Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

The material on this page is taken from a memo from the Dean of the College, and spells out the official policy concerning retaking of courses. It seems sensible. See also the College web page Retaking a Course.

These are excerpts from the University's Undergraduate Academic Bulletin:

"The Incomplete designation may not be used to allow a student to repeat the course in a subsequent semester. If a student must repeat a course in order to complete the work for it, he or she must re-register for that course for credit in a subsequent semester." [From the policy on Incompletes.]

"A student may not repeat for credit any course in which a passing grade (D or better) has been received. A student may, however, repeat a course in order to demonstrate his or her ability to achieve a better grade. This second grade will be reflected on the student's transcript, but no credit will be awarded for the repeated course, and it will not be averaged into the student's cumulative average. A student may repeat a course in which an F has been received. The grade of F remains on the record and continues to be counted into the cumulative average even if the student repeats the course with a passing grade. Students who fail major or major-related courses may be required to repeat these courses at the discretion of the major advisors." [From the policy on Repeating Courses.]

Further explication from the SAS Committee on Undergraduate Education:

The ambiguity in our regulations arises from our conflicting desires

  1. to allow our students to complete work that unavoidable circumstances have prevented them from completing (or completing satisfactorily) on schedule and
  2. to prevent them from submitting and resubmitting work simply to improve their grades.

We recognize that no mechanism other than good judgment on the part of the faculty can decide what to do in borderline cases, and we offer the following as guidance. First are two rather clearcut case studies, followed by the discussion of three principles which may help to decide more complex instances.

Two examples:

  • Example A (clearly not allowed)

    Student A takes a course and emerges with a grade that he believes he can improve if given another chance. The student negotiates with the instructor either to receive an unsatisfactory, but temporary, grade or to receive a long Incomplete (II). The instructor allows the student to sit through the class a second time and to redo all or most of the assignments. The instructor then changes the original grade to reflect the work done in the second semester. The transcript lists the course in the semester in which it was first taken, but it shows the grade earned after retaking the course. (The student should have been required to register for the course again, which would have appeared, with a second grade, on the transcript.)

  • Example B (allowable, within the discretion of the instructor)

    Student B is ill and misses several weeks of lectures and either misses or does very poorly on the mid-term examination. Averaging her other grades with the low score of the midterm (zero if missed entirely), the instructor submits a grade of C- for the course, judging that an I or II, which would convert automatically to an F if unchanged, would not fairly reflect the student's accomplishments. The instructor allows the student to sit in on the missed portion of the course in a subsequent semester and to make up the mid-term. The instructor then submits a changed grade for the student. The course appears only once on the transcript, in the semester in which it was originally taken but with the work done in the subsequent semester factored in.

Guiding Principles

  1. Transcripts should reflect as much as possible the actual record of student activity in a course. If a student in fact takes the course twice, both instances should be recorded. As specified by the rules, unless the first grade was a failure, only the first grade will be calculated into the student's GPA, and the course will count as one credit unit toward graduation.
  2. Students allowed extra time to master a course, whether by resubmitting assignments, taking an Incomplete, or retaking the entire course, may receive unfair advantages over their classmates. In the case of repeated courses, the policy addresses this concern directly by stipulating that only the first grade be counted in the GPA. In deciding the trickier questions of whether to allow students to resubmit work or take Incompletes, the faculty should be guided by the principle of fairness which underlies the rule on retaking courses and guard against extending privileges to some students that are not available to all.
  3. The Incomplete is designed to allow a student to finish a relatively small portion of the total work for a course that for some reason, acceptable to the instructor, could not be completed in the semester in which it was assigned. It is not intended to allow the student to retake the entire course. While students should be encouraged to revise what they have written and should be offered opportunities to rewrite term papers, it is important to guard against granting Incompletes for assignments comprising so much of the course that students are essentially allowed to retake it without re-registration.