Student Q&A: Grading for Spring Semester 2020

Published 04/02/20. Last updated 04/24/20.

On Friday March 20, 2020, in response to the challenges to our campus academic mission brought in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, a new grading policy(link is external) was announced for the Spring 2020 semester. Under this emergency policy, the default grading option for all undergraduate enrollments is Passed/Not Passed (P/NP). The default grading policy for graduate enrollments remains unchanged, but graduate programs have been given the flexibility to design local responses (Covid-19 information for graduate education(link is external)).

The campus was gratified to receive many questions from students during the spring break over social media and by email. In response, we offer this FAQ in the hope that it will answer the most common questions. This Q&A is a living document. If your question is not answered here, please submit it to sends e-mail), and an answer will be posted in a timely manner. You might also wish to consult a companion Q&A for instructors. The College of Letters & Science has released a helpful Policy Update and set of FAQs(link is external), although be mindful that it applies only to students in L&S. The College of Engineering has likewise posted a set Engineering Student FAQs(link is external) of that many students may find useful. 

The questions addressed below are:

Q. Why did UCB make P/NP the default grade for all undergraduate courses this semester?

A. The COVID-19 virus has created unprecedented disruption in teaching and learning. Classes shifted to remote instruction on short notice, many students have moved away, and almost everyone is living under some kind of shelter-in-place requirement. Our living situations – the people with whom we are living, our family obligations, access to WiFi and other needed resources, the availability of quiet and private spaces, our financial situations – now vary widely. Some of us have family members who are ill. Everyone’s life has been disrupted to one degree or another. Consequently, UCB believes that it is unfair to hold students to the same academic performance standards as during a typical semester.

The P/NP option is designed to relieve the pressure on undergraduates, allowing you to focus on learning as best you can in the current difficult environment without worrying about grades. It also provides flexibility should you prove unable to fully master the material because of circumstances beyond your control. Note that undergraduates are not required to take classes P/NP; you will be able to change a course to a letter grade or back to P/NP via Cal Central as late as Friday May 8, 2020 at 11:59pm.

Q. Why does UCB allow undergraduates to request letter grades in some or all of their courses this semester?  

A. There are two main reasons why UCB allows undergraduates to opt for a letter grade this semester. The first is that campus legal counsel believes that contract law requires UCB to offer students the option of receiving letter grades. The second reason is that a certain number of students have indicated that they wish to receive letter grades. Some students were studying hard and doing well before the COVID-19 disruption and believe that they can continue to excel for the rest of the semester. Some students were counting on the opportunity to raise their GPA this semester to improve their chances of securing a job or internship or getting into graduate school. And some students fear that they will not work hard enough to master important material if they do not have the motivation of letter grades. UCB does not necessarily agree with these lines of reasoning, but recognizes that it is each student’s right, under the present extraordinary circumstances, to decide whether to take one or all of their classes for a letter grade, P/NP, or a combination of the grading types.

Q. Why shouldn’t I take some of my classes for letter grades?

A. While the Academic Senate recognizes the right of every undergraduate student to decide whether to take any of their classes for a letter grade, P/NP, or a combination of grading types, we believe that the prudent choice is to take all classes P/NP for several reasons. First, most of you have enough stress and disruption in your lives this semester without worrying about letter grades, and the future effects of COVID-19 on your health, family, and living situation are impossible to predict. Second, given learning conditions this semester, letter grades do not necessarily signal the same level of academic performance or mastery as in a normal semester. Indeed, graduate schools are expected to heavily discount or even completely ignore any letter grades earned this semester. Third, the possibility of switching to a letter grade as late as May 8 makes letter grades in classes graded on a curve difficult to predict, and the College of Letters and Science will not entertain requests for retroactive drops because you mistakenly chose to take a letter grade (see the question on “course drops”). Fourth, we believe that taking a mixture of graded and P/NP classes is especially ill-advised, since graduate schools and employers will almost certainly judge that you took letter grades for the classes that you did well in and P/NP grades for the classes in which you performed poorly (e.g., did C work).

 Q. Why did the grading policy for graduate courses remain unchanged? Why didn’t graduate grading shift from letter grades to Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory (S/U)? 

