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Plus: Grading Systems

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When I was in school, A+ was the best grade one could get. 90 was an A-, 95, an A and 100 = A+. Of course, grading systems vary depending on where you grow up. Here are some interesting facts about grading systems used around the world.


In 2007, Denmark replaced its age-old 13-scale grading system with a simpler, 7-step-scale system. They did this to begin to conform to a European standard called the ECTS scale, but also because, hey, 13 possible grades makes for a lot more work for teachers. Here's how the old 13-scale used to work:

13 - given for the exceptionally independent and excellent performance.
11 - given for the independent and excellent performance
10 - given for the excellent but not particularly independent performance
9 - given for the good performance, a little above average
8 - given for the average performance
7 - given for the mediocre performance, slightly below average
6 - given for the just acceptable performance
5 - given for the hesitant and not satisfactory performance
03 - given for the very hesitant, very insufficient and unsatisfactory performance
00 - given for the completely unacceptable performance

Those gaps you see between 00 & 03, 03 & 5 and 11 & 13 help signify variations between those grades. Anything under a 6 is a failing grade, while a 13 is rarely given. 00 is just about impossible to achieve, reserved for truly incompetent performance. At exams, 00 is given to students attending, but who cannot answer a single question. According to this post, "one of the reasons why the 13 scale was replaced with the 7 scale was because of the grade 13. 13s are only given to the students that have gone above and beyond the stated curriculum. To gain it you needed to know more than what was taught in class. It required truly independent study. As none other EU countries used grades above perfect understanding of the curriculum, 13 were untranslatable to other grading systems."


In the Ukraine, they've gone in the opposite direction. Whereas they used to use a simple Russian 5-step grading system, in 2000, they introduced the 12-step grading system which goes like this:

12 - given only for significant achievements or exceptionally creative work
11 - the equivalent of an 'A' in the U.S.
1 - complete fail


In the land down under, many schools and universities use a "band" grading system which looks like this:

90–99.95% BAND 6
80–89% BAND 5
70–79% BAND 4
60–69% BAND 3
50–59% BAND 2
0–49% BAND 1

How about where you live? What kind of grading system is common? Regardless of what marks you got in school, all you _flossers are A+s in our book! Have a great weekend.

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ANTTI T. NISSINEN, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Big Questions
Why Does Japan Have Blue Traffic Lights Instead of Green?
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ANTTI T. NISSINEN, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

In Japan, a game of Red Light, Green Light might be more like Red Light, Blue Light. Because of a linguistic quirk of Japanese, some of the country’s street lights feature "go" signals that are distinctly more blue than green, as Atlas Obscura alerts us, making the country an outlier in international road design.

Different languages refer to colors very differently. For instance, some languages, like Russian and Japanese, have different words for light blue and dark blue, treating them as two distinct colors. And some languages lump colors English speakers see as distinct together under the same umbrella, using the same word for green and blue, for instance. Again, Japanese is one of those languages. While there are now separate terms for blue and green, in Old Japanese, the word ao was used for both colors—what English-speaking scholars label grue.

In modern Japanese, ao refers to blue, while the word midori means green, but you can see the overlap culturally, including at traffic intersections. Officially, the “go” color in traffic lights is called ao, even though traffic lights used to be a regular green, Reader’s Digest says. This posed a linguistic conundrum: How can bureaucrats call the lights ao in official literature if they're really midori?

Since it was written in 1968, dozens of countries around the world have signed the Vienna Convention on Road Signs and Signals, an international treaty aimed at standardizing traffic signals. Japan hasn’t signed (neither has the U.S.), but the country has nevertheless moved toward more internationalized signals.

They ended up splitting the difference between international law and linguists' outcry. Since 1973, the Japanese government has decreed that traffic lights should be green—but that they be the bluest shade of green. They can still qualify as ao, but they're also green enough to mean go to foreigners. But, as Atlas Obscura points out, when drivers take their licensing test, they have to go through a vision test that includes the ability to distinguish between red, yellow, and blue—not green.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at

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Using Words Like 'Really' A Lot Could Mean You're Really Stressed
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Are you feeling really exhausted? Or have you noticed that it's incredibly hot out today?

If you recognize the adverbs above as appearing frequently in your own speech, it could be a sign that you're stressed. At least, those are the findings in a recent study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. As Nature reports, researchers found that peppering our speech with "function words" is a pretty accurate indicator of our anxiety levels.

Function words differ from verbs and nouns in that they don't mean much on their own and mostly serve to clarify the words around them. Included in this group are pronouns, adverbs, and adjectives. A team of American researchers suspected that people use these words more frequently when they're stressed, so to test their hypothesis, they hooked up recording devices to 143 volunteers.

After transcribing and analyzing audio clips recorded periodically over the course of two days, the researchers compared subjects' speech patterns to the gene expressions of certain white blood cells in their bodies that are susceptible to stress. They found that people exhibiting the biological symptoms of stress talked less overall, but when they did speak up they were more likely to use words like really and incredibly.

They also preferred the pronouns me and mine over them and their, possibly indicating their self-absorbed world view when under pressure. The appearance of these trends predicted stress in the volunteers' genes more accurately than their own self-assessments. As study co-author Matthias Mehl told Nature, this could be a reason for doctors to "listen beyond the content" of the symptoms their patients report and pay greater attention "to the way it is expressed" in the future.

One reason function words are such a great indicator of stress is that we often insert them into our sentences unconsciously, while our choice of words like nouns and verbs is more deliberate. Anxiety isn't the only thing that influences our speech without us realizing it. Hearing ideas we agree with also has a way of shaping our syntax.

[h/t Nature]


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