Biology Advising: Grade Point Average

By: Paul Siri Wilson

[ Music ] >> Hi. I'm Dr. Jim Dole.

I'm a Professor Emeritus at this university. In other words I've been around here for a long time. Professor Emeritus, by the way, if it doesn't mean anything to you, simply means I'm a retired professor. But having been here for a half of century, and that's literally true. I've been here for 50 years. I know the system fairly well. I understand pretty well what's mistake students make. And my job this morning is to talk to you about the mistakes that you don't want to make.

And in particular, what I want to talk to you about is your Grade Point Average or your GPA. This is extremely important because, your GPA, whatever you graduate with will follow you for the rest of your life. If for example, you apply for a job. Your GPA will probably be one of the first things your perspective employer will asked about. If you're applying for a graduate program, certainly your GPA will make a difference in whether you get accepted or not. On the other hand, if you're thinking about going at one of the medical professions, one of the healthcare professions, medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, anything of that sort, your GPA can make all the difference in the world. If you have a high enough GPA, you'll be considered.

If you don't, they'll simply not even look at the rest of your application. So, it's really important that you have a high GPA. And what I want to do is talk about that GPA and several different aspects of it. For example, such things as how your GPA is calculated. It's a very straightforward sort of thing, but it is something you need to understand. I'm also going to talk about your three GPAs. That's right. You got three.

Biology Advising: Grade Point Average

I'm going to talk about why improving your GPA gets more and more difficult as you progress towards your degree. This is just a mathematical fact but you need to know that. I also want to talk about the fact that repeating a course can affect your GPA not necessarily for the good. It depends on how you work at it. I'll explain that in a minute. And I'm also going to point out how failure to follow certain rules in particular the rules for withdrawing from a class can make a difference in your GPA.

Sometimes profound, but not welcome difference. Let me start by talking about how would you calculate your GPA. I've given you the formula for it.

You'll notice it's simply the number of units for a particular course times the grade points that you've earned for the letter grade that you earned to that course. You sum all of those for all of your classes and divide it by the sum of the all of all of the units. But you first have to know that here at Northridge, there is ability to have an A minus or B minutes or C plus or any those things or plus or minus after the letter grade and they come up with different values.

For example, if you get a minus after the letter grade, the point value will be three-tenths of a point less than the letter grade itself. If you have a plus after it, it's three-tenths of point more than the letter grade itself. So you can see on this chart the standard values for each of those letter grades. Let me just give you an example of one particular hypothetical student so we can calculate the GPA.

You'll notice, for example, this particular student took Biology 106 and earned an A. The A is worth 4 points. The course itself is worth 3 units. So 3 times 4 gives you 12. We put that in the far right column. This person also took Biology 106 lab which is a one unit course but in that course she earned an A minus.

An A minus is worth 3.7, so we multiply that 3.7 times the 1 unit we get 3.7 in the far right column. This person also completed Chemistry 100 earned a C, and C is worth 2 points [inaudible] the course itself is worth 3 units, so 3 times 2 gives you 6 in the far right column then you simply sum the far right column for 21.7 and divide that by the 7 units. And this person then has a value of-- GPA value of 3.1. Now, that's fairly straightforward and fairly easy to do and there are actually some spreadsheets available online where you can create your own. It allows you do it. It doesn't take a lot of work. But what I want you to know also is that you have three GPAs as I said. And each one is important.

The first GPA is one we called the overall GPA. And this grade point average is based entirely upon all of the courses you've taken whether they were taken here or at any other institution of higher learning. In other words, if you took courses at Community College and you put them on your record here, they will be included in this GPA as well as all the courses that you've take at Cal State Northridge. The second GPA includes just those courses taken here at Northridge. No others, but all the courses taken here for which you've earned the letter grade will be included in your GPA here. The third GPA is the one that most people don't know anything about, but it is critical and can make a big difference. And that is what we call the upper-division major GPA.

And all that means is that you have a third GPA based entirely upon the courses that you have taken at the upper-division level meaning 300 or above and are in the major, the biology major. So, you got three GPAs. But what you also need to know is that in order to graduate, you have to have a 2.0 GPA in all three of them, not just one, every single one of those GPAs requires a 2.0 or better, hopefully a whole lot better in order to graduate.

OK. What I'd like to do at this point is to demonstrate what happens to a GPA, a person's GPA, when he or she takes four-unit class and earns an A in that class. And I'm going to deal with the person starting when he's a freshman. At this point, let's say he has 10 units earned. Since he has a 3.0 that means he's earned 30 points as 10 units which is where he gets 3.0. But let's say he earned 4 units of A. And what does that do to his GPA? It changes it from a 3.0 to a 3.28.

That's a significant change. That's a very big change and very welcome change. But what I want you to see is what happens to that same individual when he's a junior. What effect does that same four-unit course have? Let's assume now that he's starting his junior year with 60 units, with a 3.0 that means he has 180 points, 60 units earned, gives him a 3.0. Now, let's assume this person takes a four-unit class and earns an A. What does that do to his GPA? And the answer is, it raises it from a 3.0 through a 3.06, not a very big jump. In other words, even though he took one four-unit class in each case earned an A in both of them. In one case when he was a freshman, it made a big difference; as a junior, it made a piddling little difference, not much of a difference at all.

