Some students think an A minus is a bad grade, while others are pleased with it. Just why a near perfect grade could disturb certain students has a number of potential answers. Some have to do with the way that grade point averages (GPAs) are calculated, which can in turn be tied to ability to gain scholarships in competitive fields, and others view it as a near miss on an otherwise perfect performance. There can also be a certain amount of subjectivity in an A minus, which, when unexplained by an instructor, may cause personal annoyance or downright angst. This is not always the case; in classes based on point or percentage only systems, a student either does or does not earn a grade based on things like objective testing.
The way GPAs are calculated can seem unfair to some people. Schools may deduct points from grade point averages for an A-, but not give additional points for A plus grades. In a system where a top score is rated as a 4.0, the top grade is an A.
In some schools, though this is not always the case, an A minus lowers the overall grade point value of a grade, making it count for less than four points. Many teachers also give A pluses, however, and chances are a student worried about getting an A- has also demonstrated extremely superior performance elsewhere, receiving an A+ or two along the way that might balance out the slightly lower grade. From a numbers perspective, this doesn’t increase points above 4.0 awarded for a grade, so it means that students can never fully achieve a 4.0 average. There is no balance between better than perfect grades and those slightly less than perfect, so some schools merely score grades as As or Bs, and they omit minus or plus signs completely.
A grading system where students can’t redeem a less than perfect grade may be difficult for some students because of high competition for merit-based scholarships. If scholarships are difficult to get and go to the highest grades in the class, or if maintenance of a current scholarship depends upon keeping a 4.0 grade average, an A minus can be perceived as very negative, potentially affecting a student’s ability to continue funding their education. Alternately, when high school students receive this grade, they may not make a sufficient argument that they belong at some of the more competitive colleges, who will often look to straight A students only during the evaluation and admissions process.
Practical considerations aside, when grades are subjective, based on instructor evaluation of things like creative material, this grade can rankle some students who have worked extremely hard and feel like they have earned a top grade. Many high school and college instructors have the experience of students tearfully appearing at their offices, begging for a grade change or questioning the wisdom of a grade. These students are often top performers, used to getting excellent grades, and they may be basing some of their self-esteem on GPA and individual grades. It is sometimes possible to convince an instructor to change his or her mind about a grade, particularly if the instructor can’t give specific evidence why a grade deserves less than an A.
When grading depends more on objective grading methods, such as taking multiple choice tests to determine grade, students are unlikely to get a grade change from an instructor. When someone has earned a less than perfect grade based on his or her test scores, there isn’t much to do with it but accept that this was the grade earned. It may still be hard especially in a system that won’t allow A plus grades to boost GPA, but it’s an indication that the student may need to improve his or her study methods to earn better grades in the future.
When scholarships or funding are not on the line, in may be best for a student to look at a less than perfect grade as the best he or she could do at the time, and still representative of an extremely good grade. A student who wants the grade justified by an instructor should schedule an appointment to discuss the situation, ask for guidance on how to get better grades in the future, or ask why the performance did not justify a full A grade.