Grade inflation

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Grade inflation is the tendency to award progressively higher academic grades for work that would have received lower grades in the past. It is frequently discussed in relation to education in the United States, and to GCSEs and A levels in England and Wales. It is also an issue in Canada and many other nations, especially Australia and New Zealand.


Grade inflation is said to occur when higher grades are assigned for work that would have received lower grades in the past. In many cases it is demonstrably true that there have been increases in the proportions of candidates who are awarded higher grades, and a corresponding decrease in the proportions of lower grades awarded. But whether this is a result of grade inflation or higher achievement can be difficult to ascertain, and often can be determined only with systematic research. The issue has been examined in depth by many research institutions, including UCF's English Grammar and Usage Course.

The forces leading to grade inflation can emanate from parents, students, schools, exam boards, or politicians. Grade inflation may reflect underlying credential inflation.[1]

If other examination boards, or schools or teachers, are inflating grades, any competitor that maintains a "hold out" stance will place its examinees or students at a disadvantage. Some educators may feel pressured to give higher grades for fear of students' complaining and receiving bad course evaluations, thereby diminishing their reputation resulting in denial of promotion or tenure, or causing them to face lower enrollment in their classes. Course evaluations produced by the students in a class are often used by committees to help them decide on teacher promotion and tenure. A teacher may improve evaluations by modifying their teaching, possibly by 'teaching to the test', or by giving higher grades for assignments and exams. A comprehensive study by Valen Johnson shows a statistical correlation between high grades and high course evaluations.[2] In a separate analysis of grades at Pennsylvania State University, the onset of grade inflation in the 1980s coincided with the onset of mandatory course evaluations. Where competition exists between exam boards for the same students the exam board can be tempted to make exams easier, by simplifying questions or narrowing the curriculum; this can attract more entries from schools who also have incentives to improve results.

Possible problems associated with grade inflation[edit]

  • Grade inflation makes it more difficult to identify the best students, as more students are awarded the highest available grade.
  • Grade inflation is not uniform between schools. This places students in more stringently graded schools and departments at an unfair disadvantage.
  • Grade inflation is not uniform among disciplines.
  • Grade inflation makes it more difficult to compare students who took their exams at different times.

Princeton University took a rare stand against grade inflation in 2004, and publicly announced a policy designed to curb it. The policy states that "A" grades should account for less than 35% of the grades for undergraduate courses, and less than 55% of grades for junior and senior independent work. The standard by which the grading record of each department or program is evaluated is the percentage of "A" grades given over the previous three years.[3]

Arguments against taking action on grade inflation[edit]

  • Higher grades at some schools may reflect better performance than others (although with no national standard, there can be no way to compare one school to another by grades).
  • Although grade inflation doesn't evenly distribute through departments, it is arguable, due to the subjective nature of grades, that interdepartmental grading practices were not equal in the first place (e.g. how is one supposed to determine the equivalent grade for an English course to an "A" grade in Physics?)
  • Grade inflation may motivate less productive students to keep studying; whereas countries with no grade inflation may discourage students from studying by demoralizing them.
  • The US system still allows students to thrive by offering courses with honors options as well as awarding valedictorians. Many employers in the US also look at GPA when selecting candidates.

Similarly, if one believes the purpose of school studies is to better oneself and gain an understanding of the subjects, then one might not care too much if people are getting better grades than before, regardless of the cause. Indeed, it could be construed as a positive development since it might lessen the negative effects that some say grades have.

Arguments against its existence[edit]

  • In 1995, Clifford Adelman, a senior research analyst for the U.S. Department of Education, reviewed student transcripts from more than 3,000 universities and reported that student grades have actually declined slightly over the last 20 years.[4]
  • A report issued by the National Center for Education Statistics surveyed all 16.5 million undergraduate students in the USA in the year 1999–2000. The study concluded that 28.9% of graduates received mostly "C" grades or lower, while only 14.5% received mostly "A" grades.[5] These results conform to grading based upon a normal distribution[citation needed].

Grade inflation in the United States[edit]

Grade inflation at the post-secondary level[edit]

A recent study, (Rojstaczer & Healy 2010), collects historical data from 80 schools, in some cases dating back to the 1920s, and conclude clear evidence of nationwide grade inflation over time, and regular differences between classes of schools and departments.[6]

Main historical trends identified include:

  • a divergence in average grades between public and private institutions, starting in the 1950s;
  • a widespread sharp rise in grades from the mid-1960s to mid-1970s (Vietnam War years);
  • relatively little change in grades from the mid-1970s to mid-1980s;
  • a slow rise in grades from the mid-1980s to present.

The average at private schools is currently 3.3, while at public schools it is 3.0. This difference is partly but not entirely attributed to differences in quality of student body, as measured by standardized test scores or selectivity. After correcting for these factors, private schools grade on average 0.1 or 0.2 points higher than comparable public schools, depending on which measure is used.

There is significant variation in grading between different schools, and across disciplines. Between classes of schools, engineering schools grade lower by an average of 0.15 points, while public flagship schools grade somewhat higher. Across disciplines, science departments grade on average 0.4 points below humanities and 0.2 points below social sciences. While engineering schools grade lower on average, engineering departments grade comparably to social sciences departments, about 0.2 points above science departments. These differences between disciplines have been present for at least 40 years, and sparse earlier data suggests that they date back 70 years or more.

