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MIT student blogger Snively '11

Expanding on Pass No Record by Snively '11

It's not so much a time machine, as it is a dodgeball cannon!

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.


The other side to that is that you can’t get an A on your first semester transcript.


Which has several additional implications.




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

28 responses to “Expanding on Pass No Record”

  1. First!!! =)… great post!!

  2. Stacy says:

    Nice post Snively. Have you heard of anyone who made A’s on the P/NR system? I could never imagine sacrificing that much for a P (no offense to anyone).

  3. Snively says:

    I know a ton of people who got straight A’s.
    Mind you, I didn’t see them very often.

  4. Reena says:

    Mmmm that’s exactly what I’d do with bio – go for one point above passing and that’s it. And use the time to have a life.
    For subjects I like, I’d try to do better because… well, because I’d like doing the work anyway. So it wouldn’t really be like work. Fair enough?
    That is, in the strange, convoluted fantasy world in which I get accepted to MIT, the only school that straight-off said yes when I asked if I’d be allowed to put solar panels on the roof to power my dorm.

  5. Reena says:


    “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.”

    Seems like that one sentence sums up the entire thing xD

  6. Anonymous says:

    random question, I didn’t know where else to ask it: What calculator do most people use?

  7. Snively says:

    Of course they would. If they let Simmons do this:

    then I think a lot of things are fair game.

    A lot of people swear by their TI-89s but just as many use TI-84s and TI-83s. You’ll normally only use them on PSETs and generally only for four-function type things, but sometimes they’re handy for exponents and numerically solving integrals. Tests are generally non-calculator, which I was scared of, but realized weren’t really that bad because the questions generally have really easy numbers and the hard part is figuring out how to solve the problem, not actually solving it.

  8. Ehsan says:

    Glad your having fun!

  9. Oasis '11 says:

    Man, I have to scan my first bio test ever at MIT…50/100 (and that’s still not failing! =p).

    And now I’m a bio major. Go figure.

  10. Oasis '11 says:

    Oh yeah btw thanks for writing this entry. This was something that I thought about for awhile but wasn’t sure how to execute it well. Good job! =p

    “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.”

    Hear, hear. [/cynicism] =p

  11. Anonymous says:

    Do you retake “failed” classes sophomore year or during the summer after freshman year?

  12. '11 says:

    I remember trying to explain my high school friends why I had a zero GPA.

  13. Anonymous says:

    “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,…”
    So help me I lol’d.

  14. that system is great until you receive the following from the financial aid dpt:

    ‘Provide copy of all hidden grades: In order to qualify for the ACG/SMART Grants, federal law requires that you have at least a 3.0 GPA on a 4.0 scale. In order to determine your GPA, you must obtain grade reports from every class in which you received a grade that was not a letter grade (meaning every class in which you received a grade of P or non-passing). Once you have copies of all “hidden” grade reports, please bring them to our office. This requirement is a result of MIT’s current policy on hidden grades, and we in SFS are currently not authorized to obtain grades on your behalf.

    Recalculated GPA from Registrar: Once you have brought us copies of all your “hidden” grade reports, we will bring them to the Registrar’s office for GPA recalculation. Once they have recalculated your GPA, this document will be marked as ‘Received’. After providing your hidden grade reports, no further action is necessary on your behalf. This recalculated GPA will be used for only determining your eligibility for ACG and SMART Grants only and will not affect your standard GPA.’

    MIT, what the hell?!?

  15. Snively says:

    @Dillusioned 11′
    I agree. MIT, what the hell?!?

  16. Anonymous says:

    The Pass/No Record thing sounds like so much fun. Had I been accepted to MIT, I’d be so eager to take advantage of that, like every other frosh.

    Heh, but getting anything less than 65/100 would be very depressing to anyone who’s targeted full scores at everything in life.

  17. '11 says:

    I bet you are avoiding the fact that you did horribly by saying “I took advantage of P/NR”when in fact you did actually try hard.

    its ok. everyone odes that. but at least be honest.
    ya know?

  18. Snively says:

    While taking the test, yes, I worked hard.

    Did I study hard for the test? No.

    I will be honest, I did just as much work as I needed to pass.

  19. O.o says:

    I have a feeling grad school will get back at you when they ask for specific grades ”hidden” underneath all those P’s. I’m sure you’ll have fun.

    I am slightly dissapointed at what I’ve read. No one deserves to be responded like that for choosing which things to prioritise over others. Some people have the brains to be well-rounded and be equally great at many things. Some people would much rather spend countless hours studying because that is what they’ve chosn to do. More often than not, it is what they love to do. The satisfaction in those people’s faces when they know they’ve accomplished what they’ve set their minds to, is enough to keep them happy with themselves and their lifestyle, and there is nothing wrong with that This entry ridicules those people in my opinion.

  20. Reena says:

    Agreed with O.o, if you’re someone who likes all your classes.
    But taking time off from a subject you don’t like to have some fun is probably good for you, too.

  21. mohit says:

    The system sounds good now. But I did have a question about it. Isn’t it very difficult to adjust to this system? I mean from Senior Year of HS in which grades and scores mean everything to a Pass/ No record system, the transition has to be tough!

  22. Reena says:

    And, if I’m right, Snively, you were saying it’s no good to strive for good grades just to brag about them?
    But if you are worried about grad school / financial aid, or you actually like doing the work, and you’re not going to flaunt your A in everyone’s face, that’s another story.

  23. '12 says:


    Haha, it’s actually more like “not really working that hard in high school” to “being mean to your brain so you can understand enough to get a C”.

    But it is different for everyone.

  24. Laura says:

    Wait, so WILL grad schools ask you for “hidden” grades? O.O

    And isn’t the entire system really counterintuitive? I mean, I’m not complaining, it sounds awesome, but is it really that easy to go from working hard like a good little student in highschool so you can get into MIT, to not taking things seriously and practically failing your classes your freshman year?

  25. Paul says:

    Laura – actually, very few graduate or medical schools will request your hidden grades. I believe Johns Hopkins Medical School is the only major one. Most grad schools will just let MIT’s Pass/No Record policy be.

  26. Anonymous says:

    Snively, rock on.

    No, seriously.

  27. Mason '10 says:

    Man, I’m getting old.

    Most grad schools don’t ask for your first semester grades; only a few med schools like John Hopkins do that.

    P/NR is a Good Idea. My floormate Snively didn’t mean to belittle the accomplishments of those people who do strive for perfect scores or simply getting the most out of their classes. The important thing is that it lets you make that choice yourself. Some people choose to explore MIT’s absolutely mind-bogglingly wide variety of awesome extra-curricular activities. It’s actually almost an insult to call them extra-curricular activities; it seems to suggest something secondary about them.

    Also, to those people claiming that you will experience a drop in motivation and exertion because of P/NR, you are probably under the impression that MIT is somehow comparable in difficulty to your high school. It is not. MIT is actually that hard. Snively works hard. He works really hard. Everyone here works hard, because it’s honestly hard just to keep your head out of the water sometimes. You are in a place where everyone around you is used to getting absurdly good grades in high school. Something is obviously going to change. A lot of people stress out enough just trying to pass classes, let alone ace them. P/NR gives you a bit of breathing room.

    I join the chorus of MIT students telling everyone else that MIT is actually pretty hard, as it turns out.

    Yes, it’s possible to get A’s at MIT. Yes, people do in fact get good grades. Is it really that important? Probably not. Grades at MIT are more of a side-effect than a goal. Past your first job interview, nobody will care what your GPA was in college, let alone what you got on the first test in freshman year physics.