US Education grading system: Why 'F' and not 'E'?

In my High School in New Zealand, we had A, B, C, D, E as our school report grading system.

The US replaces ‘E’ with ‘F’ apparently to represent the word “Failure”. But that seems unlikely to me, when the other grades don’t have any kind of initial-based definition.

What was the real reason for using ‘F’?

It stands for Fail. It makes sense if you think of it this way: There are four grades you can get if you pass: A, B, C or D. Or you can fail, which is indicated by an F. So F is not so much a grade as it is an indication that you did not pass. That’s also why it gets you a big fat zero in your GPA.

My WAG is to avoid conflicting with the other (but much less common grading system we have–I think it’s for younger grades) that uses E for Excellent, S for Satisfactory, and U for Unsatisfactory.

I don’t know how it is now, but when I was in school we got "E"s until junior high school, then they switched to "F"s. And in early elementary school IIRC it was “O,” “S,” and “N.”

As a curiousity, the University of Florida uses A, B, C, D, and E. E is the flunking grade.

When I went to school, my system and many others did use E instead of F.

That lead to a standard joke that it meant E for excellent.

Given the general stupidity of humankind, I’m perfectly prepared to believe that F started being substituted because too many people really did think that E was a good grade.

I think that friedo has it right.

With an A, B, C, and D you still pass. With an “F” you fail and get zero credit. Why not just jump a letter and let the failure coincide with the first letter of the word. After all, there is a huge difference between a D and an F so jumping a letter is an appropriate significance to the academic [non] performance.



Some of the Catholic schools I went to as a kid used:


E is common at U.S. colleges–I know that that was part of the grading scale at University of Michigan. The explanation I heard their–with an implied insult to places that gave Fs–was that such places were concerned that it would be interpreted as standing for “excellent.” Possibly true, none the less. My high school gave Fs, and I think that this was typical of where I grew up (suburbs of Chicago).

I’ve read tons of different explinations of why this is.

First one goes that there were originally two systems.

A,B,C,D,E and the P,F,I (Pass/Fail/Incomplete)

And later on they got combined. And the “F” was kept, as was the “I” while the “P” and “E” were dropped.

I read another explination that the “E” was used by crafty kids to convince their parents that it was “excellent.” In deed for the first few years of school up till 3rd grade we had grades “E” - Excellent “S” - Satisfactory “U” - Unsatisfactory.

Another explination I read said that the “E” was a transitional grade that indicated a potential failure. Too many parents were complaining that their kids failed without proper warning. So the “E” was a midterm grade that indicated a danger of failing and when the finals came about “E” was changed to “F”

And these are just a few examples of the explinations I’ve read.

I had + (excellent), o (satisfactory), and checkmarks (needs improvement) from K-2, and then A,B,C,D, and U from 3-8, and the standard A,B,C,D,F onward. Until college, the scale was 93-100 A, 85-92 B, 75-84 C, 70-74 D, 0-69 - U/F.

I attended a public elementary school that used this system for a time, too.

I was told as a kid (by my mother) that there was, or had been, a separate “E” grade, for someone whose grades were below passing level but had been putting effort – “E for effort” conting as a barely passing mark. It was never a final grade but allowed for more nuance in the message than “D-” or “F”, even with a comment appended.

The school system in my town generally went with the standard notation, but switched to “E” as a failing mark when I was in sixth grade (1970-71), then “NC” (for “No Credit”) during my high school years. The superintendent was a big fan of William Glasser, particularly his “Schools Without Failure” concept, but realized that there were times when passing was not an option.

My NZ University used A-E

D and E were both considered failing grades

A C- was a restricted pass (you got the credit, but it didn’t count as a pre-requisite for the next paper)

My middle and high school both used E for fail. This was in a rural part of Michigan.

My college in metro Detroit uses F.

When I was a student at Penn in the years 1954-62 (I was very slow), they had a GPA based on A=5, B=4, C=3, D=2, and F=0. Although D wasn’t failing, it gave no prerequisite for more advanced courses. I inferred, perhaps incorrectly, that there had once been an E, worth 1 point, and F was for abject failure. IIRC my HS used A through F as marks.

My school district didn’t use F at all. D was the failing grade. And Gym was either an S or a U. Getting a U was really hard. You basically had to refuse to change or particpate, and mouth off to the instructor on a regular basis. Even then it was impossible to fail Gym for the whole year either, unless you were taking it as an elective in 11th grade.

In elementary school they used E for the highest grade excellent.

Also later in high school A,B,C were the passing grades while D and F were the failing grades, with D meaning that though you may have tried and may have learned some of it, the teacher just couldn’t pass you, while F meant you weren’t even close.

Even though there are a lot of interesting anecdotal and logical suggestions, I think this one makes the most sense to me. Using ‘F’ because ‘E’ is already used in another active grading system, and for the opposite measurement, does fit.

It fits the same naming structure as CMYK/RGB, where ‘K’ means Black because ‘B’ is already reserved for Blue.

My daughters’ elementary school used** E** for excellent and O for outstanding, and, I think, S and U for satisfactory/unsatisfactory.

I am still not sure whether an E or an O was supposed to be better.