A. Graduate courses span a much greater range of circumstances than undergraduate courses. For example, some graduate programs must issue letter grades in order to meet standards of professional accreditation. The Academic Senate, therefore, left the discretion of making a change in the grading policy to the local level where the rules and constraints are understood best. That said, the grading policy changes approved by the Academic Senate are available to graduate programs. Specifically, each degree program can decide to relax requirements regarding the S/U option. In addition, graduate students are allowed to change their mode of grading to S/U up to May 8, 11:59pm. We encourage departments and programs to apply some of the same flexibility in allowing S/U grades to meet graduate requirements that we are requesting be granted to P/NP grades in meeting undergraduate requirements.

 Q. I am an undergraduate student taking a graduate-level class. How does this policy apply to me?

A. Since grading is based on the student, the grading option for courses with letter grades will be changed automatically for undergraduates enrolled in graduate classes to P/NP. You can elect to have a letter grade via Cal Central until Friday May 8, 2020 at 11:59pm.

Q. I am a graduate student taking an undergraduate-level class. How does this policy apply to me?

A. Since grading is based on the student, the grading option will NOT be changed automatically for graduate students enrolled in undergraduate classes. You can elect to have an S/U grade via Cal Central until Friday May 8, 2020 at 11:59pm.

 Q. I am a graduate student. Why can’t I receive grades of P/NP?

A. Graduate students are graded on a “Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory” (S/U) basis, not a “Passed/Not Passed” (P/NP) basis. At UCB, an “S” grade corresponds to a grade of B- or higher, while a “P” grade corresponds to a grade of only C- or higher (Berkeley Division Senate Regulation A201, footnotes 2 and 3(link is external)). In other words, graduate students are held to a higher standard to receive a grade of “satisfactory” (B- or better) than undergraduates are to receive a grade of “pass” (C- or better).

Q. I want to apply to graduate school. Won’t taking classes P/NP this semester hurt my chances of admission?

A. COVID-19 is a global pandemic. Undergraduate programs around the world are in the same situation. All have been forced to shift instruction to remote delivery under difficult circumstances, and students everywhere are having their lives turned upside-down. Under these circumstances, graduate programs understand that letter grades will not have the same meaning as during a typical semester. Indeed, many graduate programs have issued statements reassuring undergraduates that they will not be penalized for taking classes P/NP this semester. The statement(link is external) by the Provost and Deans of UCB affirms this principle:

“UC Berkeley evaluates applicants for admission to its graduate and professional schools holistically, meaning that we consider an applicant’s combination of personal accomplishments, letters of recommendation, personal statements, academic record, and test scores in making our admissions decisions. Such a review will take into account the significant disruptions of COVID-19 when reviewing students’ transcripts and other admissions materials from Spring 2020. We understand that many institutions across the country instituted P/NP grading policies during that semester. Thus, we will not penalize students for the adoption of P/NP and other grading options during this unprecedented period, whether the choices were made by institutions or by individual students. Our admissions evaluation will focus primarily on a student’s academic performance prior to this period, and if applicable, following this period. What is most important is that applicants demonstrate that they pursued a challenging curriculum that was relevant to their plan for graduate or professional school.”

Q. What about requirements that a class be taken for a letter grade?

  • If I am repeating a course that I failed, will a P count for clearing the F?
  • Will P/NP credits count toward major requirements?
  • Will P/NP credits count toward prerequisites for applying to a major?
  • Will P/NP credits count toward getting off probation?
  • Will P/NP credits count against the ceiling of 1/3 courses that may be taken P/NP?

A. The Academic Senate has authorized the temporary suspension of regulations pertaining to letter grade and grade-point requirements for courses taken to fulfill undergraduate major requirements. Schools, colleges, and departments have been advised to adapt accordingly, so please consult the website or the advisors in your major department(s). UCB expects that colleges and departments will generally adopt a very liberal policy toward P/NP classes in the situations queried above, meaning that in most cases, P/NP classes will clear an F, P/NP classes will count toward major requirements, P/NP classes will count toward prerequisites for applying to a major, and P/NP classes will count toward getting off probation. Still, check with your major department(s) to be safe. P/NP classes will not count against the ceiling of 1/3 courses that may be taken P/NP. No changes will be made to the GPA calculation as a result of the grading policy changes.

Q. Are colleges and schools suspending requirements that courses must be taken for a letter grade in order to meet major, minor, or other program requirements?

A. While many colleges are suspending rules around letter graded coursework being needed to meet program requirements, this is a college-level decision. Currently available college statements are linked below:

Please consult with your college or major advisor to be certain what your college is doing or if your college is not listed above. Inquiries about departments with capped majors should be directed to the academic department.

