Tuesday, February 28, 2012

How to Calculate Your Grade in a Class

How to Compute a Grade for a Class
Students typically take a class with the intention of passing the course, but many times people would like to know how they stand at any given time during the class. Armed with this information, a student can make an informed decision regarding how to proceed, such as:
  • Full speed ahead – I'm right on tract for my goals!
  • How can I improve – study habits, resources available such as tutoring, extra credit, make-up opportunities, instructor suggestions.
  • Is it too late to drop this class – ensure that you understand implications of this decision and any other options available.
How to determine a grade for a class

First, you'll need to determine the grading scale for a class, which will typically be found in the syllabus. That is a document that the instructor probably mentioned on the first day of class. Many students fail to read this important information, but that document is typically loaded with information to help students take the guess work out of how the class will actually work.

Some classes may offer successful completion or not successfully completed without a letter grade. Other classes will have a scale in which a range of scores will equal an A, B, etc. and which ones are considered passing if the class is a prerequisite for another course or required for a major. Do not assume that all classes have the same grading scale – a score that qualifies as a C in one class might earn you a D in another one.

Within the syllabus you are likely to find weighting of grades. Some classes have all grades that count equally, but many classes have portions that are weighted differently. For example, a class that has weighted scoring might look like this:
Group Project
Final Exam

 In the above example, the average of all test scores would count toward 60% of the final grade while the quiz average would contribute 20% of that final score. The group project and final exam would each count toward 10% of the final score. Many students mistakenly assume that all scores are evenly weighted and may assume that their grade is higher or lower than reality.

How to calculate a grade with equal weighting of scores

In order to calculate a grade in a class with equal weighting of scores (that are not simply added together):
  1. List all scores for the class.
  2. Add the scores together.
  3. Divide the above total by the number of scores in the class.
For example, here is a list of scores from a class:
  • 100
  • 75
  • 85
  • 0
  • 75
  • 95
Add these numbers together and you will get 430.
Divide these numbers by 6 because there are a total of 6 scores (430 divided by 6).
This will give you a calculated grade of 72.

This is also known as a simple score average.

How to calculate a grade with weighted grading

Weighted grading involves a few more steps:
  1. Place all scores into the weighted categories (tests, quizzes, group project, final exam, etc.)
  2. Calculate the average grade for each category using the above method – find the average of grades per category rather than the entire class. (If you only have one score in a category, simply write down that score.)
  3. Multiply the above numbers by the percentage per the syllabus.
  4. Add each of those totals together.
Here is an example of how to compute weighted grading:

Percentage from Syllabus
Score Average using method above
Multiply by
Weighted Total
Group Project
Final Exam
Weighted Score


What about extra credit, dropped scores, and make-up oppportunities?

Some instructors may offer extra credit points. These may be added to a test score or to the overall average or in some other way designated by the instructor. Add points earned in the manner identified by the instructor.

Some instructors may offer the opportunity to drop the lowest score if certain criteria are met. If you have met all criteria, do not include the lowest score and compute using the number of scores left. In other words, if you had 10 assignments and were able to drop your lowest score, you would divide the remaining total by 9.

Make-up opportunities vary widely within classes. Some instructors may offer a variety of make-up assignments that may be used to replace or improve a lower score. If you complete a make-up assignment, check the details within the class to determine how that score will be used.

Raw Scores vs. Percentage Scores

Be careful that you are looking at correct scores when computing a grade. Some online classes may show raw scores as well as percentage scores. Make sure you are using the correct numbers! Some tests may offer more points than others, and you'll need to check to see if these tests all count equally or if they are based on raw scores.

In classes where tests have different numbers of possible points (excluding extra credit), using raw scores would result in some tests being worth more than others while percentage scores would result in all tests counting the same percentage in grading. For example, if you have a class in which one test has a possible 96 points, one with 100 points, and one with 105 points, using raw scores would mean that the third test would carry more weight than the first two tests. Using percentage scores would mean that each test would count equally in grading. You can compute the percentage score on any grade by dividing the number of earned points by the number of total points and multiplying by 100.

Here is an example of how raw scores vs. percentage scores can change weighting within individual sections of a class:
Possible Points
Points Earned
Raw Score
Percentage Score
Test 1
Test 2
Test 3

What if you haven't completed the course?

Most students want to know their score before the class is completed. Although you will not know your final score, you can get a range of scores that are possible based on grades you have already achieved.

In order to find a range of possible scores if you have not yet completed the class, here is what you can do.
  1. Place a 0 for all assignments not yet completed and compute using the method above (this will be your lowest possible score for the class).
  2. Place a 100 for all assignments not yet completed and compute using the method above (this will be your highest possible score for the class).
You now have a best case and worst case scenario. Most people will fall somewhere in between the two. Add these two numbers together and divide by 2 to find the average of these two numbers. Based on your performance thus far in the class, this might be a pretty good indication of how your grade may develop if you continue along the same track.

Of course, if you started the class with very low grades and began to trend up or started with high grades and began to trend downward, you'll want to take this information into consideration.

The Final Answer

I hope this may take some of the guesswork out of calculating a grade in a class. You may also want to read What Grade Do I Need on the Final Exam? that gives step-by-step instructions for determining a minimum score on a final exam grade in order to earn a particular grade in class. Feel free to check out my other resources in the Student Survive 2 Thrive site map.


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