Guidelines for Awarding Thesis Grades
Summa Cum Laude
A summa thesis ought to be an original contribution to knowledge. This does not mean that it must explore a "new" or little studied problem. An original contribution to knowledge can also result from a novel and perceptive reassessment of a familiar question. The thesis should be exemplary both in the selection of problems and data for consideration and in the manner by which conclusions are drawn about the problems. If based upon empirical data, the summa thesis should report the data clearly and completely. The conclusions drawn from the data should be persuasive. The reader should conclude that he or she knows something new about the problem, having read the thesis.
A thesis should not be graded summa unless it clearly represents a substantial amount of work and gives evidence that the student is thoroughly conversant with the literature in the area. The thesis ought to be well organized, written, and proofread. Length should not be an important criterion. A student should not be penalized for having written a short thesis, so long as it says concisely and intelligently all that could be said. Conversely, an excessively long thesis should not be graded summa. Evidence that arguments are redundant should count against the thesis.
Overall, the summa thesis should show evidence that the student is capable of original and creative work in psychology. The grade should be given to only the very best of theses produced in the Department. Summas are rarely awarded.
Magna Cum Laude
A magna thesis need not be a contribution to knowledge, but it should show sound judgment, a substantial amount of work, clarity of thought and presentation, and some creativity. A magna thesis differs from a summa in that the writer of the latter has made an original contribution to psychology. The writer of a magna thesis need only demonstrate that he or she has thought intelligently and carefully about a problem and presented those thoughts clearly and persuasively. If the thesis is an empirical one, the research design should be sound and the data judiciously interpreted, although slight flaws in design or analysis should be allowed.
While a summa thesis should be deficient in no major way, a magna thesis may be weak in selection of the problem, manner of presentation, research design and analysis, or interpretation and conclusions. The deficiency in a magna thesis may be in one of these areas or to a lesser degree in a number of them. However, any deficiencies should not be great. If they are, the thesis is more appropriately given a cum laude grade.
The cum thesis differs from the magna thesis in the difficulty of the problem addressed, the amount of work shown by the student, the clarity of presentation, and the soundness of the conclusions reached. While a magna thesis can be deficient in one or more ways, if the deficiencies are of sufficient magnitude to cause the reader to question the conclusions, a cum grade should be given. Likewise, a cum grade is appropriate if the problem addressed is of relatively little psychological interest or if the writer is not familiar with literature that is clearly relevant to the issue.
There is no reason why a student should automatically receive an honors grade just because he or she has undertaken a thesis. A thesis should be graded according to its merits. Poor ones should receive poor grades. An unsatisfactory thesis shows minimal industry, deficient understanding of the subject discussed, poor presentation, and insufficient familiarity with the relevant literature.