 Q. Why won't UCB implement “A’s for all” as has been proposed by the ASUC and others?

A. If the University awards “A’s for all” in spring 2020, the grades will be meaningless. The practice will not remain a secret, and employers and graduate schools will just disregard all Berkeley grades for Spring 2020. Another drawback of “A’s for all” is that it offers no reward to students who make a genuine effort to learn the material, as compared to students who do nothing at all. Even an emergency P/NP policy ensures that students who receive a passing grade engage in a minimum of learning.

 Q. For those who choose to receive a letter grade, won't the curve be skewed because all of the people with bad grades will choose P/NP?

A. It depends, first of all, on whether the class is, in fact, graded on a curve. Many instructors attribute grades based on some intrinsic standard of performance (e.g., above 90% is an A), as opposed to performance relative to other students (e.g., 10% of the class gets an A). In addition, UCB encourages instructors concerned about academic dishonesty to avoid grading on a curve as a way of mitigating the effects of cheating on students who behave honestly: “Students who cheat may still get their A’s, but in the absence of a curve, their ‘success’ will not reduce the chances for other students to get A’s as well” (Best Practices for Remote Instruction Examinations).

If the instructor opts to grade the class on a curve nonetheless, the impact of curving will depend on the treatment of the scores of students who take the class P/NP. If the curve includes only those students who take the class for a letter grade, then the likelihood that students with low grades will opt for P/NP could make it very difficult to earn a high grade. Indeed, if most students initially take the course for a letter grade and the low-performers then opt for P/NP in early May, the grades of many of the remaining students could potentially fall as a result. By contrast, if the curve includes the scores of students who are taking the class P/NP (and instructors this semester are required to record letter grades for all students, including those who are taking the class P/NP), then the curve may be considerably easier than in normal times, since many students will be doing just enough work to pass, as opposed to striving for the best possible grade. Consequently, if you plan to take a class for a letter grade, be sure to ask your instructor whether the class will be curved and, if so, how the scores of students who are taking the class P/NP will be treated.

 Q. Why can't students wait until they see their letter grades after final exams before deciding whether to choose P/NP?

A. Under Berkeley Division Senate Regulation A201(c)(link is external), grades cannot be changed after the close of term. The only exceptions are for errors in grading or grade appeals alleging the “application of non-academic criteria, such as considerations of race, politics, religion, sex, or other criteria not directly reflective of performance related to course requirements; sexual harassment; or improper academic procedures that unfairly affect a student’s grade in particular” (Berkeley Division Senate Regulation A207 (a)(link is external)). UCB has opted for the latest allowable date for changing grading options under Senate regulations, which is May 8, 2020 at 11:59pm.

  Q. When is the course add deadline?

A. Late course add deadlines are set by a student’s college. For L&S, the course add deadline is unchanged. Undergraduate students who have not used their Late Change of Class Schedule(link is external) in previous semesters may use it to add a course by the usual deadline of Friday, May 1, 2020 at 4pm. Undergraduate students outside L&S should check with their colleges

 Q. When is the course drop deadline?

A. Late course drop deadlines are set by an undergraduate student’s college, but the course drop deadline has been extended for all undergraduates to Wednesday, May 6, 2020 at 11:59pm. For students in L&S, drops before this new deadline will not be considered “late” and therefore will not require a Late Change of Schedule request. Keep in mind that requests for drops will not be considered after the May 6 deadline, even with a Late Change of Class Schedule petition. Finally, if you have already used a Late Change of Class Schedule(link is external) this semester to drop a course, this drop will no longer count against your limit, and you will be able to use a Late Change of Class Schedule in a future semester instead. Students outside L&S can also drop courses until Wednesday, May 6, 2020 at 11:59pm, but the rules and processes may differ from those of L&S, so check with your college.

 Q. How does grading for Incompletes work?

A. For Incompletes granted before spring 2020, the grading option that you chose originally remains in effect. The process for granting Incompletes this semester (spring 2020) is unchanged. The grading option that you choose by the deadline of Friday May 8, 2020 at 11:59pm will apply when your grade is issued in the future.

Q. How do I change the grading option for one of my courses?

A. Students can change their grading option in CalCentral. Detailed instructions can be found once students have logged in to CalCentral or on the following website: This resource will be updated to address student concerns should they arise.

