn’t for everyone (captains obvious, I got you). You will have to shell out school fees for an extra year and not everyone can afford that. But if you failed a core course because of your work load, you’d have an extra year anyways. So if you have that fear, then consider the Leisure semester.

This covers all the basics about the GPA. This might be the idiot’s guide but our suggestions aren’t idiot proof. Our information is offered so you can adapt it to your specific situation. If this helps a single person, then our job is done.

That's it from us at 9JEducation.
Thanks for reading.
Okolo Edwin, June 2014.

No comments:

Post a Comment