Academic grading in the Netherlands

Academic grading in the Netherlands

This article is about the current type of grading used in the Netherlands.

In The Netherlands, most institutions grade exams, papers and thesis on a scale from 1 to 10. The mark 1 is the worst and 10 being best. The scale can be further subdivided. Common subdivision are allowing halves (e.g. 7.5). Further detail level can be added by allowing + or - signs (indicating (about) a quarter point above, or below the whole mark). The most detailed level in general use is one decimal place (e.g. 6.7). Sometimes marks are given in decimals and then rounded to the nearest full mark for the final mark.

The grading scale with labels:
* 10 (excellent)
* 9 (very good)
* 8 (good)
* 7 (more than sufficient)
* 6 (sufficient)
* 5 (close to sufficient - Highest fail grade)
* 4 (insufficient)
* 3 (strongly insufficient)
* 2 (bad)
* 1 (very bad)

In practice hardly any marks of 10 are given (as such a mark implies perfection, which is hardly ever present in student, or indeed the lecturers own, work), and even 9's are fairly rare. Therefore an average pass with an 8 is considered a very good pass.

Usually a mark of 5.5 is makes for a narrow pass whereas 5.4 and below constitute a fail. If no decimal places are used, 6 and up is a pass and 5 and below a fail. Sometimes, when no decimal place is used, an additional grade, 6-, is used to indicate that the student "barely passed". Sometimes it maybe possible to compensate fail marks with high passes, provided the average mark is a pass (e.g. a mark 4 and 9 would average at ((4+9)/2=) 6.5 which makes for a pass. Compensation of marks is not always allowed in the course specifications, or a lower limit for a compensatable grade maybe set (marks lower then 4 may not be compensated - e.g. 4 and 8 (4+8/2=6) would be a pass, while 3 and 9 (also a 6 on average) would not make up for a pass).

Depending on the grade, universities can grant some honors (although this system is very limited compared to some other countries): A general heuristic (although this differs between institutions) is that a study average at least grade 8, final thesis at least graded 8, and not a single grade below 7 and completing the curriculum without delays will lead to "cum laude". For an average better than 7, but not meeting the criteria for "cum laude", "met genoegen" (with pleasure), is sometimes awarded.

Grading systems compared

Converting the numbers of the Dutch grading system into the letters of systems such as those used in the United States and Great Britain, is difficult. It can really only be done if one can compare the frequency distribution of grades in the two systems.

The grades 9 and 10 are hardly ever given on examinations (on average, a 9 is awarded in only 1.5%, and a 10 in 0.5% of cases). This is because the mark 10 implies perfection (ie a 100% score on all questions) and a mark 9 a very good level, which could be translated as a level close to that of the teacher.

As the incidence of a 9 or 10 in "hoger algemeen voortgezet onderwijs" (HAVO) examinations are considerably lower than that of the top marks in the American or British grading system, it would be a mistake to equate a 10 to an A, a 9 to a B, and so forth. If the 8, 9 and 10 are taken together, as in the table above, they represent up to 15% of examination results. If, in a grading system based on letters, the A represents the top 10% or thereabouts, the grades 8 and above should be represented by A and A- grades.

It should be borne in mind though, that Dutch secondary education is banded at and early age, and therefore the university-preparatory VWO education is already never populated by the more than the most able 25% or so of candidates. This becomes relevant in comparing fractions of students attaining various grades with other systems where more/less candidates are assessed at the level concerned. Moreover, the equivalence of university preparatory education the world over should not be assumed, the US high-school being considered inadequate for admission to Dutch universities.

A mark 7 is a decent grade, implying the student has satisfactory command of the subject matter but is not exceptionally good either. It is a fairly frequent mark. As such it relates to the mark B in many other systems, more likely B+ under systems with a very broad B category.

For the award of the HAVO or VWO diploma; as well as for individual university courses, the average final grade should be a 6. In view of the high frequency of 6's, coupled with the fact that it is the minimum requirement for admission into a higher cycle of education, there are good grounds for equating a 6 with a C, which has a similar frequency and purpose.

The conversion of the lowest passing grade may present another problem. A grade of 4 is a clear fail (although a mark 4 maybe sometimes compensated by high grades are obtained in all the other subjects). A mark 5, on the other hand, is 'almost satisfactory'. For purposes of assessing a pupil's progress throughout the year, a 5 is a usuful mark and ma lead to a pass, provided the student improves in the next tests. For final exams, a 5 is unacceptable as an average. However, a 5 is usually accepted in one or two subjects; if it is compensated. A mark 5 is slightly below that of the D in many systems: you may pass with a number of 5's, but as an average it is too low for admission into a higher cycle of education.

External links

* [ grading system in Dutch schools]

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