Organic Chemistry Problem Sets No Longer Graded

Chem 17
Science Center Hall B fills up for Chemistry 17, Organic Chemistry, which is taught by Eric Jacobsen.
This fall, students in Chemistry 17: “Principles of Organic Chemistry” will have one less thing to worry about as they take on the notoriously difficult course: the problem sets will not be graded.

Chemistry professor Eric N. Jacobsen, who teaches the course, wrote in an email that the weekly problem sets will instead be graded on a check minus, check, or check plus scale to reflect students’ effort—a return to a system last used in 2014. The marks, however, do not count towards a student’s final grade in Chemistry 17.

Jacobsen added that he decided to abandon a traditional grading system on problem sets to help students better understand course material. It will also both students and teaching staff to identify potential areas of weakness for exams.

Problem sets “were not a useful assessment tool because they did not really reflect the students’ understanding of the material, and they were not a useful teaching tool because we couldn’t tell what the students did and didn’t understand based on their answers,” Jacobsen wrote.

Jacobsen also wrote that he wants students to truly learn the material rather than look to maximize grades.

“My sense from talking with students about it was that they were more concerned about getting the answers 'right' than with taking the time to understand the underlying concepts,” he wrote.

For some students in the course, the shift is a welcome change.

Noah A. Fanous ’19, who took an intensive version of Chemistry 17 this summer, said he found completing problem sets to be more helpful and enjoyable on the check-based system.

“I really enjoyed not having the psets graded because I could focus on completing the assignment and understanding the material instead of focusing on what the grade would be,” Fanous said. “I felt like it was a very collaborative community and they really wanted us to learn the material.”

But others, like Zeyn U. San ’18-19, said that the shift may cause students to worry about their grades ahead of exams. By not grading problem sets, the course’s midterms and final exams count for a larger part of a student’s final grade.

“I think I will be very anxious leading up to [the midterms],” San said. “But for now, I’m just grateful because I think using psets as a tool to learn is really, really good.”

—Staff writer Madeleine R. Nakada can be reached at


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