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The issue of grading in semester system!

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By Abdullah Qureshi

LAHORE (Monday, April 3, 2017): Students are facing serious problems due to lack of a uniform grading system in the academic institutions across country, as relative and absolute both types of grading are being practiced in Pakistan.

Some of the public and private sector Pakistani universities have started to shift from the absolute system to their own relative grading system. The mostly adopted relative system is the one in which marks of the whole class is averaged and given ‘C+’ in bachelors and ‘B’ in master degrees. Justification presented for this system is that teacher will not have to make a sub-standard paper. A good student will still be able to make ‘A’ grade even if the quality of the paper is very high as he will have more marks than any of his class fellows.

While implementing this system universities failed to understand that this system was developed for the classes where strength of the students should be above 100 whereas in our engineering colleges or universities, on an average a class mostly has 25 to 50 students. The smaller the class, the problem of higher average becomes more prominent and as a consequence even the good student becomes victim of low grade if most of his fellow students are also good in study.

This problem leads to another problem as well, as the fear of high average comes to the mind of the students, they have stopped helping each other in the studies. Apart from this, most of the students coming from this system perform better in the industry even with low grades but when they try to apply for higher studies within or outside Pakistan, normally these students, not able to get admission as they use to have low grades as compare to the students coming from the universities having absolute system. Here again, student’s grades do not represent their quality.

A week is a unit of the semester system. Unlike the annual system, where the final examination is the only test of the learning throughout the year, in semester system, every assignment, quiz, midterm counts towards determining students’ grade. The final examination is still the largest single contributor to the course distribution, but not the only one. In this way, students have to be on their toes throughout the semester in order to get good grades. Semester system is tougher than the annual system. For the students coming from the FSc background, it is sometimes a bit difficult to get used to it.

According to the HEC, the semester system was introduced by the government to improve the quality of education. A National Committee on Examination System (NCES) comprising experts from academia and policy makers was constituted in 2004. The HEC took this step specifically to review the existing examination policy of higher education institutions, identify weaknesses, and propose improvements. In addition, the purpose of the NCES was to reformulate a uniform semester-based examination system in compliance with international standards.

H.E.C Recommendation for semester system: –

Bachelors Masters
Total credits 124-136 30 (24+6)
Semester Duration 16-18 weeks 16-18 weeks
Course Duration 8 semesters

3.5 – 4 years

4 semesters

2 years

Summer session 1-2 per

Academic year

1-2 per

Academic year

Course Load per semester 15-18 credit Hrs 9-12 credit Hrs


Some of the advantages of semester system are:

  • It will provide an opportunity to the students for continuous learning, assessment and feedback.
  • It facilitates the better understanding of the subject.
  • More emphasis is laid on class interaction because of constant engagement between teachers and students.
  • This system improves regular study habits among the students.
  • It facilitates in evaluating the performance of students twice a year.
  • The students will not have more burden of syllabus as it is divided into two halves.
  • A semester system allows greater freedom and scope for designing and delivering a variety of courses that the students can pick to enhance the quality of learning.
  • Through this system, students attend the college regularly without failing as there is a regulation of compulsory 75% attendance.
  • Students can develop skills and subject related knowledge in a better way though this system.

While implementing this system universities failed to understand that this system was developed for the classes where strength of the students should be above 100 whereas in our engineering colleges or universities, on an average a class mostly has 25 to 50 students. The smaller the class, the problem of higher average becomes more prominent and as a consequence even the good student becomes victim of low grade if most of his fellow students are also good in study.

Demerits of Semester System: –

  • Semester system faces inadequacy of time. Most of the times teachers fail to complete the syllabus in time. Students who join late will face lot of difficulties to catch the subject and complete the revision.
  • Semester system increases workload as the evaluation process is conducted twice a year.
  • Semester system does not give any scope for extra classes due to lack of time.
  • Semester system restricts co-curricular activities as most of the time teachers are engaged in completion of syllabus and students are involved in revision of completed syllabus.

HEC Recommendations for Annual system:

  Bachelors Masters
124-136 30(24+6)
Annual Duration One year One year
Course Duration 4 Years

(3.5 – 4 years)

2 Years

(1.5 – 2 years)

Summer session 1.2 per

Academic year

1.2 per

Academic year

Course Load

per Year

34 – 36

credit hours

20 – 22

Credit hours


The advantages of Annual System are: –

  • The students will have much time to revise the syllabus.
  • Students will have a chance to refer various subject related books.
  • Students can participate in all the co-curricular and extracurricular activities.
  • Teachers will have a chance to give as much as knowledge to the students related to the subject.
  • Teachers can take the students to various field trips and give them much exposure.

Demerits of Annual System:

  • In the annual system, most of the students show negligence towards studies as the examinations are conducted once in a year.
  • Students have to study the entire syllabus for annual exams which is a burden.
  • Most of the students do not attend the college regularly as there is no strict regulation on attendance.

Most of the institutes and universities in Pakistan follow semester system as it improves the quality of education. Though students feel pressure in the semester system, it facilities them to study regularly which develops reading habit among the students.

Absolute Grading System

Absolute grading means grades are assigned according to cutoff levels decided before the start of the course. The familiar set of levels is to assign an A to everyone with a score in the 90’s (out of 100 possible), a B to those in the 80’s, C for 70’s, D for 60’s. Sometimes an absolute criterion for pass is set at 65.

Relative Grading System

The traditional method of evaluating student performance is the absolute grading approach. Here, a student’s performance in a course is quantified as a percentage of marks. Then absolute cutoff levels are used on the average of percentages of marks in all courses to summarize the overall performance of the student.

When the system was shifted in October 2003, absolute grading system of the annual system was shifted to the new one with some modification. The biggest shift was that question papers started to be prepared, checked and graded by the teacher who teaches the subject. The idea behind this shift was that teacher who teaches the subject, can judge the student more than anyone else. But no one has ever bothered to make a standard on which paper by the teacher can be judged. The teachers started to develop low quality sub-standard papers to get good grades of the class to show that they are teaching excellently and those who had tried to judge the students with the quality paper soon become bad in the eyes of the authorities due to low grades as according to them, these are the teacher’s result not students. Students coming from this absolute system, mostly fail to perform equivalent to their grades in their result cards. Actually we adopted this semester system as it is. Without considering the level of our universities. We totally ignored the ground realities of our country.

While summing up we can say a student either coming from absolute system or relative grading system; his grades do not represent him. There is a need that there should be one standard all over the country either it is absolute or relative. If so, one can compare with some other on the basis of result and everyone should get his fair chance of higher education as well as jobs.

The writer is a student of BS Mass Communication at Lahore Leads University. He can be reached at: [email protected]



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