There is a large amount of pressure in the classes, which have been characterized as "drinking from a fire hose" or "academic
boot camp." Although the perceived pressure is high, the failure rate both from classes and the Institute as a whole, is low. The
school's emphasis on technical excellence and information sharing results in a situation where faculty, upperclassmen, and fellow
students are remarkably helpful even to newly arrived freshmen. This culture of helpfulness offsets the academic stress to a
certain degree. Furthermore, students are not assigned letter grades in their first semester; instead, they are graded Pass/No
Record. To allow the students to gradually adjust to regular grading, second semester is ABC/No Record. For both semesters,
classes that a student fails are noted on the internal transcript but erased from all external records.Majors are numbered (with Roman numerals); for example, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science is Course VI, while
Mathematics is Course XVIII. Students will typically refer to their major by the course number, saying "he's in Course Eighteen"
rather than "he's a math major." Subjects within each course also have numeric identifications, which most students use more
frequently than the written names; the course number is given with an Arabic numeral, then a decimal point, and a subject number.
This pattern differs from that of many U. S. universities; the course which many universities would designate as "Physics 101"
is, at MIT, "8.01." All students are required to take basic physics (8.01 and 8.02), a semester of biology, a term of chemistry, as well as calculus (18.01 and
18.02).Most of the science and engineering classes follow a standard pattern. Typically, a professor gives a lecture that explains a
concept. Then, teaching assistants lead recitations to explore fuller details, or often to provide students help on homework
problems. Problem sets, given roughly weekly, are designed to enable the student to master the concept. Students often gather in
informal groups to solve the problem sets, and it is within these groups that much of the actual learning takes place. Over time,
students compile "bibles," collections of problem set and examination questions and answers. They may be created over several
years and are often handed down "from generation to generation"—bearing in mind that "generations" of student time may be
short-lived.In many classes, the problem sets make up a relatively small fraction of the grade. The rest of the evaluation consists of
performance on tests, which typically contain grueling problems that measure the students' ability to apply their knowledge,
often to something not
specifically covered in class. Problem sets and tests, even for the large introductory freshmen
classes, are usually free response, hand graded, with much partial credit given to people who almost get the answer right. This
is highly labor intensive, and after a test for a large class one can see a room full of teaching assistants and professors
hand-grading the examinations.The lack of machine grading and multiple-choice stems from the belief that understanding the concept is almost as important as
getting the right answer. For example, students are seldom strongly penalized for making arithmetic mistakes. Test problems are
intentionally extremely difficult and often clever, and are designed so that few students can obtain a perfect score. On the
other hand, the assignment of grades reflects the difficulty, and most classes end with a grade distribution centered around B or
C.Although professors often use the average performance of a class to gauge the difficulty of an exam or a course, MIT policy
does not permit grade cutoffs based purely on predetermined percentages or statistics (i.e. grading "on a curve") 
. This policy is intended, in
part, to prevent a competitive atmosphere that occurs at some other universities, where the students want one another to do
poorly in order to improve their own prospects.MIT has been at least nominally coeducational since admitting Ellen Swallow Richards in 1870, if not earlier. For some years past, it has admitted slightly more women students than men.