How Your Grade Is Calculated
(in excruciating detail)

Teaching Associate: Patrick Mooney
Department of English, UC Santa Barbara
English 10, Summer 2015 (session A)

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 come to my office and ask what your grade is. (University policy treats email as an insecure communication method, and I am therefore prohibited from discussing sensitive information via email. Unfortunately, this includes your grade, which means you need to ask me in person.) I use a spreadsheet to perform these calculations, and I keep it up to date, so it is almost no work for me to tell you what your current 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:

All assignments above must be completed, and at least seven reading quizzes must be taken, in order to receive a grade above C- for the course.

This quarter, I am performing grade calculations in such a way that there will be 1000 total points for the term. That is to say, more specifically, that the combined worth of all reading quizzes will be 200 points, the final exam will be worth 200 points, the final paper will be worth 200 points, the short close reading papers will be worth 100 points each, the annotated bibliography will be worth 100 points, and class attendance and participation will be worth 100 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. Although 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).

Class Attendance and Participation

Class attendance and participation are worth 100 total points (10% of the total grade for the quarter). Since there are 24 class meetings, each meeting is worth 10024, or 256, points, or 4⅙ points out of the thousand points that make up your total grade for the quarter.

Before describing the relevant details, it is worthwhile to say up front that you do not automatically receive points simply for attending class — there are no seat-filling points. None. Zero. Someone who attends every class but never contributes does not receive any attendance/participation points. (In practice, though, the student who never speaks is so rare as to border on nonexistence.) Make sure you understand the implications of the formula at the end of this section.

I track your absences from each class and total how many total classes you miss. Recall from the syllabus that I do not distinguish between excused and unexcused absences — if you are not present and not contributing to the group's discussion, then you do not receive any points for attending that day, regardless of the reason why you missed class. For this reason, it's a good idea not to be absent unless you absolutely have to — or at least unless the reason why you're missing class is important enough to you that it's worth it to you to lose points for not being there.

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. (A rating of 1 is uncommon, but during most quarters, several students will receive this weighting score). An average weighting for students in the course will likely be about 0.85 (85% is a middle B).

It might be worth emphasizing that your relative weighting involves making more productive contributions to the class's discussion than other people. It's not just a matter of how often you move your mouth; it's also a matter of whether you're helping to advance what the class understands about the course material when you do so.

All of that being said, your attendance/participation score is calculated according to this formula:

(total number of classes attended) * (relative weighting) * 256

Early reporting caveat: 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 provide you during the quarter does not include attendance or participation at all.


Letter grades for papers are assigned based on the grading rubric that's appropriate for the assignment (here is the rubric for the close reading assignment), possibly modified by up to two penalties. The first of these penalties is for late papers. The second is for not meeting the length requirement for papers, as specified in the assignment write-up.

Late papers are penalized by one-third of a letter grade for each day that the paper is late, counting the entire weekend as a single day.

The penalty for not writing a paper of appropriate length — even if you're only short or over by one line or one word — is one half of a letter grade. You can also incur this same penalty by writing a paper that appears to meet the required paper length, but reaches this length by tweaking the format for the paper in such a way that you would not have had a paper of the right length if the paper had been properly formatted (for instance, if you just exactly fill two pages on a close reading paper, but your margins are too wide, then you have, effectively, not met the paper length requirement, and will incur the penalty).

You will notice, regarding the late-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, after all, attempts to be 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 without penalties is worth the same number of points as every other A- paper without penalties, every B paper without penalties is worth the same number of points as every other B paper without penalties, and so forth.

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 that I set the bar for A+ papers very high — in addition to displaying all of the virtues of an A paper, an A+ paper is wonderful in every imaginable way — and 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 (before penalties, anyway). If you do something that warrants an F on a paper, you get zero points for that assignment (and, if the F is caused by plagiarism, 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 total possible points for the assignment: 100 points (10% of your quarter grade) for your close reading papers and your annotated bibliography, or 200 points (20% of your quarter grade) for your final paper.

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

Letter Grade Percentage Point total on short assignmentsPoint total on final paper

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 102, if applicable)] * (maximum points possible100),

in which percentage score for base grade is the value from the column labeled percentage above and maximum points possible is 100 for close reading papers and the annotated bibliography, or 200 for the final paper. Note that I count the entire weekend as one day: although you have two days (three, on holiday weekends) 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 of you 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.)


Quizzes have a base worth worth of 10 points each (though there are extra credit possibilities on most quizzes), and the lowest two quiz scores will be dropped from inclusion in your final grade. I have not decided how many total quizzes will occur during the quarter, so I will scale the point total from your highest quizzes to 100 total points. That is to say: if there are n quizzes, then I will map your highest n-2 quizzes onto 100 points by giving each quiz equal weight.

To be more explicit: There will be approximately ten to twelve quizzes over the quarter. Let us assume, for purposes of producing specific numbers in this example, that there will be exactly ten quizzes. If each of these quizzes is worth ten points, then your eight highest quiz scores will be worth a possible total of eighty points. If this winds up being the case, then I will add the points from your eight highest quizzes and multiply this total by 1.25 (108) to produce a scaled quiz total out of 100 points. Similarly, if there are eleven quizzes, then I will total your nine highest quiz scores and multiply by 109 to produce a scaled total out of 100 possible points. In any case, the ostensible total possible points will equal 100 (though some students may get more than 100 points for their quiz total by both performing very well and picking up bonus points throughout the quarter).

The final exam

The final exam will be worth exactly 200 points.

In conclusion …

I add the points for your midterm to the point totals for your final exam, section attendance and participation, and both papers, 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 round your score, nor do I consider consider getting close to be "good enough." If you have a point total for the quarter of 729.8, for instance, you have a C-, not a C (since the cut-off line for a C is 730 points, which is more than 729.8). In this case, you have therefoore almost certainly not satisfied any breadth requirements that you were trying to satisfy by taking the course (because the College of Letters and Science expects that you will get a C or above, not a C-, to satisfy breadth requirements).

Extra credit

Extra credit opportunities are available throughout the quarter; see the Extra Credit Opportunities page for details of what options you have. Extra credit is assigned a percentage value rather than a point value (e.g., a two percent bonus to your total score for the term); how much this bonus is depends on the assignment itself and how well you perform on that assignment. This percentage value is added onto your total percent score for the quarter after all other calculations are performed. (This prevents extra-credit scores from over-influencing your apparent grade if I give you a your current grade is ... report before all the points are in.)

Grading caveats: Extra credit cannot lift you into the A+ range for the quarter. Any overall grade of A+ that I assign is a "natural" A+. If you have extra credit and land in the A+ range, I assign you an A for the term unless you would have landed in the A+ range without the extra credit. Your total extra credit for the quarter can raise your grade by a maximum of 5%.

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