Reverse detail from Kakelbont MS 1, a fifteenth-century French Psalter. This image is in the public domain. Daniel Paul O'Donnell

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Grading methods

Posted: Jan 04, 2015 15:01;
Last Modified: Sep 17, 2015 15:09


I use several different types of grading in my courses. This post explains what they are and how they work.


A+ through F (Grade Point)

This is the traditional grading system used at North American Universities. I use this system primarily for grading summative exercises (i.e. exercises that are designed to assess retrospectively how well you have learned something) and for the submission of final grades to the registrar.

When I submit grades to the University, I use the following table of equivalences:

University description Excellent Good Satisfactory Poor Minimal pass Failing
Letter A+ A A- B+ B B- C+ C C- D+ D F
Percent range 100-94 93-90 89-86 85-82 81-78 77-74 73-70 69-66 65-62 61-58 57-50 49-0
Conventional value 100 92 88 84 80 76 72 68 64 60 56 49-0
Grade point 4.0 3.7 3.3 3.0 2.7 2.3 2.0 1.7 1.3 1.0 0

In order to calculate your grades, I convert all scores you have received in the year to percentages. How I do this depends on the nature of the work.


I grade some formative and participation exercises “Pass/Fail.” A pass means that you received 100% on the exercise; a fail means that you received 0. Work graded pass/fail cannot be made up.


I grade some formative exercises “Appropriate/Inappropriate/Fail.” This method is derived from Specifications-Based Grading approaches.


Badges are used in my classes to reward exceptional work. Two levels of badges are available:

In some courses, a third badge with a negative score is available for students who wish to repeat an exercise.

Badges may or may not have an impact on grades. The course syllabus will tell you what badges are available (if any) for an exercise.

How are badges different from grades?

If badges have a grade value, this will appear in the description of the course assessment. Typically, if they have a grade value, the total value for all badges in the course will between 15% and 25%, depending on the nature and level of the course.

When badges have a grade value, all badges of the same type have the same grade value: e.g. all “Great Distinction” badges will be worth 2.5% and all “Distinction” badges, 1.5%. The value of these badges varies from course to course.

A good question might be how these badges are different from grades. For example, if a student gets a Great Distinction badge worth 3% on a pass/fail assignment worth 25%, how is this different from from getting 100% on an assignment worth 28%? And, if it is, how is getting a “pass” (i.e. 100%) on the assignment, for students who did not get a badge, different from getting a grade of 25 marks out of 28 or 89%?

There are several answers to this.

The first is that, mathematically, for the student earning the badge on this assignment, it is not different. 3% + 25% = 28%. And, for the student who passes the assignment but does not get a badge, they have also, mathematically, received 89% of the total marks available for the assignment.

But there are also a couple of ways in which the math (and purpose) of the badge is different.

First of all, all badges of the same type in a course are worth the same amount, even though the assignments themselves are not necessarily weighted the same. This means that earning a 3% badge for Great Distinction on an assignment worth 10% (for a total of 13%) is worth relatively more than earning the same badge on an assignment of 25% for a total of 28%. In other words, the badges account for how many times you have done work of Great Distinction or Distinction in a course rather than, primarily, how much that Distinction or Great Distinction was worth relative to the rest of the assignment in any one case.

Secondly I also adjust expectations to match the nature of the assignment. It is, for example, typically relatively more difficult to earn a badge for small assignments than for bigger ones—in part because small assignments tend to be quite straightforward and it is correspondingly harder to imagine how an individual’s work might be “exceptional” enough to warrant a badge. I keep the possibility open because somebody might surprise me. But I will be surprised when they do. I don’t expect to award many “exceptional” badges for small things like passing a quiz: I keep the possibility open only because if I’ve learned one thing in University it is not to underestimate the creativity of smart people.

In the end, I’m using badges to recognise and reward exceptional excellence, because I find that such excellence is often of a different scope from competence: i.e. a student can do everything I could want them to in a given assignment (i.e. deserve 100%) and yet not produce something that is truly exceptional. Another could do an equally competent job that also stands out for its inspiration.

In other words, I use badges rather than grades to recognise that some times, people just perform way above anything you might expect to see.





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