The first time a kid in Russia gets a grade is at school. While the first year of studies does not include any assessments to allow the new pupils to adapt to the new environment, for the next ten years – from the 2nd to 11th grade – their educational progress is mostly measured on a five-point grading scale. Here, 5 is the highest, 2 is the lowest, and 1 denotes misbehavior. For example, if a student takes a test and gets it all wrong, they’ll receive a 2, and if they, instead of doing the test, start a fight with their classmate, that’s a solid 1.
Since grades are always whole numbers, without decimals like in Switzerland (where you may get a 5.5 out of 6) or South Korea (where the perfect score is either 4.0, 4.3, or 4.5), the system of pluses and minuses comes in handy. Pretty much like in the US, teachers never feature those characters in report cards but use them to highlight a work’s flaws or to praise a student. So, getting a 3- on your paper may mean that you just passed but are on the verge of failure and should pay more attention to the subject next time.
This grading system is implemented not only in Russia, with similar ones found in Kyrgyzstan, Estonia, Hungary, and Serbia. But if you study in Germany or Austria, a 5 on your essay is not a reason to rejoice: here, a reverse five-point system is in use.
Unlike in some other countries, getting the highest grades in all classes at a Russian school is not a mission impossible, but still a very respectable affair. Such gifted students are called отличники (otlichniki) and are associated with the image of responsible, focused, and often shy kids. And that’s where the hard work pays off, when setting this reputation early on it’s not uncommon for teachers to be less harsh to well-known otlichniki knowing they are hardworking enough to deserve a second chance sometimes. Besides, when graduating from school with perfect grades for the final two years, they are awarded a gold medal – a nice token that adds several points to their exam results when applying to university.
Higher education brings us to a whole new level of grading. Let’s use ITMO as an example. During the semester you get points (100 at most, like in the US and Australia) for various kinds of work: labs, papers, and the interim exam. At the end of the semester, you get your final grade for the course according to the points you’ve accumulated. Depending on the syllabus, you can take either an exam, a pass/fail test (зачет) or a graded pass/fail test (дифференцированный зачет) at the end of the course. If you need to take an exam or graded pass/fail test, then your exact grade will be reflected on the transcript, but if it’s a pass/fail test, then you will either see a pass or a fail on your transcript and your score doesn’t actually matter (according to the grading system adopted at ITMO, you need to have at least 60 points to pass). Usually in these cases, if you haven’t completed all the relevant assignments by the due date, the lecturer gives you a chance at the end of the course to answer one or more questions orally or in written form, and then decides if your knowledge is sufficient or not to pass the course, without any numerical assessment.
For an exam, there’s a scale, similar to what Chinese and Japanese universities offer. Students from India or Bangladesh may find it interesting that while the minimum pass in their home country varies from 30 to 40 points, and everything over 60 points is considered excellent and difficult to obtain, the Russian point system is quite different.
Here's what makes your grade:
0-59 – unsatisfactory (2);
60-74 – satisfactory (3);
75-90 – good (4);
91-100 – excellent (5).
When looking at pictures from the graduation ceremony of Russian universities, you may notice students holding red or blue folders. An honors diploma is packed into a red one, from where it got its name "red diploma”. In fact, this expression is so popular it feels almost official: you may notice it in everyday speech, see it on job postings or on universities’ websites. To graduate from a university with an honors diploma, you need a grade average of 4.75 or higher, get an “excellent” for your thesis defense, and have no “satisfactory” grades even for optional courses. Sounds hard? In fact, it’s more than doable. At ITMO, there’re a lot of bright students who prove that it’s possible to master your studies and find time for extracurricular activities, like sports and student clubs!
But no matter what system is common in your country, if you need your grades checked for admission, they can be converted by ITMO to the Russian system during the application process. This procedure is required only for prospective Master’s students and can be done online at the time of application or with the help of ITMO’s International Educational Programs Department.
May your new academic year be full of good and excellent grades only!