Another school year is coming to an end. If you are a student, I hope you have received good grades for all of your classes.
The Chinese word for grade, ranking or social stratum is 等级 (děngjí). The convention is for “up” or “high” to represent superiority, and “down” or “low” to represent inferiority.
上等 (shàngděng), or 高等 (gāoděng) means high-level, first-class, first-rate or excellent. So, 高等学院 (gāoděng dòngwù) is a higher educational institution.
Another word that indicates superior quality is 优等 (yōuděng). You would call an excellent student 优等生 (yōuděng shēng).
中等 (zhōngděng) is medium or average. Often, people will say 普通 (pǔtōng), 差不多 (chàbuduō), or 马马虎虎 (mǎmǎhūhū) to indicate that something or some condition is passable or of average quality.
低等 (dīděng) or 下等 (xiàděng) means low-grade or inferior. An invertebrate would be referred to as a 低等动物 (dīděng dòngwù).
高级 (gāojí) means high-ranking, high level or high-quality.
Tā qǐng wǒ qù gāojí cāntīng qùchīfàn.
He invites me to dine at a high-class restaurant.
中级 (zhōngjí) is average or middle-grade.
低级 (dījí) means low-ranking or of poor quality. It also means vulgar.
超级 (chāojí) means super. You can probably name one or two 超级钜星 (chāojí jù xīng superstars).
A grading system could be based on ordinal numbers. For instance, 一等 (yīděng) is first class or first-rate, 二等 (èrděng) is second-class and 三等 (sānděng) means third-class.
As the head houses the brains and is considered very important, 头等 (tóuděng) also means first class or first-rate.
I’d like to reserve a first-class plane ticket.
Wǒ xiǎng dìng yīzhāng tóuděng jī piào.
Similarly, 一流 (yíliú) means first-rate, 二流 (èrliú ) means second-rate and 三流 (sānliú) means third-rate or inferior.
Another grading system used by the Chinese is based on the first few of the ten Celestial Stems.
甲 (jiǎ) is the First Stem, and therefore is best. Smile if you see 甲等 (jiǎ děng) marked on your report card.
乙 (yǐ) comes second, 丙 (bǐng ) is third. Suppose you get a 丁 (dīng fourth), which is equivalent to the letter grade “D”, and has the same initial consonant sound, don’t be disheartened. Not everyone is good at every subject. Try harder to master it, or switch to something else. What matters is that you always get a grade of 甲等 (jiǎ děng) for being a conscientious and caring human being.