What does it mean to take a course pass/fail?

This document explains what grade will be recorded for L&S undergraduate students if they opt to take a course for pass/fail and how it impacts a student's GPA. The following campus-wide pass/fail policy went into effect for all UW-Madison undergraduate students as of fall 2015.

Pass/Fail Grading Option

The purpose of the pass/fail privilege is to provide students with the opportunity to take elective coursework outside of their major field of study and to learn without concern for the grade impacting their grade point average (GPA).   In short, the pass/fail grading option was created for the following reasons:
  1. to encourage students to take courses of interest outside of their major/field of specialization
  2. to provide students who have not decided upon a major the opportunity to explore their talents in a particular field of study that may be of interest

Detailed information regarding the UW-Madison pass/fail policy can be found at policy on the use of pass/fail grading option for undergraduates.

Information on how to add or remove pass/fail can be found at course change request.

Any UW-Madison undergraduate student in good academic standing is eligible to request the pass/fail option.   Undergraduates may carry only one (1) course on a pass/fail basis per term and a maximum of sixteen (16) credits during their undergraduate career at UW-Madison.  
  • For L&S undergraduate students, good academic standing means a student is not on probation or in dropped status. L&S undergraduate students are not eligible to declare pass/fail if they are on:
    • probation
    • strict probation
    • continued probation
    • continued strict probation
    • in dropped status
  • First-semester freshmen and transfer students without an established UW-Madison GPA are eligible to take a course on a pass/fail basis.  
  • The summer sessions collectively count as a single term.  Thus, a student can only take one course for pass/fail during the entire summer term.
Students who wish to take a course on a pass/fail basis will need to sign up for the pass/fail option through the Student Center module in My UW.  Additional enrollment information is located at course enrollment.

The pass/fail option is the student's choice and the instructor reports the grade without knowing whether or not the student is taking the course on a pass/fail basis.  
  • Students must submit pass/fail requests via their Student Center by the end of the fourth (4th) week of the fall and spring terms.  (For modular and summer terms/sessions, pass/fail request must be submitted by the Friday of the week in which the session is one-fourth completed.)
  • Students may not cancel or add the pass/fail option after the deadline for submitting Pass/Fail Option Forms.
  • Students can take coursework in their major or major department on a pass/fail basis.   However, any coursework taken in the major or major department on a pass/fail basis will not count toward fulfilling any major requirements.   Student should only take coursework in their major or major department on a pass/fail basis after they have fulfilled their major requirements.
    • Students should consult with the major advisor before declaring pass/fail in the major or major department.
    • Students should be very careful about taking courses in their major or major department on a pass/fail basis since a student cannot cancel this option after the official pass/fail declaration deadline if a student needs the course to fulfill a major requirement.
  • Students cannot take any coursework to fulfill L&S breadth or University General Education Requirements on a pass/fail basis.
  • Only elective work may be carried on a pass/fail basis.  Thus, pass/fail cannot be declared or used to fulfill the following requirements:
    • Breadth (humanities, literature, social science natural science)
    • Foreign language (prior to fulfilling the BA or BS foreign language requirement)
    • Mathematics (coursework required to satisfy the BS mathematics requirement or needed to enroll in required math courses)
    • Ethnic Studies
    • General Education Requirements (Comm A, Comm B, QR A, QR B)
    • Coursework required for a student's major
    • Coursework required for a student's certificate
  • Directed Study courses may not be taken on a pass/fail basis.
  • Students pursuing certificate programs should check with the certificate advisor(s) about policies concerning pass/fail for certificate program courses since many certificate programs do not allow coursework to be taken on a pass/fail basis.
  • Students cannot take any prerequisite coursework required for a major or a degree program on a pass/fail basis.
  • For more information about the pass/fail process, refer to Pass/Fail in the Undergraduate Catalog.
If a student takes a course for pass/fail, the grade of "S" (satisfactory) will be recorded by the Office of the Registrar in place of the instructor's reported grades of A, AB, B, BC, or C.   The grade of "U" (unsatisfactory) will be recorded in place of the instructor's reported grades of "D" or "F" and no credit will be granted. 

Final grades for courses taken on a pass/fail basis will be indicated as satisfactory (S) or unsatisfactory (U) without any computation of grade points for the courses into the semester or cumulative grade point average (GPA).   In other words, earning a grade of "S" or "U" will not have any impact on a student's GPA for the semester or on the cumulative GPA earned at UW-Madison.  Before declaring the pass/fail option, it is extremely important that students carefully read will pass/fail courses count toward any of my degree requirements.

For more information, see Course Change Request.  Additional information on pass/fail can be found in the Guide under Courses and Enrollment.

See Also:

Keywords:pass/fail, add pass/fail, remove pass/fail, credit/no credit, graded/ungraded, satisfactory/unsatisfactory, deadlines   Doc ID:21102
Owner:Tori R.Group:College of Letters & Science
Created:2011-11-02 10:50 CDTUpdated:2018-08-03 16:31 CDT
Sites:College of Letters & Science
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