How Your Grade Is Calculated
(in excruciating detail)

Teaching Assistant: Patrick Mooney
English 150
Fall 2013

This document is an explanation of how your overall grade is calculated for the quarter. This is, after all, your education; and your grade, though perhaps incidental to the real purposes of education, is, after all, very important to you for a variety of (mostly good, I think) reasons. Because of this, I believe it's worthwhile to show my hand in this matter, so you can understand exactly how your final grade is calculated.

It is always perfectly OK to e-mail me and ask what your grade is. I use a spreadsheet to perform these calculations, and I keep it up-to-date, so it is almost no work for me to answer an e-mail asking what your grade is. It is your grade, based on your work, and I believe strongly that you should have the option of knowing what your current grade is at any time.


Recall the following details about the relative value of the course components from the section guidelines handout:

This quarter, I am performing grade calculations in such a way that there will be 500 total points for the term. That is to say, more specifically, that your recitation and discussion will be worth a total of 50 points for both, that section attendance and participation will be worth 50 points, that your research paper will be worth 150 points, that your midterm will be worth 100 points, and that the final exam will be worth 150 points.

I do not "curve" grades. In the past, the average (i.e., mean) grade I gave for all students during the quarter has always been very close to 85% (a middle B). This is not the result of curving grades, but rather of the way that I define what each grade is worth.

The University of California does not provide a formal definition of how percentages or point totals should map onto letter grades, preferring to leave that determination to individual instructors. However, there is a default mapping on GauchoSpace for instructors who use GauchoSpace to calculate grades and do not override this mapping. Though I do not use GauchoSpace to calculate grades, I find that this set of numbers is in line with general academic practice, and have decided to adopt it (with the small modification that I have defined an A+ grade in a way consistent with the rest of the grade definitions — GauchoSpace does not include a definition for A+).

My mapping from percentages to letter grades is as follows:

If your (percentage) grade for the quarter is at least…but less than …then your letter grade is…

This set of mappings is the basis for both your paper grades (discussed in more detail below) and your final grade for the quarter (also discussed in more detail below).

Section Attendance and Participation

I track your absences from each section and total how many sections you missed. If you miss more than three sections, you automatically receive no credit for section or for your recitation/discussion assignment. If you miss more than five sections, you automatically receive a non-passing grade for the course.

Attendance during section the week of Thanksgiving is optional in the sense that my baseline expectation for the quarter is that you will attend 9, rather than 10, discussion sections, and so it is still possible for you to get the maximum possible discussion credit if you miss section during the week of Thanksgiving. (However, if you've scheduled a recitation/discussion performance for that date, then you must attend or reschedule, or else you will incur the no-show penalty, and will automatically fail the class if there is no space for you to reschedule — as is quite likely at that point in the term — because you must perform a recitation/discussion to receive a passing grade for the course for a quarter.) Missing section during Thanksgiving also counts for purposes of Professor Duffy's if you miss more than three sections, you receive no section credit; if you miss more than five sections, you fail automatically policy, so if you've already missed three sections at that point in the quarter, attending Thanksgiving week will prevent your grade from dropping substantially.

If you attend section Thanksgiving week, then this will count as a section you have attended for attendance purposes in the formula below, and will have the effect of giving your attendance/participation score a small boost. Some people who attend section all ten weeks and also participate extensively may wind up receiving slightly more than the theoretical maximum of 50 points for section attendance/participation because of this.

In addition to tracking attendance, I also assign a relative, competitive weighting factor, a fraction between zero and one, to everyone's participation over the course of the quarter. A weighting factor of zero means that you made no meaningful contributions at all to the group's discourse during the term (very unlikely). A weighting factor of one means that you made constant insightful, meaningful contributions to the group's discussion that involved not only merely speaking, but regularly advancing the group's understanding of topics under discussion (quite uncommon, but several students will receive this weighting score). An average weighting for students in the course will likely be about 0.8.

It might be worth emphasizing that your relative weighting involves making more productive contributions to the class's discussion than other people, and that you are competing for this relative weighting not only against your own section, but against my other section for the quarter.

I do not assign the weighting factor until the end of the quarter, so if you have not been speaking regularly so far, it's not too late to leave me with a good impression. Because I do not assign the weighting factor until the end of the quarter, any "your grade at this point" estimate that I send you during the quarter substitutes an estimate based on attendance for your attendance/participation score.