Until recently, the evidence for grade inflation in the US has been sparse, largely anecdotal, and sometimes even contradictory; firm data on this issue was not abundant, nor was it easily attainable or amenable for analysis. National surveys in the 1990s generally showed rising grades at American colleges and universities,[7] but a survey of college transcripts by a senior research analyst in the U.S. Department of Education found that grades declined slightly in the 1970s and 1980s.[8] Data for American high schools were lacking.

Recent data leave little doubt that grades are rising at American colleges, universities and high schools. An evaluation of grading practices in US colleges and universities written in 2003,[9] shows that since the 1960s, grades in the US have risen at a rate of 0.15 per decade on a 4.0 scale. The study included over 80 institutions with a combined enrollment of over 1,000,000 students. An annual national survey of college freshmen[10] indicates that students are studying less in high school, yet an increasing number report high school grades of A− or better.

Princeton University[edit]

In an attempt to combat the grade inflation prevalent at many top US institutions, Princeton began in the autumn of 2004 to employ guidelines for grading distributions across departments. Under the new guidelines, departments have been encouraged to re-evaluate and clarify their grading policies. The administration suggests that, averaged over the course of several years in an individual department, A-range grades should constitute 35% of grades in classroom work, and 55% of grades in independent work such as Senior Theses. These guidelines are enforced by the academic departments. Since the policy's inception, A-range grades have declined significantly in Humanities departments, while remaining nearly constant in the Natural Science departments, which were typically at or near the 35% guideline already.[citation needed]

Success at curbing grade inflation[edit]

In 2009, it was confirmed that the policy implemented in 2004 had brought undergraduate grades within the ranges targeted by the initiative. In 2008–09, A grades (A+, A, A−) accounted for 39.7% of grades in undergraduate courses across the University, the first time that A grades have fallen below 40% since the policy was approved. The results were in marked contrast to those from 2002–03, when As accounted for a high of 47.9% of all grades.[11]

Deflation has varied by division, with the social sciences and natural sciences largely holding steady for the last four years. During that period, A grades have ranged from 37.1 to 37.9% in the social sciences and from 35.1 to 35.9% in the natural sciences.[11] In the humanities and engineering, where deflation has been slower, 2008–09 brought significant movement. A's accounted for 42.5% of grades in the humanities last year and 40.6% of grades in engineering, both down two percentage points compared to 2007–08.[11] In the period from fall 2006 through spring 2009, the most recent three-year period under the new grading policy, A's accounted for 40.1% of grades in undergraduate courses, down from 47.0% in 2001–04, the three years before the faculty adopted the policy. The 2006–09 results also mark continued deflation from those reported a year ago, when A's accounted for 40.4% of undergraduate grades in the 2005–08 period.[11] In humanities departments, A's accounted for 44.1% of the grades in undergraduate courses in 2006–09, down from 55.6% in 2001–04. In the social sciences, there were 37.7% A grades in 2006–09, down from 43.3% in 2001–04. In the natural sciences, there were 35.6% A grades in 2006–09, compared to 37.2% in 2001–04. In engineering, the figures were 41.7% A's in 2006–09, down from 50.2% in 2001–04.[11]

Criticism of policy that curbs grade inflation[edit]

Many[who?] argue that it places students at a disadvantage when they apply for employment after graduating at professional schools because of the comparatively lower marks on students' transcripts. The student body[which?], for the most part, opposes this system of "grade deflation," but the administration[which?] stands by it, saying that other schools will soon follow[citation needed].

Harvard University[edit]

Grade inflation is often equated with lax academic standards. For example, the following quote about lax standards from a Harvard University report in 1894 has been used to claim that grade inflation has been a longstanding issue: "Grades A and B are sometimes given too readily ... insincere students gain passable grades by sham work."[12] Issues of standards in American education have been longstanding. However, rising grades did not become a major issue in American education until the 1960s. For example, in 1890 Harvard's average GPA was 2.27. In 1950, its average GPA was 2.55. By 2004, its GPA, as a result of dramatic rises in the 1960s and gradual rises since, had risen to 3.48.[citation needed]

Harvard professor Harvey Mansfield is a longtime vocal opponent of grade inflation at his alma mater. In 2013, Mansfield, after hearing from a dean that "the most frequent grade is an A", claimed to give students two grades: one for their transcript, and the one he thinks they deserve. He commented, "I didn’t want my students to be punished by being the only ones to suffer for getting an accurate grade".[13] In response, Nathaniel Stein published a satirical "leaked" grading rubric in The New York Times, which included such grades as an A++ and A+++, or "A+ with garlands".[14] In his 2001 article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Mansfield blames grade inflation on affirmative action and unqualified African American Students, "I said that when grade inflation got started, in the late 60's and early 70's, white professors, imbibing the spirit of affirmative action, stopped giving low or average grades to black students and, to justify or conceal it, stopped giving those grades to white students as well."[15] He also claimed that he did not have figure to back up his claims, but he is convinced that grade inflation began with African American students getting grades which were too high, "Because I have no access to the figures, I have to rely on what I saw and heard at the time. Although it is not so now, it was then utterly commonplace for white professors to overgrade black students. Any professor who did not overgrade black students either felt the impulse to do so or saw others doing it. From that, I inferred a motive for overgrading white students, too."[16]

