BU Today

Campus Life

YouSpeak: How Hard Is It to Get an A?

What’s your work input, grade output ratio?


If you’ve ever felt like getting an A was next to impossible, you’re in good company. According to a year-old story on CBS that has recently been bouncing around social networks, when it comes to tough grading, BU is up there with MIT, Princeton, and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. On the other hand, a 2007 BU Today story reported that the average GPA of BU undergrads was 3.04.

With finals ramping up, this week’s “YouSpeak” asks, “How hard is it to get an A?”

YouSpeak” typically appears each Monday.

If you have a suggestion for a question we should ask, post it in the comments section below.

Alex Stout (COM’13) assisted with this video.

Joe Chan

Joe Chan can be reached at joechan@bu.edu.

16 Comments on YouSpeak: How Hard Is It to Get an A?

  • bob (you know who) on 12.12.2011 at 7:48 am

    Thanks to this segment, I learned how hard it is to make an A. Here are some tips: study hard, not smart; caffeine helps, but 4loco=A+++’s, and four consecutive all-nighters will guarantee you at least an A minus.

  • Valentin Voroshiliov on 12.12.2011 at 10:00 am

    For a number of years I had been auditing individual teaching (as well as school and district educational) practices. There is one striking common feature between ALL of them, which is – the absence of clear grading criteria. Scientists have etalons for all measurable variables, but educators cannot (or do no want to) develop adequate and objective measuring tools and procedures. A student can get a B for ending a course with 70.5 (out of 100), but in another course the same student with 74.5 might get a C+, and most of faculty thinks it is fine. Without objective measuring tools and procedures the question “how hard is getting an A” does not seem scientific. Currently, getting an A typically means having the highest score in the current class (so, study hard). Although, there are always faculty who are very stingy on giving As. A scientific approach to understating the Nature had lead to enormous social advances. Maybe it is the time to start using (!) a scientific approach to education? Maybe the time does come to ask such questions as: Do we have a common definition of “teaching”? Do we need it? Is our way of teaching optimal for our students? How do we know if it is? How do we know if it isn’t? Do our tests measure what they are supposed to measure? What are the tests supposed to measure? Do we know what specific factors and how affect the grades of our students? If a student gets a good grade is it because of us or the student has a perfect background? Do we know how much of a knowledge gain has been because of our influence? Do we want to know that? What is more important, the amount of memorized facts or ability to reason; students’ grades or faculty evaluation?

  • Linda at the Other Washington on 12.12.2011 at 10:37 am

    I proudly completed BU’s masters’ program in November. I earned 6 A’s as final grades out of the 10 semesters by making family/job then homework and no social lif the order of my world for 18 months. BU instructors clearly state their grading criteria and student performance expectations at the beginning of each semester. Good grades are the result of BU’s high teaching standards and hard work by its’ student. The litmus test of how much knowledge was gained occurs when the student enters the work force. A’s at BU can be accomplished with hard work and dedication.

  • Katie on 12.12.2011 at 10:56 am

    I actually read about this sort of grading standard prior to attending BU. Also, MIT’s grading system works on a 5.0 scale. If an employer sees an MIT student with a 4.0 or 3.79 or what have you, they’ll be a lot more impressed than a BU student with the same score, but all around, the BU student is doing better in his or her studies.

    It’s kind of an uncomfortable position to be in as a student, wherein BU’s not classified or viewed as Ivy League but is also most definitely not a pushover school. (We get graded more harshly than Brown, for instance.)

  • Kiley Monahan on 12.12.2011 at 11:46 am

    clearly no one interviewed in this video is in the college of engineering. it’s really really hard to get an A as an engineer. you already have so much work, and getting an A means going above and beyond. it definitely depends on your classes, your major, and what school you’re in.

  • Colby on 12.12.2011 at 11:47 am

    I feel it definitely depends on what school you’re in. As an engineering major, with most of my classes being math and science related, it is really difficult to get an A and it can be rather discouraging. But since BU is such a good school, getting the degree should be enough to say that you’re a good student and know your stuff.

  • CGS Student on 12.12.2011 at 12:03 pm

    As a student very interested in grade distribution, I have found that in about 50% of my classes, the percentage of A’s (not including A-‘s) is about 5 %. The other half of my classes tend to give no more than about 10%. The fact that schools that are considered on par with BU have average GPA’s closer to a 3.5 and BU’s is a 3.04 definitely speaks to the difficulty in getting an A at BU.

