“Just take that General Education (GE) module to S/U, it isn’t that big of a deal. Most people barely put in effort for GE modules anyways.”
“You’re about to enter the second semester of your first year? Eh, don’t forget to overload and take at least 24MCs to fully utilise your S/Us.”
“Oh gosh, you’re only taking 20MCs in the second semester of your first year? You messed up! You should have aimed for 24MCs, 28MCs or even 32MCs! 20MCs worth of S/Us expires by the end of your first year. Taking more modules won’t hurt since you can S/U them anyways.”
Sound familiar? I’m sure—because these are statements seniors regurgitated to me time and time again when I asked them for advice before stepping into NUS as a freshman. To be frank, I wouldn’t be surprised if these are things you once told a freshman with regards to school in NUS. Are these words of wisdom actually beneficial to us? Or does it cause us more harm than good? I’m more inclined towards the former because they unintentionally cause us to be overly reliant on the S/U policy. Moreover, they subconsciously ingrain the S/U mentality in us. But before we delve into that, let’s take a step back to understand the unique S/U policy at NUS, and how it works.
S/U Policy at NUS
For confused souls (freshman or pre-university students), the ‘S’ and ‘U’ in S/U stand for ‘satisfactory’ and ‘unsatisfactory’ respectively. This “grade-free” system allows you to omit any undesirable letter grade you obtained for your module. Instead of the actual grade, an ‘S’ would be reflected on your transcript if you passed the module. Additionally, the letter grade would not be computed towards your CAP.
Due to the recent modification of the policy, an ‘S’ grade is assigned if you score a ‘D’ grade or above for the module. On the other hand, a ‘U’ grade is assigned should you score below a ‘D.’
Mind-boggled by this? Fret not, let me walk you through how the system works via a hypothetical example:
Say I were to score ‘C’ for one of my modules and I would like to S/U it. As ‘C’ falls under the first condition, an ‘S’ would be reflected on my transcript. The ‘C’ would not negatively impact my CAP either. Moreover, the modular credits for this module would be credited to me as per normal.
However, if I were to score ‘F,’ as it falls under ‘D,’ even if I were to S/U it, I would receive a ‘U’. Thus, though this ‘F’ wouldn’t impact my CAP and transcript, I wouldn’t be credited the modular credits for this module, meaning I would have to make up for the loss with an additional module.
Now that you have a brief understanding of this special S/U system, let’s dive into the intention behind the S/U system, as well as how NUS students use this system today.
S/U for Greater Good
The S/U policy was rolled out, according to the administration, to smoothen the rough transition from pre-university into NUS. It aims to provide a supportive and less stressful environment to nurture students’ interests. As stated on the NUS website: “The Satisfactory/ Unsatisfactory (S/U) option is also intended to encourage students to pursue their intellectual interests, without undue concern that exploring a new subject area may adversely affect their CAP.”
Furthermore, the system was meant to enable students to leverage opportunities for a holistic education and to instil a lifelong-learning mindset. In fact, it was intended to change the prevalent mindset of taking a module for the sake of getting good grades.
Ideally, the S/U system was to encourage inter-disciplinary education where students could learn useful skills from other faculties. For instance, a student from the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences could take a module on Python from the School of Computing to hone technical skills without the fear of messing up their CAP. Conversely, a student from the Faculty of Science could take a module on creative writing from the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. By learning cross-disciplinary skills, students would have a competitive edge in today’s dynamic world since they’re more likely to have to wear multiple hats in the workforce. Or so says NUS.
But recently, as you may have heard, NUS has effected a few extra changes to the S/U policy. S/U for the greater good has never been more apparent than with these changes in the system. Now, we can S/U the last semester’s grades if required as long as it’s in the same academic year. This comes as a great relief for many, as we’re able to make a more informed choice on what to use our precious S/Us on based on the results of two semesters, instead of one. This potentially boosts our overall CAP, as we’re now able to make a better estimate of the lowest grade we might get.
This sounds all good in theory, right? Inter-disciplinary and holistic education, being able to segue into University well…
But what if I told you this: many NUS students today are being a little too indulgent in this holy grail-like policy. Hold your horses—I’m not here to condemn the S/U policy. In fact, I’m all for it, especially because of the positive intentions behind it. Instead, I’m here to shed light on how students have misconstrued the intentions of this policy, via the S/U mentality.
The S/U Mentality
Ever had unresponsive groupmates who single-tick you for 24 hours when the deadline is looming? What about those freeloaders in your group…the ones who don’t even bother typing a single sentence on that shared Google document? I’d even dare you to think back to those times when you tanked that five-person project because your groupmates weren’t as invested as you were in the module (Hey! It might even have been you!).
I’m sure you’re starting to see a trend here. Uncommitted teammates, peers who do the bare minimum, and even peers who MIA—that, my friend, is the S/U mentality.
S/U Mentality – Satisfactory or Unsatisfactory?
Students misinterpret the intention of the policy and see it as a way to escape the consequences of receiving a bad grade when they’re less committed in certain modules. This inadvertently manifests through actions where they display counterproductive or rude behaviour in lessons. Worse still, some even skip lessons because there’s just no need to try for a module that’ll be S/U-ed. Personally, I can’t help but feel bad for the Professor or Teaching Assistant—imagine being more committed than your student.
Besides affecting the morale of the teaching staff, immediate teammates are affected too. The lack of effort by teammates who go into a module with the intent to S/U it consequently causes group grades to be affected. Freeloaders, especially, fall into this category. This is exacerbated if some in the team desire a better grade, which may give rise to tension in the group. The poor work quality or non-contribution also induces unnecessary stress and anxiety in other teammates. The mental health of others is jeopardised due to inconsiderate and irresponsible behaviours of people who have the S/U mentality. And do we really need this added stress when we’re all dealing with multiple modules and cramped deadlines?
Doesn’t this mentality then defeat the purpose of the S/U policy, which is to improve overall mental health? Ironic, isn’t it?
Another unhealthy practice that stems from the S/U mentality is to bite off more than you can chew. The S/U mentality promotes the idea of overloading and stretching oneself too thin. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that it’s wrong to overload, nor that I’ve never done it. Furthermore, I know some students—those taking double majors or degrees—have to overload to graduate in time. In fact, if you believe that you’re able to cope with more modules, go ahead! I’ve heard of responsible people successfully juggling 24 to 28MCs worth of modules in a semester. Kudos to them!
What I think is problematic with regards to overloading is when you’re intentionally overloading to S/U. Not only does this cause your groupmates to suffer, but this might also cause you to suffer. Think about it: the S/U mentality breeds an irresponsible and selfish mindset. Such mindsets and actions are challenging to eradicate, and if brought into the workforce, might greatly impact your future job prospects.
Can’t Spell SUccess Without S/U
Ultimately, I believe that the S/U system here at NUS is a privilege we should not take for granted, nor one we should turn our noses up at. In fact, I think we aren’t doing enough to reap the benefits of the system. I do believe that we can’t spell SUccess without S/U—not because we can skive and still have a decent CAP, but because we can utilise the S/U system to explore our passions and develop holistically for the working world. But, to everyone reading this, I hope we can all do our part to be decent team members and pull our weight during group projects: regardless of if we wish to S/U that module or not. At the end of the day, it’s just basic courtesy.