University of Alabama[edit]

The University of Alabama has been cited as a recent case of grade inflation. In 2003, Robert Witt, president of the university, responded to criticism that his administration encouraged grade inflation on campus by shutting down access to the records of the Office of Institutional Research, which, until that year, had made grade distribution data freely available. It is however, still available on the Greek Affairs website. The Alabama Scholars Organization, and its newspaper, the Alabama Observer, had been instrumental in exposing the situation and recommending that the Witt administration adopt public accountability measures. The paper had revealed that several departments awarded more than 50 percent "A"s in introductory courses and that one department, Women's Studies, handed out 90 percent "A"s (the vast majority of those being "A+")[citation needed]. Grades had grown consistently higher during the period examined, from 1973 to 2003.[citation needed]

UC campuses[edit]

UC Berkeley has a reputation for rigorous grading policies. Engineering departmental guidelines state that no more than 17% of the students in any given class may be awarded A grades, and that the class GPA should be in the range of 2.7 to 2.9 out of a maximum of 4.0 grade points.[17] Some departments, however, are not adhering to such strict guidelines, as data from the UCB's Office of Student Research indicates that the average overall undergraduate GPA was about 3.25 in 2006.[18] Other campuses have stricter grading policies. For example, the average undergraduate GPA of UC San Diego is 3.05, and fewer students have GPA > 3.5 in science majors.[19] UC Irvine's average GPA is 3.01.[20]

Saint Anselm College[edit]

A small liberal arts college in New Hampshire, Saint Anselm College has received national attention and recognition for attempting to buck the trend of grade inflation seen on the campuses of many American colleges and universities. At Saint Anselm, the top 25% of the class has a 3.1 GPA; the median grade at the college is around a 2.50 GPA. Some professors and administrators believe that inflating grades makes it harder for students to realize their academic strengths and weaknesses and may encourage students to take classes based on grade expectation. The practice also makes it harder for parents and students to determine whether or not the grade was earned. Because of this, at Saint Anselm College, a curriculum committee was set up in 1980 to meet with the academic dean and review the grading polices on a monthly basis. This committee fights the practice of inflation by joining the administration and faculty in an effort to mend them into a working force against grade inflation.[21] The former president of the college, Father Jonathan DeFelice, is quoted as saying, "I cannot speak for everyone, but if I'm headed for the operating room, I will take the surgeon who earned his or her "A" the honest way," in support of Saint Anselm's stringent grading system.[22]

Other post-secondary institutions[edit]

Other colleges such as Washington and Lee University, University of Rochester, Middlebury College, [1] The College of William and Mary, Fordham University, Swarthmore College, Cornell University, the University of Chicago and Boston University[23] are also known for their rigorous grading practices.[citation needed] However, data indicate that even schools "known" for rigorous grading have experienced significant grade inflation and these claims are simply myths. Washington and Lee had an average GPA of 3.27 in 2006 and Swarthmore's graduates had a mean GPA of 3.24 in 1997. "[2]."At some schools there are concerns about different grading practices in different departments; engineering and science departments at schools such as Northwestern University are reputed to have more rigorous standards than departments in other disciplines.[citation needed] To clarify the grades on its graduates' transcripts, Reed College includes a card, the current edition of which reports that "[t]he average GPA for all students in 2005–06 was 3.1 on a 4.0 scale. This figure has scarcely changed in the past 22 years. Reed has experienced little or no grade inflation. During that period, only five students have graduated from Reed with perfect 4.0 grade averages."

Grade inflation at the elementary/junior/senior level[edit]

Pittsburgh School District[edit]

A January 7, 2009 article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette used the term "grade inflation" to describe how some people viewed a grading policy in the Pittsburgh public school district. According to the article, the policy sets 50% as the minimum score that a student can get on any given school assignment. The article also stated that some students said they would rather get a score of 50% than do the school work.[24] A March 2, 2009 follow-up article in the same newspaper said that the policy had been amended so that students who refuse to do the work will receive a grade of zero, and that the minimum grade of 50% will only apply to students who make a "good-faith effort." [25] A March 3, 2009 article in the same newspaper quoted Bill Hileman, a Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers staff representative, as saying, "The No. 1 problem with the 50 percent minimum was the negative impact on student behavior." The same article also said that the school district was planning to adopt a new grading scale in at least two schools by the end of the month. The article stated that under the original grading scale, the minimum scores required to earn an A, B, C, D, or E, were, respectively, 90%, 80%, 70%, 60%, and 0%. Under the new 5-point grading scale, the minimum scores required to earn an A, B, C, D, or E would be changed, respectively, to 4.0, 3.0, 2.0, 1.0, and 0.[26]

Grade inflation in Canada[edit]

Grade inflation at the secondary school level[edit]


James Côté and Anton L. Allahar [3], both professors of sociology at the University of Western Ontario conducted a rigorous empirical study of grade inflation in Canada, particularly of the province of Ontario. Up until the 1960s, grading in Ontario had been borne out of the British system, in which no more than 5% of students were given As, and 30% given Bs.[27] In the 1960s, average performers in Ontario were C-students, while A-students were considered exceptional. As of 2007, 90% of Ontario students have a B average or above.[28] In Ontario, high school grades began to rise with the abolition of province-wide standardized exams in 1967.[29]

