On the Cutting
 shares with you our experts' answers to user submitted questions on all things international education

Updated periodically with responses from the International Evaluation Standards Council, On the Cutting EDGE is your glimpse at the work of AACRAO EDGE and our commitment to advancing international education


Is 'Higher' Always Better?


I have a question regarding the grading scales provided for Ireland.  We have a prospective student who took the 2016 Leaving Certificate Examination and all subjects taken were "Higher" level subjects. The grading scales available in EDGE do not currently reflect the differences for “Higher” marks. In the description of the Leaving Certificate, you mention that “’Higher” level subjects are more academically-rigorous than ‘ordinary’ level subjects”.  Because of that, and because of information we are receiving from the student and recent changes to the Leaving Certificate scales in Ireland, do you have any suggestions for how to evaluate her 2016 Leaving Certificate to account for the “Higher” marks she received?

This question comes up every now and again: “Why don’t you give more points to grades at the Higher Level on the Irish Leaving Certificate compared to the Ordinary Level exams?”  The problem is that the answer to this question is the same that you or I would give to the student or parent asking a university to give more grade points to an A earned in an AP course compared to a regular non-AP course in a US high school.  While it is true some schools give a 4.5 instead of a 4.0,  the issue here is NOT grading.  The grading is the same.  The difference is in the syllabus.  So what YOU do is to give more reflective weight in your deliberations to the A earned in a Higher Level exam than for an Ordinary Level exam.  

Let me use another analogy.  The grading on the IB exams (7-point scale) is the same whether the subject is at Higher Level or at Subsidiary Level. The receiving institution, however, makes a VALUE judgement based on the TYPE of exam but we don’t skew the grading scale to favor the Higher versus the Ordinary Level exams any more than we would consider a B at MIT to be a C anywhere else.

It should be noted that the Irish Leaving Certificate will have a new grading scheme beginning this year (2017) and it will drop from the 14 point scale you see in EDGE (count the No Grade which is not on the chart as the 14thGrade) to an 8 point scale.   The reason is to bring it more in line with other European grading schemes.   It will look like this and probably illustrates better even than my explanation above that the scales are the same:

H1/O1  90-100%
H2/O2  80-<90
H3/O3  70-<80
H4/O4  60-<70
H5/O5  50-<60
H6/O6  40-<50
H7/O7  30-<40
H8/O8  0  -<30

Notice that the grades are the same for BOTH types of exams.  The difference is in the value YOU place on Highers vs. Ordinary exams.  Clearly, more selective institutions will want some or all exams to be Highers for freshman admission.  But is an H1 and A while an O1 an A- or B+?  NO!

Thank you again for your question to EDGE!


How Many Subjects to Pass?

Does AACRAO require a minimum of passing subjects for the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) - Sierra Leone, to be deemed equivalent to a U.S. Senior High School Graduation? As long as the applicant has been issued a WASSCE certificate, would that be sufficient to confirm the equivalency for U.S. Senior High School Graduation? I have an applicant who has seven subjects recorded on their West African Senior School Certificate Examination.

Also, does AACRAO require a minimum of subjects to be completed for the West African Senior School Certificate (Nigeria) or for the Certificate of Secondary Education (Kenya) to determine the equivalency for U.S. Senior High School Graduation?

These of course are all local variations on the completion of upper secondary that have been re-figured to meet national needs as opposed to simply following the old British model of O and A Levels abandoned by all of them in approximately 1988 and 1989.  The West African Examinations Council (WAEC) administers the exams for Sierra Leone and Nigeria (and other West African countries) though not, obviously for Kenya.  But the philosophy is the same, a series of subject exams on what the students have been studying for the prior four years or so.  Success on the exams leads to university admission.  

The International Evaluation Standards Council (IESC) of AACRAO does not attempt to elaborate on what is the best way to evaluate these exams for possible freshman admission.  The two reasons for that are that schools in the USA have differing requirements for admission based on Highly Selective, Moderately Selective, etc.  Secondly, EDGE is not meant to prescribe policy on how to evaluate credentials but simply to suggest what one generally might do with the credential in question. We leave answers to questions like “how do I evaluate this credential for purposes of admission at my school?” to the AACRAO Summer and Winter Institutes as well as the many seminars and workshops that do a fine job of helping folks in the field obtain those answers.

 I can point out that requirements for how many subjects and what grades achieved on the WASSCE depends also on the Nigerian university to which one is applying but most applicants need to take 7 subjects and most Nigerian universities look at the best six subject grades.  NCAA on the other hand states that one can be a freshman qualifier for Division I or II schools if they at least FIVE subject passes, four of which must be English, Math, Natural Science, Social Science and one additional academic subject.

Certainly folks at AACRAO in the Institutes suggest at least five with that same distribution as NCAA requires.  And if one has AT LEAST that, then they certainly have the equivalent of graduation from high school in the USA in a university-bound track.



Sweden and the Waiting Game


Do you have updated grade equivalencies from Sweden? I heard they made adjustments in 2014.

The latest version of the NUFFIC (The Netherlands NARIC) Country Study on Sweden was updated in April 2014 and indicates that in January 2013 the grading scale in Sweden changed from the traditional MVG, VG, G, and IG to US style letter grades A-E (passing) and F (failing). We have that scale in EDGE Sweden right under the traditional one however we say it commenced in 2011.  The fact is the education law passed in 2010 and implementation may have taken longer than the one year we suggest but three years seems a long time!  In any case that new letter grade scale is in EDGE Sweden with our recommendation on comparable US grades. It should be noted that Swedish higher education institutions (HEIs) are also allowed to use the ECTS grading scale which we have available in EDGE Bologna Process.


The Mysterious Case of the 'Discontinuous Bachelor's Degree'


We received an unofficial transcript in an applicant’s application from Iran.  The name of the degree from Islamic Azad University on the translation says the student received a  “Discontinuous Bachelor’s Degree.”  I’ve never seen this before! Do you think that this is just a bad translation? The applicant stated that they were receiving a Bachelor of Science degree. They also stated that they received an associate's degree from Tabriz Alzahra Technical College. I wasn’t able to find this institution as a recognized institution.  

In the case of the Bachelor/Karshenasi discontinuous degree, this means the student began at a technical school that are now largely grouped under the Technical and Vocational University (TVU).  They did NOT have to have the pre-university year nor take a konkur (university entrance exam) to get into one of those, THEN they entered a university (though now technical schools, through the TVU, have been recently granted the right to award bachelor’s in technical fields) to do the final two years for the bachelor’s. This is why it is called discontinuous (as opposed to doing Pre-University year, taking the konkur and getting into a bachelor program straightaway). Islamic Azad University was founded after the Revolution and is an Open University and though not under the Ministry of Science, Research and Technology (MRST), is accredited by the Surpreme Council of the Cultural Revolution.