Freshman Pass No Record
While the freshman year curriculum is very demanding, the grading system is designed to reduce unnecessary pressure and competition. In the first term, all subjects are graded on a "pass/no record" basis. That means if a student does work at the A, B, or C level, a "pass" is recorded on his or her external transcript; if a student should happen to do work at the D or F level, the external transcript will show no record of the student ever having taken the class.
Why does MIT launch freshman year with this unusual grading system? Because it eases the transition to college, allows students to adapt to doing MIT-quality work, gives them flexibility to explore academic, research, and social opportunities at the Institute, and deemphasizes grade competitiveness while emphasizing learning for its own sake. These lessons stay with students throughout their years at MIT and are a big part of the MIT culture.
The second term at MIT is graded on an "A/B/C/no record" basis. While students do receive letter grades on their external transcripts for courses passed, students still have the "safety net" of having no record made of classes in which they happen to receive a D or an F. In this way, students have their entire first year to get used to the workload and standards of MIT.
After the freshman year, courses are graded on an A/B/C/D/F basis. Juniors and seniors also have the opportunity to take several courses on a pass/fail basis, to explore subjects beyond their familiar academic terrain.
The policy has a long history at MIT. In 1968, the faculty authorized a freshman year Pail/Fail grading system. In 1973, the program was changed to a Pass/No Record policy. The current policy, described above, has been in place since the 2002-03 academic year.
For more information about progressing through MIT see http://web.mit.edu/academic-guide/section_08.html
Relevant Blog posts