The abolition of province-wide exams meant that student marks were entirely assigned by individual teachers. In 1983, 38% of students registering in universities had an average that was higher than 80%. By 1992, this figure was 44%.[29] According to the Council of Ontario Universities, 52.6% of high school graduates applying to Ontario universities in 1995 had an A average. In 2004, this figure had risen 61%.[29] In 1995, 9.4 percent of high school graduates reported an A+ average. In 2003, this figure had risen to a high of 14.9%.[29] The average grade of university applicants was 80% in 1997, and this percentage has steadily increased each year since.[29]

In 2004, Quebec's McGill University admitted that students from Ontario were given a higher cutoff grade than students from other provinces, because of concerns about grade inflation originating from the fact that Ontario does not have standardized provincial testing as a key component of high school graduation requirements.[30]

Atlantic Canada[edit]

In 2007, the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies released a report on grade inflation in Atlantic Canada. [4] Mathematics scores in New Brunswick francophone high schools indicate that teacher-assigned marks are inflated in relation to marks achieved on provincial exams. It was found that the average school marks and the average provincial exam were discordant. When looking at marks for school years 2001–2002 to 2003–2004, it was found that school marks in all 21 high schools were higher than the provincial exam marks. The provincial average for school marks is 73.7% while the average for provincial exams marks is 60.1% over the three years. School marks in all 21 high schools were higher than the provincial exam marks.[31]

In the context of provincial exams and teacher assigned grades, grade inflation is defined as the difference between the teacher-assigned marks and the results on a provincial exam for that particular course. It was found that higher grade inflation points to lower provincial exam results. Of the 21 high schools, École Marie-Gaëtane had the highest grade inflation, at 24.7%. With a provincial exam average of 52.3% this school is also the least achieving school in the province. In contrast, schools Polyvalente Louis-J-Robichaud, Polyvalent Mathieu-Martin, École Grande-Rivière and Polyvalente Roland-Pépin had the lowest grade inflation with values ranging from -0.7% to 9.3%. They were the four top performing schools on the grade 11 mathematics provincial exams.[31] Similar results were found for Anglophone New Brunswick high schools, as well as for Newfoundland and Labrador schools. Despite the high marks assigned by teachers, Atlantic Canadian high school students have consistently ranked poorly in pan Canadian and international assessments.[31]

British Columbia[edit]

In 2008, in British Columbia, the University of Victoria (UVic) and the University of British Columbia (UBC) reduced the number of Grade 12 provincial exams that high school students were required to write in order to gain admission to those universities. Prior to 2008, high school students applying to UVic and UBC were required to write 4 provincial exams, including Grade 12 English. In 2008, this standard was reduced so that students were only required to write the provincial exam for Grade 12 English. A UVic administrator claimed that the rationale for this reduction in standards is that it allows the university to better compete with central Canadian universities (i.e. Ontario and Québec universities) for students, and prevent enrollment from falling. Universities in central Canada do not require high school students to write provincial exams, and can offer early admission based on class marks alone. A Vancouver high school principal criticized the change in requirements by charging that it would become difficult to detect grade inflation. The president of the University Presidents' Council of British Columbia also criticized the move and said the provincial exams are "the great equalizer". The British Columbia Teachers Federation supported the change because in the past some students avoided certain subjects for fear that poor marks on provincial exams would bring down their average.[32]

In the fall of 2009, Simon Fraser University (SFU) changed its requirements so that high school students only need to pass the English 12 provincial exam. Previously, students were required to pass 4 provincial exams, including English 12, in order to apply. This change brought SFU into line with UVic and UBC. Administrators claimed that this reduction of standards was necessary so that SFU could better compete with UBC and UVic for students. The change was criticized on the ground that it leads to "a race to the bottom."[33]


As of 2007, 40% of Ontario high school graduates leave with A averages – 8 times as many as would be awarded in the traditional British system.[29] In Alberta, as of 2007, just over 20% of high school graduates leave with an A average.[29] This discrepancy may be explained that all Alberta high school students must write province-wide standardized exams, Diploma exams, in core subjects, in order to graduate.

The Alberta Diploma exams are given in grade 12, covering core subjects such as biology, chemistry, English, math, physics and social studies. The exams are worth 50 percent of a grade 12 student's final mark. Quebec also requires its students to write Diploma Exams for graduating students. Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Nova Scotia have similar tests. British Columbia has a mandatory English proficiency test in grade 12, provincial tests in other subjects are optional.[28]

Alberta's focus on standardized exams keeps grade inflation in check, but can put Albertan high school students at a disadvantage relative to students in other provinces. However, Alberta has the highest standards in Canada, and produces students who are among the best in international comparisons.[29] By preventing grade inflation, Albertan high schools have been able to greatly ameliorate the problem of compressing students with different abilities into the same category (i.e. inflating grades so that a student in the 98th percentile, for example, cannot be distinguished from one in the 82nd percentile).[29]

Grade inflation at the post-secondary level[edit]

In relation to grade inflation at the university level, the research of the aforementioned Professors Côté and Allahar concluded that: "We find significant evidence of grade inflation in Canadian universities in both historical and comparative terms, as well as evidence that it is continuing beyond those levels at some universities so as to be comparable with levels found in some American universities. It is also apparent that the inflated grades at Canadian universities are now taken for granted as normal, or as non-inflated, by many people, including professors who never knew the traditional system, have forgotten it, or are in denial".[29]

