A Favorable Reaction

On the whole, grading Chemistry 17 problem sets based off of effort alone is a welcome change to this high-stakes pre-med course.

The start of a new semester is inevitably accompanied by tweaks and adjustments to the previous years’ class offerings and logistics, with instructors constantly in search of an improved student experience and increased Q scores. We have already commented on the positive changes implemented this year by the always-restive Computer Science 50: “Introduction to Computer Science I”.

They are not, however, the only class to have updated their policies. This semester, the infamous pre-medical class Chemistry 17: “Principles of Organic Chemistry” will no longer grade its students’ problem sets on a point basis, but instead award checks, check pluses, and check minuses as grades.

At first glance, this move will help to decrease students’ stress in completing weekly assignments. There will be no immediate incentive for them to aspire to perfectionism in their problem sets to gain an edge over other students. Any drop in stress is a welcome and beneficial change for Harvard undergraduates, especially for pre-med students who already have more than their fair share of stress.

This tweak, aside from easing the weekly demands of Chemistry 17, may also serve a pedagogical purpose. The instructor of the class, Chemistry professor Eric N. Jacobsen, has mentioned that students were “more concerned about getting the answers 'right' than with taking the time to understand the underlying concepts.” The flexibility of the new grading scheme will therefore empower students to concentrate on their comprehension of the material—the crux of education at a liberal arts college such as Harvard.

This new plan, however, is not without potential pitfalls. For one, the fact that homework will no longer be graded will place greater weight on students’ midterm exams, which can be hit-or-miss. Nevertheless, pre-med students are no strangers to high-stakes exams, having to take the grueling MCAT.


There is also the potential danger of laziness associated with problem sets that are not graded. Students may not feel motivated to try their best on these assignments if they will not receive a grade on them. Though we very much hope that students will put their best foot forward, despite the diminished incentive, we also believe that the class staff ought to remain vigilant and ensure that students are actively engaging with and comprehending the material.

On the whole, we are optimistic that this new policy will improve student experiences in Chemistry 17 and help to set an example for other classes. In the future, perhaps students across all concentrations and interests will be able to reap the benefits of an improved approach to grading.

This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.


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