Passing grades for graduate students are “A’s” and “B’s.” Anything less indicates unsatisfactory work. Although you do not want to receive a “B+,” you can receive 1 or 2 while you are in the program. A “B-” is not acceptable. The pluses and minuses affect your GPA, which may be considered when the department makes funding decisions. The department does not include foreign language courses in its GPA equation. History 598, Teaching of College History, is graded on a pass/fail basis; History 599, Thesis Research, is not graded until the dissertation is completed.
If you are unable to complete work in a particular course during the semester, you can usually ask the professor to give you an incomplete, an INC. Many of us take one or two INCs at some point during our coursework, but be wary of them. You still need to complete the coursework, and you will be equally pressed for time, if not more pressed, in the semester following the semester in which you took an INC. In addition to the time disadvantages, there are new rules about INC which will affect your departmental funding. Consult the graduate program portion of the website for more information. You must also have all INC completed before you take your prelims. The bottom line is do not take any INCs. But if you absolutely have to, complete the work during the semester break.
One way to gain knowledge without writing papers or taking exams is to audit classes. It is a good idea to audit 400-level lecture classes in your fields that you cannot actually take. This helps you determine what different professors think is important for their fields. You should ask professors for their permission before auditing classes. 500-level courses can also be audited, although this is not as common.