A 2000 study of grade patterns over 20 years at seven Ontario universities (Brock, Guelph, McMaster, Ottawa, Trent, Wilfrid Laurier and Windsor) found that grade point averages rose in 11 of 12 arts and sciences courses between 1973–74 and 1993–94. In addition, it was found that a higher percentage of students received As and Bs and fewer got Cs, Ds and Fs.[34]

University of Toronto[edit]

A 2006 study by the Canadian Undergraduate Survey Consortium released earlier in 2007 found students at the University of Toronto Scarborough got lower marks on average than their counterparts at Carleton and Ryerson. Marking, not ability, was determined to be the reason.[34]

University of Waterloo[edit]

In 2009, a study was conducted at the University of Waterloo to investigate the phenomenon of grade inflation on its campus. [5] It was determined that grade inflation was occurring there. The study defined grade inflation as: "An increase in grades in one or more academic departments over time". [35] From 1988/89 to 2006/07 it was determined that there had been an 11.02% increase in undergraduate A grades, with the rate of increase being 0.656% per year.[35] In 100 level Math for the year 2006/07, the grade distribution of 11,042 assigned grades was: 31.9% A, 22.0% B, 18%C, 16.3% D, 11.8% F. In 400 level Fine Arts courses for 2006/07, the distribution of 50 assigned grades was: 100% A.[35] In relation to increased scores in first-year mathematics, there was no evidence of better preparedness of UW students. A possible source of grade inflation may have been pressure from administrators to raise grades. A case was documented in which a math dean adjusted grades without the consent or authorization of the instructor.[35]

When comparing the 1988–1993 school years with that of the years from 2002–2007, it was discovered that the percentage of As assigned in 400 levels in the Faculty of Arts had risen as follows for every department (first figure is percentage of As for 1988–1993 years, second is percentage of As for 2002–2007 years): Music 65%/93%, Fine Art 51%/84%, Sociology 54%/73%, History 66%/71%, Philosophy 63%/69%, Anthropology 63%/68%, Drama 39%/63%, Political Science 46%/57%, English 43%/57%, French 39%/56%, Economics 36%/51%, Business 28%/47%, Psychology 80%/81%.[35] It is important to note that this study examined only 400-level courses and conclusions regarding grade inflation should not be generalized to courses at other levels.

Grade inflation in the United Kingdom[edit]

Annual grade inflation has been a continuing feature of the UK public examination system for several decades. In April 2012 Glenys Stacey, the chief executive of Ofqual, the UK public examinations regulator, acknowledged its presence and announced a series of measures to restrict further grade devaluation.[36][37][38]


In September 2009 and June 2012, The Daily Mail[39] and The Telegraph[40] respectively reported that teenagers' maths skills are no better than 30 years ago, despite soaring GCSE passes. The articles are based on a 2009 paper by Dr Jeremy Hodgen, of King's College London, who compared the results of 3000 fourteen-year-olds sitting a mathematics paper containing questions identical to one set in 1976. He found similar overall levels of attainment between the two cohorts.[41] The articles suggest rising GCSE scores owe more to 'teaching to the test' and grade inflation than to real gains in mathematical understanding.

In the early 1980s, just 22% of pupils obtained at least a grade "C" in maths at O-level. In 2012, it was 58.4%.[42][43][44][45][46][dubious ]

Since the turn of the millennium the percentage of pupils obtaining 5 or more good GCSEs has increased by about 30%, while independent tests performed as part of the OECD PISA and IES TIMSS studies have reported Literacy, Maths and Science scores in England and Wales having fallen by about 6%, based on their own tests[47]

In response to allegations of grade inflation, a number of schools have switched to other exams, such as the International GCSE, or the International Baccalaureate middle years programme.[48]

