“You shall not . . . Pass!”, or How to Figure Out What the Pass Grade Means

Finding grade equivalents from a diversity of different grading systems is a big challenge for the credential evaluator. From scales using points, ranges, letters, different combinations of letters, marks, word descriptors, or even geometric symbols, analyzing and finding the best match to a U.S. style scale involves a lot of design skill and a little bit of math.   

One thing that we see a lot of questions about at ECE is how to interpret Pass grades in a variety of scales. The most important thing to determine is if Pass is on a binary scale of Pass/Fail; or is it a word describing a grade that has a specific value on a qualitative scale. These different types of scales are often used to make a distinction between different types of courses, and it’s our job as evaluators to make sure that distinction is preserved. Unfortunately, sometimes the way these grades are described make it hard to tell the difference. We rely on a few simple rules to determine what is the best way to interpret these grades when we encounter them. 

In the first instance you would expect the Pass grade to be used either with a course not considered for credit (often listed with a zero or even a blank space or dash) or for credits that are not used for calculating a grade average or classification because of the nature of the course.

We typically find that it isn’t appropriate to include this type of grade in our grade average conversions, as they resemble very closely the Pass/Fail grading in the U.S. that stands apart from the normal four-point scale. This is a specifically binary choice between passing and failing, without a related point value to determine an average or classification. 

If the Pass grade is really a descriptor for a point on a grading scale (e.g. the A-F face grades that represent point values on the U.S. scale or the five-point Russian scale), usually you’ll see it listed in the grading key on the transcript. The point value of the Pass grade then will match the grade it is being used to describe. For example, if the grade is called Pass, and the C grade is listed on the transcript as “Pass,” you can be pretty sure that the Pass in this instance is a “C” grade, as opposed to a Pass/Fail binary option grade. In these types of cases, the grade Pass will have a correlating point value, which is used to determine the average or classification for that subject. 

That means if you have a Pass grade that you’ve determined does “fit” on the corresponding qualitative scale, you should assign the point value of the grade it matches to those credits when calculating a U.S. style grade point average. 

Checking if a Pass grade is on the Pass/Fail scale or is being used to describe a point on the grade scale is the first step to making sure you are calculating a grade point conversion properly. 

Happy evaluating!

Charles Hoehnen is an Evaluator and has been with ECE since 2011. He specializes in country systems from Belgium to Zimbabwe, with particular focus on educational systems in transition. 

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