  • amused on 12.12.2011 at 12:10 pm

    what is it with BU students (and I’m a BU student myself) dwelling on this big bad grade deflation? BU is not a top school. face it. the bar is not set high for difficulty of exam material, so I’d say there better be a high standard for earning an A. ever amuse yourself by looking at an MIT computer science problem set while taking a break from yours? you can actually google a number of the questions that appear on a BU CS problem set and get their solutions from various sources. type in questions from the MIT CS problem set from a technically equivalent course level and you’ll be returned to that course’s homepage posting the problem set in the first place.

    • Eva on 12.12.2011 at 12:14 pm

      Yeah, seriously. This subject is tired. BU students are fixated on supposedly difficult it is to get an A here. A’s aren’t that easy to get anywhere if you stop citing Brown and Harvard over and over again. Let’s move on.

  • CAS Student on 12.12.2011 at 12:10 pm

    Uhhh, why are most of the people interviewed freshman!? They haven’t even received their first semester grades yet! Talk to upperclassmen too, they actually have been here long enough to know!

  • Skeptic on 12.12.2011 at 12:28 pm

    BU students love to blame grade deflation. A’s are earned in every course -if you’re not getting them, there is something you can do better.

    If you procrastinate and do most of your studying or paper writing the night before, you can’t complain about earning a B. How would you grade your own study habits? Do they deserve an A?

  • Beatrice on 12.12.2011 at 12:34 pm

    It does depend on what your major is and what your strong points are. But it’s definitely hard to get an A in most math and science courses here. As a pre-medical student, it can be really discouraging not getting the grades I want. Especially after the fact that I study extremely hard and put so much effort into it. I’m taking chem 101/102 this year. It’s a lot harder than I anticipated. They introduced material at the beginning of the semester that you usually don’t even see until organic chemistry. They make it harder intentionally.

  • J on 12.12.2011 at 12:45 pm

    It all depends on the professor’s grading.

  • HP on 12.13.2011 at 11:16 am

    Math, science, and engineering majors… if you think the math you’re doing is hard NOW, when you’re still in school, you might want to consider a different major, because it’s not going to get any easier when you start working in your field. There’s a reason why it’s difficult to get A’s in those classes, and it’s b/c the material IS hard. What you learn in your classes is what you’ll be doing when you’re working in the field. If you’re a Civil Engineering major, and your calculations are off by centimeters, inches, or feet (sometimes, even millimeters), lots of people could die b/c of your miscalculations. Say you’re building a bridge and you need to calculate how much weight it can hold before it breaks and comes crashing down. If you’re off by whatever measure, it could cause catastrophic damage to the surroundings. Stop complaining about how hard it is to get an A and get back to your studies. Don’t you all have finals coming up soon anyways?

    • mrblue on 12.18.2011 at 8:54 pm

      I agree. Science, math, medical and engineering majors. Seriously, your job will be to determine a definate, exact answer. It is not subjective. The math behind a strong security algorithm for your bank has no room for error, and i would not my surgeon to not know exactly what is the effect of their actions.

      your actions in life are often pass fail. But remember your grade is a measure of knowledge in a point in time. You may have a much better grasp of a topic later when you gain more life experience to apply that knowledge. If you do not have enough life experience to fully appreciate a topic, you will have to study that much more. Grades are not the final measure of your success. I’d rather hire a focused, balanced, dedicated, hard working B student instead of an A student to whom everything is easy and has not had to deal with failure before,or one who is a complete burn-out.

      My advice, find what balance is right for you. You are likely going to have to put in a lot of hours and effort for that A. maybe you end up with a B. Still it is worth the effort. Just be sure you find the correct personal balance for you.

  • anon on 12.21.2011 at 2:44 am

    BU has an unspoken code among professors that they tend to curve around a B, trying not to give grades below a C to students who have the slightest semblance of effort and capacity in the subject matter. There are some professors that are more giving with As and others that are not so much. From the look of it though, if a 3.04 average is actually still the norm, that system of curving around a B (3.0) is working as intended. Hopefully, at the very least, grad. school admissions have a decent contextual understanding of the average gpas of the universities that people are applying from.

Post Your Comment

(never shown)