UK: GCSE Grades Awarded (percentages)
A* A (A* + A) B C D E F G U A* to C Numbers of
1988 8.4 12.8 20.7 19.3 16.6 12.5 6.3 3.4 41.9 5,230,047
1989 9.9 13.8 21.9 19.0 15.8 11.2 5.6 2.9 45.6 5,132,998
1990 10.8 14.4 22.5 18.7 15.3 10.6 5.2 2.5 47.7 5,016,547
1991 11.4 14.7 22.4 18.6 15.0 10.5 5.3 2.2 48.5 4,947,593
1992 12.3 15.3 22.9 18.6 14.7 9.9 4.7 1.6 50.5 5,028,554
1993 12.5 15.9 23.1 18.6 14.2 9.3 4.4 1.8 51.5 4,968,634
1994 2.8 10.2 (13.0) 18.0 21.8 18.7 13.7 9.3 4.1 1.5 52.8 5,029,599
1995 3.2 9.9 (13.1) 17.8 22.1 18.6 14 9.0 3.9 1.5 53.0 5,431,625
1996 3.4 10.3 (13.7) 18.0 22.3 18.6 13.4 8.7 3.8 1.5 54.0 5,475,872
1997 3.6 10.5 (14.1) 18.1 22.3 18.7 13.3 8.5 3.6 1.5 54.4 5,415,176
1998 4.1 10.6 (14.7) 16.5 23.6 18.6 13.2 7.6 3.5 2.3 54.8 5,353,095
1999 4.4 10.8 (15.2) 16.9 23.7 18.7 12.7 7.5 3.3 2.0 55.8 5,374,751
2000 4.6 11.2 (15.8) 17.0 23.8 18.4 12.5 7.2 3.2 2.1 56.6 5,481,920
2001 4.9 11.2(16.1) 16.9 24.1 18.3 12.1 7.1 3.3 2.1 57.1 5,632,936
2002 5.0 11.4 (16.4) 17.4 24.1 18.1 12.0 6.7 3.2 2.1 57.9 5,662,382
2003 5.1 11.6 (16.7) 17.3 24.1 17.7 11.7 6.8 3.3 2.4 58.1 5,733,487
2004 5.6 11.8 (17.4) 17.3 24.5 17.3 11.3 6.6 3.2 2.4 59.2 5,875,373
2005 5.9 12.5 (18.4) 18.0 24.8 17.3 10.5 6.0 2.8 2.2 61.2 5,736,505
2006 6.3 12.8 (19.1) 18.3 25.0 17.3 10.2 5.6 2.6 1.9 62.4 5,752,152
2007 6.4 13.1 (19.5) 18.6 25.2 17.2 9.8 5.3 2.4 2.0 63.3 5,827,319
2008 6.8 13.9 (20.7) 19.8 25.2 16.6 9.1 4.7 2.3 1.6 65.7 5,669,077
2009 7.1 14.5 (21.6) 19.9 25.6 16.5 8.5 4.4 2.1 1.4 67.1 5,469,260
2010 7.5 15.1 (22.6) 20.6 25.9 15.9 7.8 4.0 1.9 1.3 69.1 5,374,490
2011 7.8 15.4 (23.2) 21.7 24.9 15.1 7.8 4.1 2.0 1.2 69.8 5,151,970
2012 7.3 15.1 (22.4) 21.7 25.3 15.9 7.7 4.1 1.9 1.0 69.4 5,225,288
2013 6.8 14.5 (21.3) 21.5 25.3 16.6 8.0 4.1 2.0 1.2 68.1 5,445,324

Source: Joint Council for General Qualifications via Brian Stubbs.

England: percentage obtaining 5 or more GCSE A*-C grades, or equivalent
1954 1956 1961 1965 1966 1967 1968 1969 1970 1971 1972 1973 1974 1975 1976 1977 1978 1979 1980 1981 1982 1983 1984 1985 1986 1987 1988 1989
10.7 11.7 15.3 20.3 21.1 22.0 22.5 22.7 23.1 23.5 23.5 23.1 22.6 22.9 23.5 23.7 23.7 24.0 25.0 26.1 26.2 10.7 26.7 26.4 30.0
1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012
34.5 36.8 38.3 41.2 43.3 43.5 44.5 45.1 46.3 47.9 49.2 50.0 51.6 52.9 53.7 56.8 59.0 61.4 65.3 70.0 75.4 79.5 81.9

Sources: Hansard, DfEGender and education: the evidence on pupils in England, Brian Stubbs, Expanding Higher Education in the UK, Comparing Educational Performance, by C Banford and T Schuller


In 2011 the overall pass rate (A–E grades) for A-levels rose for the 29th year running, and was 97.8%, compared to 68.2% in 1982. The percentageshare of "A" grades rose by 0.8% in 2009 compared to 2008, and stood at 26.7%. As of 2009, one-eighth of all candidates scored three "A" grades, as opposed to a single A in 1982[clarification needed].[49] If the grade improvement rate in 2009 continued, within nine years no one sitting an A-level would actually fail the exam, while over the same period the number of "A" grades would rise to more than a third of all entries: it is already over a quarter. These are the alleged effects of grade inflation.[50] A study by Durham University last yearTemplate:Clarifyem concluded that an A grade in 2009 is the equivalent of a C grade in the 1980s. According to the Daily Telegraph, this trend goes hand in hand with the "all must have prizes" ethos that has "dominated education in this country for decades, to the detriment of academic excellence".[50][dubious ]

An educationalist at Buckingham University thinks grades inflate when[clarification needed] examiners check scripts that lie on boundaries between grades. Every year some are pushed up but virtually none down, resulting in a subtle year-on-year shift.[49][51]

