In the increasingly competitive atmosphere of high school, you may be wondering how you can best all your classmates with a 5.0 GPA. It's a lofty goal, to be sure. In this article, we'll discuss why that goal is often impossible, or at least impractical, to meet, ways in which it may be possible to earn a 5.0, and what's really more important than a 5.0 GPA.
What Is a 5.0 GPA?
In the United States and some other countries, the letter grades you receive in classes can be converted into grade points, usually up to 4.0 per class. For instance, earning an A or A+ gets you 4.0 grade points, while earning an A- nets you 3.7 grade points, and so on:
Your grade point average, or GPA, is the average of the grades you've earned in all the classes you've taken. If, for example, you earned A's in five of your classes and B's in another five classes, you would have a 3.5 GPA. You get that by averaging together the 4.0s and 3.0s that correspond to those letter grades.
Now, sometimes classes are "weighted" on a 5.0-scale (or higher). We'll talk more about that later; basically, it means that each grade earns you one full point (or more) past what it would earn in regular classes. Weighted classes are tougher, on average.
A 5.0 GPA, then, is a grade point average that results from a weighted scale. A 5.0 generally indicates that a student took only 5.0-scale classes and earned only A's (and/or A+'s).
Normally, all perfect straight-A grades result in a 4.0; with weighted classes, though, perfect straight-A grades could result in a 5.0 (or even higher). Sounds impressive, doesn't it? There are, technically, other ways to earn a 5.0, as we'll see below; the basic point is that you always need weighted classes to earn a 5.0.
Juggling weighted classes with ease will not get you in the Olympics, sadly.
Weighted vs. Unweighted Grading Scales
In an unweighted grading scale, an A is worth 4.0, a B is worth 3.0, and so on, right the way down, just like we say above. No consideration is made for how hard the class may be; an A in Quantum Physics is treated the same way as an A in Navel Contemplation.
In a weighted grading scale, tougher classes earn you more points. Typically, that maximum is a 5.0, so that an A is worth 5.0, a B is worth 4.0, and so on. There are exceptions; for example, some schools weight honors classes on a 5.0-scale and IB/AP classes on a 6.0-scale. This is, on the whole, rare.
Why Is a Weighted Scale Useful?
Essentially, weighted scales encourage students to attempt harder classes, knowing that falling short of an A will not affect their GPA as much as it otherwise would.
Also, having weighted scales helps with class rank. If two students are both straight-A students, but one took the easiest classes available at the school and the other took the hardest, it hardly seems fair to rank their 4.0s equally. If the harder classes were weighted, though, one student's GPA of, say, 4.57, would clearly outrank the other student's 4.0.
Why You Usually Can't Earn a 5.0
There are two reasons this goal is often unfeasible.
First of all, not all schools weight classes. If you go to a school where no class earns you more than 4.0, you're out of luck: you can't earn anything above a 4.0.
Second, even at schools where classes are weighted up to 5.0, there are usually unweighted classes you must take. Health and P.E. come to mind. If weighted classes are worth 5.0, but you have a few 4.0s thrown into the ultimate average, you can't come up with a 5.0 as the result. It's not possible, even if you get perfect grades. This is a mathematical truth of averages.
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How You Might Be Able to Earn a 5.0: 2 Methods
At most schools it's simply impossible to get a 5.0 GPA; however, there are two situations in which you might be able to do so.
Method 1: Taking Classes That Are out of More Than 5.0 Points
If you happen to go to a school that weights some classes above five points (e.g., on a 6.0 scale), you have a much better chance of earning a GPA of 5.0. The idea is to take (and excel in) as many classes weighted above 5.0 as you can. That way, even the 4.0 classes you need to take won't pull your average down below a 5.0. (This method still assumes you're getting straight A's, or pretty close.)
Method 2: Taking Classes Pass/Fail
Another possibility involves making use of your school's pass/fail policy, if you have one. At some schools, you can elect to take a class pass/fail, meaning you don't receive a letter grade. Satisfactory performance earns a pass; unsatisfactory, a fail. Generally, a pass does not affect your GPA, although often a fail will count against you.
The trouble is, relatively few high schools have pass/fail policies; it's more of a college thing. Your school may not give you this option.
If, though, your school does offer the pass/fail option, you can take all of your regular, unweighted, 4.0-scale classes as pass/fail, earning your GPA solely off of your 5.0-scale classes. This may not be the wisest idea, however, as colleges tend to be suspicious of seeing a number of pass/fail courses. They figure this could indicate that a student didn't want to try in that course or lacked confidence in their ability to get an A.
Pass/fail classes may be a golden ticket to a 5.0 GPA—but not necessarily to college.
Why a 5.0 Doesn't Really Matter
While, as enumerated above, there are some ways to get a 5.0 GPA, it's generally either extremely difficult or flat-out impossible. The good news is, colleges don't really care if you got a 5.0 GPA. Colleges generally look at your unweighted GPA (converting it back to the 4.0 scale: 4.0 for each A, 3.0 for each B, etc.). They also look at how hard the classes you took were.
Your school will send colleges a profile sheet that details the grading policy of the school. All will be revealed regarding pass/fail classes, 5.0 classes, etc. Colleges want to see that you took hard classes and excelled in them; they care less about what absolute number your school assigned to your stellar performance.
What Does Matter: Excelling With a Rigorous Course Load
As I've hinted, what really matters is doing well in challenging classes. Do well in your electives and other 4.0-scale classes, too, of course.
The first step, then, is choosing the right classes. Choose classes that are difficult and that will challenge you--but not conquer you. Recognize your limits, but also seek to stretch and expand them. If you know you have no real hope of passing a class, don't take it, but if you think some very hard work will get you where you need to be, go for it. High school is about learning and working hard, not just about the final grades.
The next step is excelling in the classes you've chosen. You should be working hard. Attend every class and listen attentively; ask questions and engage with the teacher. Do your homework consistently and well. Review regularly. In general, apply good study habits.
Be confident that colleges will look at the big picture, not just your exact GPA. Colleges want to see that you took advantage of the hardest classes available to you and mastered them, not necessarily that you had an outrageous grade point average.
Earning a 5.0 GPA requires taking weighted classes and doing well in them. Depending on the grading policy of your school, a 5.0 might be perfect, less than perfect, or quite literally impossible to attain.
To earn a 5.0, you need to take weighted classes, and, depending once again on your school's policy, you may need to use pass/fail opportunities for unweighted classes. If you can't (or don't) earn a 5.0, however, it's not the end of the world. Your GPA goes out to colleges with a lot of context that will help them understand the broader picture of your performance.
If you want to know more about GPAs and their application, by all means, read on! We have an article that covers what a GPA is in all its glory. We also cover weighted vs. unweighted GPAs. Then, there's always our article on how to calculate GPA. Also, take a moment to read some very helpful advice on what colleges actually look for.
If you're wanting advice on getting good grades and a great GPA, look no further than this advice by a Harvard alum.
Finally, if you're wondering how much your GPA will help in the college search, check out our very nifty tool for that very question; the article starts by discussing a 4.0 GPA, but you can adjust the GPA within the article to customize it to your needs.
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Vero is a firsthand expert at standardized testing and the college application process. Though neither parent had graduated high school, and test prep was out of the question, she scored in the 99th percentile on both the SAT and ACT, taking each test only once. She attended Dartmouth, graduating as salutatorian of 2013. She later worked as a professional tutor. She has a great passion for the arts, especially theater.