The maximum possible number of points for the attendance/participation component of your grade is 50 (10% of your total grade), assuming that you do not attend section during Thanksgiving week. Your attendance/participation score is calculated as follows:

(total number of sections attended) * (relative weighting) * 509

Research Paper

Letter grades for papers are assigned based on my grading rubric, possibly modified by up to two penalties. The first of these penalties is for late papers; the second is for not meeting the bare minimum length requirement for papers (eight full pages). Late papers are penalized by one-third of a letter grade for each day that the paper is late, counting both Saturday and Sunday as a single day. (If a Friday or Monday that is a holiday resulting in campus closure is part of the time period during which your paper is late, then I will count that as part of the single-day weekend, as well.)

The penalty for not hitting the bare minimum length for a paper — even if you're only short by one line — is four-thirds of a letter grade. You can also incur this penalty by writing a paper that appears to meet or exceed the bare minimum paper length, but reaches this length by tweaking the format for the paper in such a way that it looks to me as if you would not have reached the minimum length if the paper had been properly formatted (for instance, if you just exactly fill eight pages, but your margins are wider than one inch, then you have, effectively, not met the minimum length requirement, and will incur the penalty). You cannot rewrite your paper to make it longer or otherwise remove the penalty, so make absolutely sure that you write eight full pages and that your formatting is impeccable.

You will notice, regarding the penalty calculation, that I say that the penalty for a late paper is one-third of a letter grade per day, not that it bumps you down to the next lower grade range. One letter grade being worth 10%, what this actually means is that each day that your paper is late reduces your score by 3⅓%. Because the middle range (neither plus nor minus) is slightly larger than the top and bottom ranges (plus and minus) for each letter range, this means that, in practice, a B that you get by turning in a B+ paper one day late is worth slightly more than a B paper turned in on time, whereas a B- that you get by turning in a B paper one day late is slightly lower than a B- paper turned in on time. In practice, I have never yet had a student whose final grade for the quarter was affected by this calculation detail (but this document is, after all, an exhaustive declaration of how your grade is calculated). You will also have noticed that I assign letter grades to papers, and then map those letter grades onto point totals. To put it another way: every A- paper is worth the same number of points as every other A- paper, every B paper is worth the same number of points as every other B paper, and so on.

With two exceptions (the very rare A+ and F grades, discussed in a moment), points assigned for each paper grade are the number of points in the middle of that grade range — not the high end, and not the low end. That is, an A- paper gets not 90% (the low end of the A- scale), nor 93% (the high end of the A- scale), but the middle — 91.5%.

In the unusual event that someone writes an A+ paper, this is worth 100%, not 98.5% (which would be the middle of the A+ range). You will note from my grading rubric that I set the bar for A+ papers very high, and I believe that anyone writing one of these papers should be rewarded with the maximum possible number of points for that assignment.

If your paper has problems large enough to land it in the D range, I do not assign a plus or minus to it — all D grades are simply D's. If you do something that warrants an F on a paper, you get zero points for that assignment (and may have done something that will result in further disciplinary action).

After your letter grade is mapped onto a percentage, this percentage is then used to calculate a point total, based on the 150 total possible points for the assignment.

Given all of this, here is the point value of each letter grade, assuming there are no penalties:

Letter Grade Percentage Point total

The formula used to calculate total points for papers which do incur penalties is:

[(percentage score for base grade) - (days late * 103) - (length penalty of 403, if applicable)] * 1.5

in which percentage score for base grade is the value from the column labeled percentage above. Note that I count the entire weekend as one day: although you have two days to make progress on your work, you are unable to turn your work in because South Hall is locked on weekends. I consider calling the entire weekend one day a reasonable compromise.

(Those who are mathematically inclined may notice that the formula above is actually the formula by which all grades are calculated, including those which incur no penalties.)

Midterm and Final Exams

At the time this document is posted, I do not have any more information about the format or point totals for either exam. The number of points that are ostensibly on the midterm exam will be scaled to 100, so that the exam is worth 20% of your total term grade. Similarly, the number of points ostensibly on the final exam will be scaled to 150, so that the exam is worth 30% of your total grade for the quarter.

In Conclusion …

I add the points for your recitation/discussion, your points for section attendance and participation, your points for the midterm and final exams, and the points for your research paper, and assign a final letter grade for the quarter based on the following table:

If your point total is at least… but less than … then your letter grade is…

The point totals above are "bright lines" — you either cross them or you don't. I do not consider getting close to be "good enough." If you have a point total for the quarter of 364.8, for instance, you have a C-, not a C (and have therefore almost certainly not satisfied any breadth requirements that you were trying to satisfy by taking the course).

Please let me know if you have any questions about these calculations!