Alternative Grading

I often say that one of the most time-consuming aspects of international credentials evaluation is the grading scale conversion. At the institutions where I have worked, including Transcript Research, we rarely utilize a single grading scale for an entire country. As more countries offer dual degree programs, international universities, transnational education, education system structural changes, and increased growth in the private education sector, grading scales will continue to evolve and change across the globe. As a result, we will continue to spend considerable time researching the grading scale used at that institution for that program at that moment in time rather than relying on a single scale for a country simply because that makes things easier for us.

A fascinating aspect of looking at grading practices worldwide is the unique ways that different countries and institutions approach the idea of grading. The goal of this article is to highlight just a few of the different types of grading in use outside the United States so that those from a US perspective have a better understanding of how to utilize those grades when evaluating international credentials.

Pass Grades in the Russian System of Education

In the Russian Federation and the former Soviet Union, we often see students who have a number of subjects that are graded Зачет or Зачетено, which may be translated as credit, pass, passing, passed, completed, or any number of things that don’t tell US admissions folks much. US admissions people have a tendency to treat this like many US schools treat pass/fail grades, which generally means a student wasn’t doing as well as they wanted and switched to a pass/fail grade so it wouldn’t hurt their grade point average (implying poor performance or lowered academic rigor), but the Russian grade is nothing like that. The Russian-style grade of Зачет is instead used because only a certain number of subjects are actually graded on the grading scale; the remaining subjects are graded Зачет not because of anything the student did but because of the differences in the system itself.

This grade means that all requirements were met for the course, and the student met a grade of 3 or better on the 5-point scale, but there is no way to determine where the student's performance fell on that 3-5 range. This grade may be used in a variety of situations: to identify electives (this is the most common usage); when a subject spans more than one semester but the final semester/program has not been completed yet; or when a course does not have a final examination. Regardless, a grade of Зачет/Зачетено (Pass or Credit) means that all requirements were met even if a final examination was not taken. Russia does not have the concept of a D grade; if courses are passed, they are successfully applied towards graduation requirements.

As a former university admissions officer, I like to use the analogy of how many U.S. institutions view Advanced Placement (A.P.) test results. Frequently, U.S. institutions have a minimum cut-off score, at which point students are given credit for the A.P. examinations that meet those minimum scores. Institutional policies vary, but a large number of U.S. institutions do not assign a grade to a particular A.P. score; they merely give the applicant credit for having passed the exam and assign a specific number of credit hours based on the curriculum. Even though we can’t tell how well the student did on those particular classes grade pass or credit, we should not be penalizing them and assuming it is the lowest passing grade (a C grade) because we have no way of knowing if they were the top graded student in that subject or barely met the minimum requirements, and it is unjust to hold them to a different standard after the fact. Plus, you’ll miss out on a lot of high caliber students if you incorrectly lower their GPA if your institution treats “pass” grades as a C for these students.

Ghana – D grades

Unlike some of the other countries explored here, universities in Ghana don’t follow a single model for their grading. Some universities follow a British model for grading, including degree classifications or descriptive grades like distinction, merit, and pass. Other institutions follow an American model for grading, using a 4.0 grading system and letter grades from A to F.
It is important to note, however, that same Ghanaian universities treat the D grade as a failing grade while others treat the D grade the same way US institutions often treat the D grade for subjects not in the major field of study: a grade that does not meet the minimum requirements, but the course is not required to be retaken. Many Ghanaian universities technically consider a D grade to be a failed grade, but students are allowed to graduate with it.

France – condoned or compensated pass

In Francophone education, grading is usually done on a 20 point scale with 10 as the minimum passing grade. At some levels of education and in some Francophone countries, grades below 10 may be considered condoned or compensated passes – even though they are technically below the minimum passing grade of 10 – if the entire year is passed. Generally, this means an overall average of 10 out of 20; however, some institutions may allow students with an overall average of 9.5 or higher to be considered passed.

Transcript Research considers a conceded, condoned, or compensated pass to be a US D grade, because the student did not actually meet minimal course requirements but is still allowed credit for the course and is not required to retake the course or examination.

British Research Degrees

A practice that we see in the United Kingdom as well as other countries is the idea of a research degree. A research degree is a research-based program awarded after several years of independent research and defense of a dissertation. Research degrees in the United Kingdom are not composed of subjects, so there are generally no grades or transcripts. Rarely, we do see institutions outside of the UK that require their research degree students to complete one or two graded courses in research strategies or generalized studies in that field, but the bulk of the program is based on the student’s independent research which culminates in a major paper.

Research degrees are advanced academic degrees which are obtained mainly (or entirely) through independent research. The basic requirement for the award of the degree is the student's successful defense of a major paper (thesis or dissertation). Degree classifications, grades or marks, and other systems of quantifying a student's progress are not associated with research degrees.

Indian Grace Marks

Indian also has a number of grading strategies that are different than what many American higher education institutions are used to seeing: UGC grading, condoned or conceded passes, internal versus external marks, degree classifications based on only the final year or two of the program, letter grades that don’t align with US concepts of letter grades, as well as concepts like marks carried over, Allowed to Keep Trying (ATKT), and grace marks. I’m going to wrap up this article by addressing the latter: grace marks.

Grace marks are extra points sometimes awarded by the institution to an examination subject on the marksheet to bump the marks obtained (grade earned) up to the minimum passing marks (minimum grade). What that means is that the student did not actually meet the minimum passing marks for that subject, but the institution determined that it was not necessary for the student to retake the course and granted an exception by giving the student a bonus to their grade such that it was able to meet the passing level.

Transcript Research considers “grace marks” to be a D grade, because the student did not actually meet minimal passing course requirements but is still allowed credit for the course.

Stay tuned for the next blog post about additional Indian grading alternatives. Sign up for our newsletter at

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