And the reason for that is simple mathematics. It's simply that when you are a freshman and you have let's say four units to all the units you already completed, that four units is a big portion of the units you have. If you've add 4 units to the 10 that you already have, that 4 of the 14 is going to be a large number, large proportion and it will affect your GPA calculations accordingly. On the other hand, when you're a junior and you add 4 units to the 60 units you already have, now you have 64 units, the 4 is a very small-- much smaller portion of the 64. As a consequence it has a much smaller effect on your GPA.

Let me show you a table that will illustrate this. Again, I've taken-- created this table assuming the student has a 3.0, and I've taking it from a freshmen year when he has let's say 10 units all the way up to when that person is near graduation with 120 units. And you'll notice, for example, as we've seen that as a freshmen, that four-unit class with As got him from a 3.0 to 3.28; as a junior, from a 3.0 to a 3.06; as a graduating senior, that same 4 units would move him from a 3.0 to a 3.03, a very tiny fraction of a change. Now, just to show you how this works. Again, I'm going to choose to illustrate it with 12 units of courses worth As.

And you can see that it makes a big difference for the freshmen coming from a 3.0 to a 3.54, but a very small difference for graduating senior from a 3.0 to 3.09. In other words, the longer you're here and the more units you accumulate, the harder it is to change your GPA. And I mentioned this because I've actually had students come to me and tell me that they are a changed person. For example, it's the story usually goes something like this. I've-- I'm starting my junior year.

I've not done very well. I've maybe made a C average. But I really want to make it to medical school. I'm going to work really hard in the next two years. I'm going to earn all As and I'm going to make it to medical school. I'm gong to get my GPA up high enough that I can do that. Well, the point of this is that that's not really possible. Let me explain.

First of all, you probably understand that the probability of a student who is a straight C student or a C average student for two years is not suddenly likely to become a straight A student. But even if we assumed that he did become a straight A student, his GPA would go from a 2.0 to a 3.0 which is a nice increase. That's certainly worthy. But it's not enough to get into the medical school.

Now, you need to also know something about repeating classes because this too kind of influence your great point average if you do some things incorrectly. University rules permits you to repeat up to 16 units of class work for what is commonly called grade forgiveness. But don't misunderstand this. This does not mean that your earlier grade is somehow painted out and a new grade is placed on in place of it, that doesn't happen. What happens is that both grades remain on your record, but the newest grade presumably the higher grade is the one used in calculating your GPA.

That's important to know. Now, you can do that for 16 units, but you have to understand also that you only get a grade forgiveness if you repeat the same course at the same institution and only for the first 16 units. Now, you can repeat courses beyond the 16 units. But if you do, and you can only go 28, then that from-- after the 16 units, what happens is that both of the grades are included in your calculations or your GPA. For example, if you repeated a class in which you earned an F and got a C, both of those grades will be included in calculating your GPA and that's the equivalent of earning a D. Or if you had an F the first time and then you repeated it and got an A, both of those grades would be included in your calculation of a GPA and that's the equivalent of earning a C. OK.

The point is, you have to be really careful about this. The other point that you need to understand is this, that if you repeat a class or try to repeat a class, you may find yourself in a situation where you just simply can't get in to the class. For example, if you're repeating a class, the university rules require that you not enroll in a class until four days before the class begins. And if you know anything at all about what happens at this university, most of the classes are going to be full at that point. So the chances of getting into a class that you're repeating are very tiny.

The best thing you might do is try to take the class in the summer because then there's less competition. But in any case, it's tough to get into a class when you're repeating it. So, what's the moral of all this that I'm saying? It basically boils down to this. And that is, when you enroll in a class, take it seriously. Don't assume as some do that, "Oh, I can goof around here and if I have to, I'll repeat it." No, you don't want to ever repeat a class if you can avoid it. If you have no choice, of course you repeat it.

But try never to get in that situation. Earn the best grades you can the first time through. If your aim is to graduate with a high GPA, and I hope that's the case, then the way to do it is to start with a high GPA, earn it now and keep it there. You can't play catch up. It just simply doesn't work.

One of the facts that you need to understand is that withdrawing from a class, if it's done and properly can greatly affect your GPA. I've actually have students who've made some serious mistakes. And I want you not to make those mistakes. But you'll notice that the withdrawal policy at this university is such that if you withdraw within the first three weeks of the semester, nothing happens. It's also even possible to withdraw from a class later in the semester provided you have a valid reason and that you can convince the associate dean that your reason is valid. If you simply walkaway from a class that some students do, and as a consequence, they wind up on their record with a grade of WU which means an unofficial withdrawal. A WU counts as though it were an F. In other words, if you have a WU on there, it gives you no point value, but counts as whatever number of units you should have earned and that will affect your GPA negatively.

I even had a student who walked away not from just one class, but from a whole semester of classes. He came to me just a few months ago and was asking me, what I do at this point? I looked at his record, saw 16 units of WU or from the point of view, the GPA 16 units of F. And he wanted to know what does he do? And the only thing I could tell him is you dug yourself in a one heck of a big hole. And the only way out is to work really hard in the future, earn high grades and all the rest of the classes and gradually get your GPA up to an acceptable level. He was down below 2.0 at that point getting it up to a 2.0 will be a struggle, but it can be done. But please, don't get yourself in that situation. And I highly recommend that you always, if you have to withdraw from a class, do it officially, don't walk away.

If you have any other questions, give me a call, I'm available at the advisement center or better yet, stop by and talk to me. [ Music ].

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