Oct 9, 2008
Expanding on Pass No Record
Posted in: Academics & Research
Alright, my first serious, thought-out blog entry in quite some time. I'm discovering something about sophomore year, well, a lot of things, but a few key ones.
1) Classes are harder
2) Classes are in your major
3) Nothing is new anymore
During your first semester at MIT you'll be taking a lot of classes over a wide variety of disciplines. These are known as GIRs (pronounce each letter, don't call them grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrs). Unless you kicked some serious butt in a crazily academic high school or took a bunch of classes at a local college, you're going to have to get some core classes out of the way, including single and multivariable calculus, physics (mechanics and E&M), chemistry, and biology. No ifs, ands, or buts, you will take these classes (or pass out of them). There are a bunch of different classes, each of varying degrees of difficulty, in each of these topics to choose from, but that's for a later entry.
I came to MIT wanting to be a mechanical engineer. I love building things, piecing things together, and constructing a product. I did not come to MIT to learn math, chemistry, or biology. As such, I struggled/didn't really enjoy these classes. Yes, I know, it's MIT, "we're" good at these classes, and as a whole MIT is very good, but individual students sometimes loathe these subjects.
Over your four years at MIT you'll experience a lot of things that make MIT seem like the big bully at the playground punching you repeatedly in your beautiful face, but one thing MIT really prides itself on is making sure you have an enjoyable and fair first semester here. MIT doesn't want to make you cry (though it happens), so they have this AWESOME system called "Pass/No Record."
Several bloggers, including Yan just a couple of days ago, have mentioned Pass/No Record (P/NR) but nobody has really discussed it. Here's the gist of it. At the end of your first semester here (September through December) you will get a set of grades, just like you normally do. The thing that's different between first semester MIT grades and any other grades is that ALL FIRST SEMESTER MIT GRADES ARE THE SAME. That's right, you heard me, everybody will come out of first semester with the same GPA: 0.
A zero GPA!? OH NOES!
Oh yeses. Pass/No record means that if you pass a class you receive a "P" on your transcript. If you fail a class it shows that you never even took it. That means it's impossible to have an F on your first semester transcript. Let me say that again.
YOU CAN NOT GET AN F ON YOUR FIRST SEMESTER TRANSCRIPT
The other side to that is that you can't get an A on your first semester transcript.
YOU CAN NOT GET AN A ON YOUR FIRST SEMESTER TRANSCRIPT
Which has several additional implications.
YOU CAN NOT GET A B ON YOUR FIRST SEMESTER TRANSCRIPT
YOU CAN NOT GET A C ON YOUR FIRST SEMESTER TRANSCRIPT
What you can get is a bunch of P's. At MIT you'll hear some Pass/No Record mentioned a lot. You'll hear sentences like "Dude, just punt it, you're on pass/no record" or "Don't worry about it, you're a freshman" or "No. You didn't get an A. You got a P. Just like _________ over there having fun. You got the same grade only he had more fun."
Upperclassmen are really careful not to let the freshmen tools brag about their straight As. Nobody likes a tool, nobody likes to hear about your "Perfect GPA" when everybody knows full well that the only thing you got was a 0 GPA and less time to meet new people and hang out with friends.
"Taking advantage of Pass/No Record" is something else you'll hear mentioned a lot. This can have several meanings. One is if you "fail" a class. You're taking advantage since you'll have no record. Another way to take advantage is to score the lowest possible passing score on everything and still get the same grade as everybody else. This is what I did. It's really nice to know nothing matters when you get a PSET back and it says this on it:
Don't get me wrong, I learned more than I've probably ever learned during my first semester here. It's not like you can get by without working, I spent many sleepless nights and early mornings fighting my way through problems sets and working harder than I've ever worked before, I just also spent a lot of time doing other things.
I have pretty awesome proof that I took advantage of P/NR, like my first chemistry exam. Check out my score breakdown, per question.
Righteous! Passed it! First two questions, rockin'. Next two questions? ****
Last question, pity points. Or, how about my third chemistry exam?
The first and fifth questions were just so wrong! lol, it's all good though, because it was P/NR and I ended up passing the class. The same with math and with physics (which I accidentally got a B in, go figure). I think I failed at least one test in every class except chemistry and still passed all of my classes. I also did a ton of other awesome fun things that I never got a chance to tell you about since I wasn't an MIT blogger back then. Basically, I loved first semester of freshman year, didn't mind getting C's (and by C's I mean P's) in all of my classes, and I feel that I'm better now for the relationships and other experiences I took advantage of than if I had locked myself in my room trying to get good grades that are invisible.
In summary, here are the important things to take away from this:
1) A's, B's, and C's all show up on your transcript as P's first semester of freshman year
2) D's and F's don't show up at all
3) You have to retake the class you "failed" but it doesn't show up as having taken it before
4) Take advantage of P/NR, it only happens once