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As you get ready to make sure this year’s finals are the rousing success that will impress your parents into a new iPhone, remember that nothing puts presents under the tree like an A+.

Getting an A+ in classes is a real possibility, though how you go about it is not always as simple as doing well and camping out in your professor’s office. The process for how these grades are awarded should be better standardized.

For most purposes, the A is just as good as its better-endowed sibling. Both count in your Penn GPA, the number most graduate admissions officers see, as a 4.0.

But if visions of law school dance in your head, you would do well to become better acquainted with the A+. When you apply to law school, your GPA is not the one on your transcript, but rather the one assembled by The Law School Admission Council’s Credential Assembly Service (LSDAS). This group creates a report for students that is required by nearly all of the ABA certified law schools as well as most non-ABA certified schools.

This is where the A+ counts. While Penn weights A and A+ as a 4.0, an LSDAS A+ is a 4.3. When applying to law school, an A+ is a vital tool, and a good explanation for why 75 percent of Yale Law School’s class has a 3.9 GPA or above.

But how does one go about getting these elusive trophies? In some cases, you can get them through hard work. “In my own courses, students can and do earn the A+,” Matthew Hersch, a history and sociology of science professor, said. “They can do so with flawless performance on exams and written assignments or with consistently excellent work over the course of an entire term.”

History professor Arthur Waldron uses the same criteria for giving out the top mark. “I now give them to students who, for example, do perfect midterm exams or other work that is clearly above what the A has come to mean.” The History Department has no set policy for giving an A+ to a student, added Department Chairwoman Kathy Peiss.

But other times, excellent performance isn’t enough. One pre-law student, speaking on condition of anonymity as not to influence her admission chances, described going to professors, having achieved the A, and asking for the A+. “Professors who understand the issue of Law School [admissions] are more receptive to the idea of awarding an A+,” she said. She added that her work in the courses had been of A+ caliber, which the professor acknowledged, but it took a meeting to actually obtain one.

And sometimes, an A+ is awarded for reasons having nothing to do with work quality. “I think I just got an A+ because the professor liked me,” said another student, speaking anonymously because she is interested in attending graduate school. Such inconsistency is a problem. Students deserve explanations of what constitutes an A+, and what they must to do get one.

Some people object to grades as an artificial system that doesn’t measure talent. I’m okay with that; we will be measured by artificial systems our whole life. But only students who do perfect work should receive perfect marks, and without having to buttonhole their professors for them.

Sam Bieler is a College sophomore from Ridgewood, N.J. He is a member of the NEC. His e-mail address is

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