UK: A-level grades awarded (%'age)
A* A (A*+A) B C D E O N U/F A–E Candidates
1951 75.3 103803
1965–1980 8–10 15 10 15 20 20 10 68–70
1982 8.9 68.2
1985 70.5
1990 12 77 684065
1991 11.9 78 699041
1992 12.8 79.8 731240
1993 13.8 16.7 17.7 18.1 14.8 9.3 9.6 81.1 734081
1994 14.8 17.1 18.6 18.1 14.4 8.8 8.1 83 732974
1995 15.8 17.1 19 18.1 14.1 8.4 7.5 84.1 730415
1996 16 18 19.8 18.3 13.7 7.8 6.4 85.8 739163
1997 16 18.9 20.3 18.5 13.4 7.4 5.5 87.1 776115
1998 16.8 18.9 20.8 18.3 13 7.2 5 87.8 794262
1999 17.5 19 21 18.3 12.7 6.9 4.6 88.5 783692
2000 17.8 19.2 21.2 18.5 12.4 6.6 4.3 89.1 771809
2001 18.6 19.3 21.4 18.1 12.4 6.3 3.9 89.8 748866
2002 20.7 21.9 22.7 18.1 10.9 5.7 94.3 701380
2003 21.6 22.9 23 17.8 10.1 4.6 95.4 750537
2004 22.4 23.4 23.2 17.5 9.5 4 96 766247
2005 22.8 23.8 23.3 17.2 9.1 3.8 96.2 783878
2006 24.1 24 23.2 16.6 8.7 3.4 96.6 805698
2007 25.3 24.4 23.1 16 8.1 3.1 96.9 805657
2008 25.9 24.9 23.1 15.7 7.6 2.8 97.2 827737
2009 26.7 25.3 23.1 15.2 7.2 2.5 97.5 846977
2010 8.1 18.9 (27) 25.2 23.2 15.2 7 2.4 97.6 853933
2011 8.2 18.8 (27) 25.6 23.6 15.1 6.5 2.2 97.8 867317
2012 7.9 18.7 (26.6) 26 24 14.9 6.5 2 98 861819
2013 7.6 18.7 (26.3) 26.6 24.3 14.7 6.2 1.9 98.1 850752
2014 8.2 17.8 (26) 26.4 24.3 14.8 6.5 2.0 98 833807

Sources: JCQ statistics for: 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005/4 and BBC News,a, also the Guardian, and [6], and [7]

Higher education[edit]

UK first degrees by classification from 1995 to 2011

The Higher Education Statistics Agency gathers and publishes annual statistics relating to the higher qualifications awarded in the UK. The Students and Qualifiers data sets indicate that the percentage of "GOOD" first degree classifications have increased annually since 1995. For example, 7% of all first degree students who graduated in the academic year 1995/96 achieved first class honours; by 2008/09 this had risen to 14%.[52][53]

Between 1995 and 2011, the proportion of upper second class honours awarded for first degree courses increased from 40.42% to 48.38%, whilst lower second class honours dropped from 34.97% to 28.9%. The number of third class honours, "ordinary" (i.e. pass), and unclassified awards dropped substantially during the same period. During this time, the total number of first degrees awarded in the UK increased by 56%, from 212,000 to 331,000.[53][54]

The UK Press frequently carries reports and publishes statistics that demonstrate the grade inflation since the early 1980s.[55]

UK: Percentages of 1st Class awards by Institution
1980 2000 2010
Cambridge 13 29.8 23
Warwick 3 10.8 23
Exeter 4 10.5 19
St. Andrews 7 11.7 20

Source: [8],[9]

UK: Percentages of good Honours awards
(1st and upper 2nd) by Institution
1983–4 1984–5 2006 2008 2012
Cambridge 57.2 49.3 84 85 87
Warwick 34 42 79 76 81
Exeter 41 45.3 75 80 83
Robert Gordon 9 12 53 54 55

Source: Sunday Times Good University Guide, 1983–4 (1st Ed), 1984–5 (2nd Ed), 2006, 2008, 2012

UK: First degree awards
Awards by class First (1) %'age Upper Second (2.1) %'age Undivided + Lower Second (2.2) %'age
1993[56] ~7937 8.4 ~38077 40.3 ~26361 27.9
1995 16687 7.04 95824 40.42 82898 34.97
1996 17352 6.86 103049 40.76 89533 35.41
1997 18154 7.03 105538 40.87 91534 35.45
1998 19613 7.44 109409 41.50 90805 34.44
1999 20852 8.37 112504 45.14 94036 37.73
2000 21920 8.66 114660 45.31 91770 36.26
2001 24095 8.77 118465 43.14 89750 32.68
2002 26455 9.67 121240 44.31 86650 31.67
2003 28635 10.96 123795 47.37 88260 33.77
2004 30175 11.2 127935 47.5 90470 33.59
2005 32465 11.59 132770 47.4 92605 33.06
2006 34825 12.04 137235 47.46 94265 32.6
2007 40260 12.52 149805 46.59 103340 32.14
2008 41150 13.34 148265 48.05 95145 30.84
2009 43125 13.99 148360 48.12 93030 30.17
2010 46830 14.4 156950 48.26 96970 29.82
2011 53210 15.5 166095 48.38 99210 28.9
2012 61605 15.76 178425 45.63 100310 25.66
2013 69625 17.24 187365 46.40 98145 24.30

Source: Higher Education Statistics AgencyUniversities' Statistical Record, 1972/73-1993/94 : Undergraduate Records

