03 The Creative Math Behind the 4 Plus GPA

Possessing a sky-high Grade Point Average has become a much-worshiped and hotly debated marker of high school achievement. Here’s a quick-and-dirty primer on GPAs and, to address our writer Jonah’s query, how it’s possible to rack up an above-perfect score.

CreativeMath-01aTHE BASICS

WTF is GPA? Your Grade Point Average gives a cumulative look at your academic performance, for student ranking purposes or just plain ol’ snap judgment (hey there, college admissions and HR).

How do I GPA? Most grades link up to a 4-point system, where an A grade earns you 4 points, a B 3 points, and so on (with a few fractions in between). So the average of all your grade points gives you, well… you get it.

So are people with a GPA above 4.0 just bad a math? Probably not. In some high schools, more challenging classes designated as “Honors” or “Advanced Placement” (AP) can earn you more points for your grade. Yup—that means their “A” is worth more than yours.

CreativeMath-02aTHE DETAILS

How much more? That’s where things get hairy. Every high school has a different policy. Some look at Honors or AP classes on a 5-point scale, where an A would earn you 5 points, a B 4 points, and so on. But there are countless variations, from multipliers to a standard number of points added to the total.

Wait, that’s not fair! I know, right? So, even if Billy in Idaho and Jane in Virginia had the exact same course schedule and grades, they could have completely different GPAs by their school’s standards.

CreativeMath-03aTHE COMPROMISE

Don’t worry Billy & Jane! You’ll each be praised among your peers for your stellar academic performance (better start writing that Valedictorian speech). But some college administrators will re-calculate those AP-inflated GPAs back to a standard 4-point scale just to keep things even.

“Uh oh…” says Jane, “That means my B in AP History is now just a regular B?” Yeah, sorry.

CreativeMath-04aSO WHAT’S THE POINT?

Pomp & Circumstance. Bump up your GPA enough and you could be addressing all your fellow graduates with an insightful speech about fulfilling your collective potential.

That’s it? Not necessarily. AP classes prepare you to take official AP exams—four-hour standardized tests (can you say: nightmare?) that, with a high enough score, could earn you college credits, which could save you some Benjamins if you, the math whiz, can take an advanced class right away instead of snoozing through entry-level math.