Q. The English Language Writing Requirement (ELWR) requires a minimum grade of C, but a “P” grade is defined as “C– or better.” Will a Spring 2020 “P” grade in College Writing R1A satisfy the English Language Writing Requirement (ELWR)?

A. Yes. Any student who passes College Writing R1A in Spring 2020 with a “P” grade will have satisfied the ELWR.

Q. Can students using military benefits change their “default Passed/Not Passed” grading basis to a letter grade after the May 8th, 2020 grade change deadline?

A. Yes. The deadline to change the grading option from “default Passed/Not Passed” (DPN) to “Letter Grade” for students receiving military benefits has been extended to September 20, 2020. This only applies to make the change from “default Passed/Not Passed” to “Letter Grade,” and only for coursework completed in Spring 2020. No other changes to a student’s grading basis may be made after May 8th, 2020, except in the case of grade appeals under Berkeley Division Regulation A207

The Academic Senate is making this accommodation because it is currently unclear what ramifications the emergency Spring 2020 “default Passed/Not Passed” grading policy might have on the benefits eligibility of military-affiliated students. Students should consult with their college advisor if they need to make this change between May 9th, 2020 and September 20th, 2020.

Q. How will Passed/Not Passed grades be calculated toward the overall one-third limit on Passed/Not Passed credit counted towards Berkeley degrees?

A. For all Spring 2020 coursework, units completed for a letter grade or for P/NP will only count toward the total of units taken overall toward the degree (that is, the “denominator” of the one-third limit). In other words, no units completed in Spring 2020, regardless of grading option, will be counted toward the one-third limit on total P/NP units (that is, the “numerator” of the one-third limit).

Q. Will “default Passed/Not Passed” (DPN) units from Spring 2020 be distinguished from “Passed/Not Passed-only” grades in calculating the overall one-third limit?

A. No. All grades from Spring 2020both Passed/Not Passed grades (whether in courses approved as P/NP-only, or based on the student’s choice of P/NP grading option, or under the emergency Spring 2020 default P/NP policy) as well as letter gradeswill be calculated the same for purposes of the one-third limit on P/NP credits. That is, all such units regardless of grading option will be counted as part of the total units taken (the “denominator”) but not counted toward the maximum of one third P/NP credits (the “numerator”).

Q. Will units completed in the UC Education Abroad Program (UCEAP) be counted as “default P/NP” if a letter grade has already been awarded?

A. Students who completed UCEAP courses during Spring 2020 will be allowed either to retain letter grades assigned within EAP, or to opt into the UC Berkeley Spring 2020 “default Passed/Not Passed” grading option at their own discretion, up to the May 8, 2020 deadline for changes in grading option.

Q. Are summer 2020 enrollments going to be changed to default P/NP grading?

A. We do not anticipate changing summer enrollments to default P/NP grading due to COVID-19.

Q. How is In Progress (IP) grading for two-semester sequence courses being handled under the Spring 2020 grading policy?

A. Two-semester course sequences (e.g., for senior honors thesis projects) usually receive an IP grade for the first semester, with a final grade for the whole course being assigned in the second semester. Students in the second semester of a two-semester course sequence in Spring 2020 may either accept the Spring 2020 default P/NP grade, or opt back to a letter-graded option (in courses approved for letter grades), and allow this grade to serve, as usual, as the overall grade for the two-semester sequence. In addition, a one-time exception has been approved for Spring 2020 to allow students who accept a default P/NP grade in the second semester the option (in consultation with their instructor/advisor) of splitting the grading for the course across the two semesters, so as to retroactively change their Fall 2019 IP grade to a letter grade, to be assigned in addition to the Spring 2020 default P/NP grade.

This option is available only to students who opt for a Spring 2020 default P/NP grade in the course. Students who opt for a letter grade in Spring 2020, or who take an Incomplete grade, will receive (as usual in such courses) a single grade for both part one and part two of the sequence. When work for Incomplete grades is completed, a grade will be assigned based on the grading option the student has chosen as of May 8th, 2020.

Students in the first semester of a two-semester course sequence in Spring 2020 will receive an IP grade for Spring 2020 as usual in such courses. A decision will be made based on instructional circumstances in Fall 2020 as to whether or not to extend this exception beyond Spring 2020.

Compiled by Jonah Levy, Robert Ashmore, John Battles, Patrick Holmes, Martha Olney, Oliver O’Reilly, and members of the Graduate Council, Undergraduate Council, and Committee on Courses of Instruction of the Berkeley Division of the Academic Senate.