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Randall Collins, "Credential Inflation and the Future of Universities," Chapter One of "The Future of the City of Intellect: The Changing American University," edited by Steven Brint (Stanford University Press, 2002), pages 23–46.
  2. ^ Grade Inflation: A Crisis in Education, Springer-Verlag, 2003
  3. ^ Quiñones, Eric (21 September 2009), Princeton achieves marked progress in curbing grade inflation, Princeton: News at Princeton 
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^ Rampell, Catherine (2010-04-19), "Want a Higher G.P.A.? Go to a Private College", The New York Times, retrieved 2010-04-19 
  7. ^ Levine and Cureton, 1998; Kuh and Hu, 1999
  8. ^ "Archives: The New York Times Article Archive: 1851–1980". 
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^ a b c d e Quiñones, Eric (21 September 2009), Princeton achieves marked progress in curbing grade inflation, Princeton: News at Princeton 
  12. ^ ("Report of the Committee on Raising the Standard")
  13. ^ Andersen, Travis; Nicholas Jacques; Todd Feathers (4 December 2013). "Harvard professor raises concerns about grade inflation - Metro - The Boston Globe". Boston Globe. Retrieved 17 December 2013. 
  14. ^ Stein, Nathaniel (14 December 2013). "Leaked! Harvard’s Grading Rubric". The New York Times. Retrieved 17 December 2013. 
  15. ^ Harvey Mansfield, "Grade Inflation: It's Time to Face the Facts," The Chronicle of Higher Education , April 6, 2001
  16. ^ Harvey Mansfield, "Grade Inflation: It's Time to Face the Facts," The Chronicle of Higher Education , April 6, 2001
  17. ^
  18. ^ UC Berkeley Undergraduate Fact Sheet – Fall 2006 at the Wayback Machine (archived June 8, 2011)
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^ Marianne Lebedinskaya (August 24, 2006). "Grading: Is Honesty the Best Policy?". Fox News. Retrieved January 5, 2010. 
  22. ^ Fr. Jonathan DeFelice, O.S.B.; President, Saint Anselm College (August 1, 2004). "Higher Education Must Reverse Trend of Grade Inflation". New Hampshire Sunday News. Retrieved January 5, 2010. [dead link]
  23. ^ Freedman, Samuel. Can Tough Grades Be Fair Grades? The New York Times, June 6, 2006.
  24. ^ Officials defend grade policy, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, January 7, 2009
  25. ^ City schools amend '50 percent' grade policy, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, March 2, 2009
  26. ^ City schools flunk weighted grade system, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, March 3, 2009
  27. ^ Ivory Tower Blues
  28. ^ a b Making the grade, Michael Wood, September 19, 2008
  29. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Côté, James; Anton, Allahar (2007). The Ivory Tower Blues. Toronto, ON: University of Toronto. 195,198. 
  30. ^ When is an "A" not quite an "A"? University of Waterloo newmedia Journalism, Catherine Tylee
  31. ^ a b c Are we setting up students to fail? Maclean’s, Robert Laurie, June 05, 2007
  32. ^ Universities prepare to lower standards,Vancouver Sun, CanWest MediaWorks Publications Inc.
  33. ^ Provincial exams no longer required entrance into SFU, Shara Lee, 2008. The Peak Publications Society
  34. ^ a b Girard, Daniel (11 June 2007), "Prof says pressure is on to accept `grade inflation'", (Toronto) 
  35. ^ a b c d e Mayer, Greg (6 May 2009), Grade inflation at the University of Waterloo, Waterloo: University of Waterloo, pp. 5, 8, 10, 13, 17 
  36. ^ Henry, Julie (28 April 2012). "A-level overhaul to halt "rampant grade inflation"". The Daily Telegraph (London). 
  37. ^ Ofqual grade inflation: Everyone knows exams got easier, The surprise is the educational establishment admitted it
  38. ^ Ofqual halts the A grade escalator
  39. ^ The test that PROVES maths skills are standing still after thirty years, Laura Black, Dailymail online, Sept. 5th, 2009
  40. ^ Telegraph - Teenagers 'worse at maths than in 1970s', figures show
  41. ^ - Are today's pupils worse at maths than those of the 1970s? By Owen Spottiswoode 22 June, 2012 - 15:52
  42. ^ Tables Expose Truth of Grade inflation, Telegraph, Jan. 12, 2007
  43. ^ GCSE where 18% was enough to get grade C, Tim Ross, London Evening Standard 06.02.09
  44. ^ Comparing Past & Present Grades
  45. ^ Harry Torrance, Manchester Metropolitan University, 2002 - Can Testing Really Raise Educational Standards?
  46. ^ Gender and Educational Achievement: Some Data
  47. ^ University of London - IOE: Jerrim, John - Department of Quantitative Social Science: - England's plummeting PISA test scores between 2000 and 2009: Is the performance of our secondary school pupils really in relative decline?
  48. ^ Independent schools top GCSE tables, August 28th, 2009
  49. ^ a b Dumbing down, The economist, Aug.29th, 2009
  50. ^ a b A-level results: grade inflation is just a cruel confidence trick, Telegraph, August 20th, 2009
  51. ^ A-Levels 2011, by Alan Smithers
  52. ^ Thornhill, Cher (14 January 2010). "Number of students awarded first class degree doubles in 12 years to one in seven". The Daily Mail (London). Retrieved 17 April 2012. 
  53. ^ a b "HESA Free Online Data Tables". Higher Education Statistics Agency. Retrieved 17 April 2012. 
  54. ^ Grade Inflation in Irish Universities (1994 – 2004) by Martin O’Grady and Brendan Guilfoyle
  55. ^ Paton, Graeme (12 January 2012). "Warning over 'grade inflation' as first-class degrees double". The Daily Telegraph (London). 
  56. ^ Smith, Jeremy (2001), Determinants of degree performance in the UK universities: a statistical analysis of the 1993 cohort (63, 1 0305-9049), Warwick: Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics, p. 33 

External links[edit]