1165 København K
Tlf: 35 32 28 98 (mon-thurs)
Grading scale — It would be heavy on resources and awkward to introduce a new grade scale in Denmark, says University of Copenhagen prorector Bente Stallknecht. An evaluation shows that the Danish 7-point scale is internationally compatible, but that it requires added explanations.
A recent Danish government proposal to fight grade inflation and reward exceptional performance is getting no traction at the University of Copenhagen (UCPH). And administrators warn against a return to an older Danish system that was incompatible with universities abroad.
Prorector Bente Stallknecht does not find the proposal to change the current grading scale convincing:
“The current 7-scale works fine and is easy to translate to grades abroad. No other countries could grasp the previous 13-scale, so we at UCPH would be sad to have to introduce the 13 grade again,” says Bente Stallknecht.
The ’13 scale’ was the Danish grading system from 1963 until 2006/07. It went from ’00’ to ’13’, with the exceptional ’13’ grade for an unusually independent and excellent performance.
The 13-scale was introduced in 1963 and used until 2006 (2007 in universities). The scale started out as a relative scale but has since its introduction in 1963 changed to an absolute scale at all levels of education.
Danish grading scales
The present Danish grading scale
12 – excellent
10 – very good
7 – good
4 – fair
02 – adequate
00 – inadequate
−3 – unacceptable
The old Danish grading scale (until 2006/07)
13 – given for exceptionally independent and excellent performance.
11 – given for independent and excellent performance
10 – given for excellent but not particularly independent performance
9 – given for good performance, a little above average
8 – given for average performance
7 – given for mediocre performance, slightly below average
6 – given for just acceptable performance
5 – given for hesitant and not satisfactory performance
03 – given for very hesitant, very insufficient and unsatisfactory performance
00 – given for completely unacceptable performance
She points out that it would be resource-intensive for the administration and for the instructors to have to adapt to a new grading scale.
No other countries could grasp the previous 13-scale, so we would be sad to have to introduce the ‘13’ grade again
Bente Stallknecht (Prorector)
“It takes time to familiarise yourself with a new system and understand the grades. This is not something you just do from one day to another,” she says.
She does, however, acknowledge that there may be a need for adjustments to those grades in the centre of the current 7-point grading scale. But for Bente Stallknecht it is the international comparability that is important to maintain. And she would prefer not to see the current grading scale replaced.
It has been 12 years since the older 13-scale was replaced in favour of the 7-point grading scale in Denmark.
The main argument for the change then was that the Danish 13-scale was not compatible with other countries’ grade scales, and that it was difficult to apply internationally due to the grade ‘13’ for an exceptional performance.
At the time, the ECTS scale was used as a tool in international contexts to translate one grade from one national scale to another. The scale consists of five grades passed, and two grades failed. It was therefore decided in 2007, that the grading scale would switch from ten to seven points, so that it was compatible with the ECTS.
But now the Danish government is giving notice of changes to the grading scale again. This is after the Minister for Higher Education and Science Tommy Ahlers has said that there is a need for an extra grade for exceptional performances, and that there is too large a gap between the middle grades 4, 7 and 10.
The Danish government has just got a comprehensive evaluation of the 7-point grading scale from the Danish Evaluation Institute (EVA).
The evaluation shows inflation in the number of awarded top grades, and that many of the graders think that the distance between the middle grades of the scale are too large.
When you […] have to have your grades transferred from foreign grades to your Danish diploma, the grades are always translated to pass or fail
Study and career guidance counsellor Luise Mandrup Andersen
The evaluation report also concludes that the 7-point grading scale works in general at an international level, but that the scale requires communication to other countries so that they can understand the grades.
This is because the 7-point grading scale does not resemble the typical grading scales of other countries, and that the connection to the ECTS scale leads to misunderstandings in the countries that use letter grades.
It is confusing, for example, that a Danish 7-grade in the ECTS scale is translated to a C, as a C in the Chinese and American educational system is considered a poor grade. The same applies to the Danish grades 4 and 02, which are translated into D and E, respectively. These grades are, in many other countries’ grade scales, a failing grade, or on the failing threshold.
According to the report, there is just as much a need for a Danish grading scale that is internationally applicable as twelve years ago. Maybe even more so.
In the period 2009 to 2016, the number of Danish students studying abroad leapt from 6,000 to 14,500.
Selected countries’ grading scales
A – 90-100 pct.
B – 80-89 pct.
C – 70–79 pct.
D – 60-69 pct.
E/F – 0-59 pct.
UK (undergraduate degree)
This wikipedia page has a comprehensive list of all countries’ grading systems.
The same significant increase took place at the University of Copenhagen, which during the past 10 years has doubled the number of students who either take an internship abroad or study at a foreign university.
Our international partners had difficulties understanding the Danish 13-point grading scale – especially the ‘13’ grade and its application
Trine Sand, Head of International Education section, UCPH
In 2007, there were 993 students from the UCPH studying abroad, while in 2017 there were 2,511 students.
The evaluation report shows that it is mostly the United States that is attractive for students. The United Kingdom and Australia are on second and third places, respectively, in terms of Danish students applying for a study abroad grant.
Many students, however, are in countries like Germany, Spain and Norway. Here, the ECTS grading scale and the 7-point scale are seen as a help. But the 7-point grading scale is a challenge outside Europe, according to the evaluation.
In the section for International Education at the University of Copenhagen, section head Trine Sand is certain that the current 7-point-scale is far more useful than the former Danish 13-point grading scale for the exchange of students internationally:
“It is easier to explain the scale to our recipient universities. Our international partners could have difficulties understanding the Danish 13-point grading scale. Especially the ‘13’ grade and its application,” says Trine Sand, whose job is to take care of the University of Copenhagen’s exchange agreements with universities abroad.
The evaluation conclusions
The Danish Evaluation Institute (EVA) has just released an evaluation of the 7-point grading scale. It states that:
• More and more Danish students go abroad as part of their study programme. It is therefore still relevant to ensure that the Danish grades are internationally applicable.
• There has been no international harmonisation of the grade scales; the European scales are still very different.
• The Danish grading scale is unusual in its use of numerical grades which do not have an explicit link to the number of points obtained in the evaluation.
• Most staff working on international exchange believe that it will be a challenge if the 7-point grading scale is altered, as a change to the grading scales requires a lot of communications work.
Source: Danish Evaluation Institute, ‘Evaluation of the 7-point grading scale’.
Often however, there are other factors than grades that have to be taken into account in foreign universities’ admissions:
The evaluation report shows that motivated applications and tests are often included in the admission process. And the students see the opacity of the admissions process abroad as more of a problem than the international transfer of the grades on their diploma.
“When you as a Danish anthropology student have to have your grades transferred from foreign grades to your Danish diploma, the grades are always translated to ‘pass’ or ‘fail’. So in this perspective, it is not that important whether it is one or the other grading scale,” says student counselling and career guidance counsellor at the Department of Anthropology Luise Mandrup Andersen.
For the international students who apply to Anthropology, the grades count in the evaluation of their application. But emphasis is also placed on their motivation. And this is what is often asked about when they contact the student counsellor.
Minister Tommy Ahlers has previously voiced the idea of reintroducing the old ‘13’ grade for ‘the exceptionally independent and excellent performance’. The Danish government’s proposal will include a reward for ‘the extraordinary’. But whether it will be a repeat of the number 13, a new 12+, or something completely different, this, he is not yet ready to reveal.
Translated and with additional reporting by Mike Young