So You Got a 5: Russian vs Other Grading Systems

In Russia, most educational institutions use a five-point grading scale, where 5 is the highest and 1 is the lowest. However, receiving "1" is quite rare and is used to represent the student's behavior and attitude rather than his knowledge. For instance, a student's work in Math will be graded "1" only if he refuses to do it. Even if he got all the questions wrong, he will usually still get "2" for his efforts.

Those who've studied in countries with a different, "longer" grading scale might believe that it's impossible to accurately grade a student's work and effort using such a system. Actually, in Russia, teachers use a system of "pluses" and "minuses" that point out the student's slip-ups and advances, though they never make it to the report card. Hence, there can be evocative 5++'s for good literature compositions or 3- grades for almost completely failed geometry tests.

The origins of this grading system are easy to find - as all of Russia's educational system, they come from German, or Prussian, roots to be more exact. However, the highest grade in that system was "1". The five-point grading system was adopted by the Ministry of Education of the Russian Empire in 1837. Before that, Russia had no common grading system. For instance, military academies used a 12-point grading system where 12 was the highest grade. In the famous Tsarskoye Selo Lyceum where Alexander Pushkin, Russia's most renowned poet, studied, the grades were expressed in words: "good", "very good", "weak", "knows something", "knows nothing".

Later, the increasing number of educational establishments led to the necessity of a common grading system for the Empire. In early Soviet times the system was first abolished, but then brought back in 1950 – and outlived the Soviet Union itself. Actually, it is still being used in many countries of the CIS and the Balkans (Bosnia, Serbia, Croatia, Albania, etc.).

In Austria and the Czech Republic a five-point grade system is used as well, though the highest grade is "1". Germany, the source of Russia's present grading system, uses a six-point system now: 1 for "excellent", 2 for "good", 3 for "satisfactory", 4 for "sufficient", 5 for "unsatisfactory" and 6 for "insufficient".

With regards to grading systems, one can’t forget about the problem of “transferring” grades from one system to another. In most higher educational institutions, the systems are based on both letters and percentage, which allows matching grades from different systems.

As ITMO has many foreign students and supports academic mobility, a special regulation for transferring grades has been developed by the university. Using it as a reference, we can transfer any applicant’s grades into those used in the Russian grading system.

According to the FSES (Federal State Education Standards), Russian universities use Credit Units (CU, one equals 36 academic hours). The European system, for instance, is based on ECTS. An academic year is 60 ECTS, however a single ECTS can be from 25 to 30 academic hours depending on the country.

To match the curriculums of ITMO U and other European universities, 1 ECTS is equal to 1 Credit Unit, as one academic year in Russia consists of 60 CU as well.

In the USA they use different grading systems that mostly reflect class hours only and don’t take the student’s individual work into account that makes up most of the academic hours in the USA. This means that each document is to be handled individually. Yet, as yet there haven’t been any problems with it.

For further information, you can contact ITMO’s Credential Evaluation Unit.