Additional Resources

Grading Norms and Expectations

The issue of grades and grading is always a fraught one: what do they mean?, what do they tell us?, what do they prove? And things are particularly complicated when it comes to graduate-level studies where much greater emphasis is placed on students’ self-directed work and individual commitment to learning.

At graduate school, your academic success is seldom expressed neatly by a grade; we are less interested in quantifiable outcomes as we are with the quality of your questions and discussions, and with the depth of your reading, and the rigor of your writing. In a program like MACS, we are especially concerned with your ability to communicate ideas in imaginative ways, to work creatively and productively with peers, and the extent to which you can apply your ideas further afield. 

None of this means that grades don’t matter. As long as universities and instructors continue to give grades, then they clearly matter. Besides, grades continue to be relevant beyond our program; for example, if you’re planning to apply for a place in a PhD program where many admissions committees still use the GPA as a marker of quality and ability. The common problem with grades – for both students and faculty alike – is the struggle to put them in some kind of meaningful perspective.

Grades are never an assessment of your worth as a human being. Nor, for that matter, are they a simple assessment of the value of your ideas, interests, and ambitions. Grades also seldom bear a straightforward relationship to your effort (undergraduates often complain that they worked really hard and so their grade should be better!) or your passion for a subject. Grades are primarily intended as broad feedback – a crude but considered evaluation of where your work stands in the bigger scheme of things whether it’s in relation to others in your class, others who have taken the class before, or others at graduate school. A grade should be treated as an opportunity to seek out ways to improve as you move forwards.

The Cultural Studies program offers the following concrete information about grading: http://www.uwb.edu/culturalstudies/policies-and-procedures/grades.

From this page, this is what’s most obviously useful:

  • You have to get a minimum of 2.7 for a class to count toward your degree.
  • You have to have a cumulative GPA of 3.0 to graduate.
  • You can be awarded an Incomplete only if you’ve satisfactorily completed most of the work by the last two weeks of the quarter.
  • You can apply for a Withdrawal or a Hardship Withdrawal.

Beyond this basic information, we would like to provide some guidelines to help you make sense of your grades as a form of feedback. The MACS faculty have looked at our own grading norms and expectations so that we can offer you the following framework. It’s important that we stress the following: these are general norms and typical expectations, rules of thumb to help you determine if you should be concerned about your grades and about your progress through the program. These are not hard-and-fast rules, nor are they regulations to which faculty have to adhere.

  • Broadly speaking, these are some of the ways that you might “interpret” grades:

*below 3.0 your work (in this class) gives us serious concern for your success in the overall program

*3.0-3.2 you will need to work much harder to get on top of the work, seeking immediate input from advisor/s

*3.3-3.5 your performance is solid, but we believe you could do better if you applied yourself more

*3.6-3.8 you're doing well, although there are still areas where you might hone and strengthen your work

*3.9-4.0 you're doing really well, and we’re hoping you will keep up this level of work

  • Faculty do – and will – use the full range from 3.0 to 4.0 for graded work, and will award lower grades for work that is inadequate, consistently late, incomplete, doesn’t meet the scholarly standards for a given class or assignment, and/or for work that is missing altogether (see below).
  • Many professors use assignments spread throughout the quarter aimed at evaluating your learning and engagement, and for which they may not use conventional grading formats (e.g., letter grades or the UW’s 4-point system) but other formats (e.g. check-marks like √, √+ or √-) to indicate how you’re doing. 
  • With one exception, core courses are assigned a specific and/or differentiated grade using the UW’s 4-point system. BCULST 511 is assessed as CR/NC if all the work is completed satisfactorily.
  • For Directed Readings or Independent Studies, faculty often choose not to assign a differentiated grade, opting instead to evaluate your work by awarding Credit/No Credit or by awarding a flat 4.0 for satisfactorily completed work.
  • Key pieces of academic work within the program which are seldom awarded a specific/differentiated grade (but which are obviously evaluated) are the mid-program and final portfolio, and the capstone project.
  • Faculty vary in terms of awarding top grades (i.e. 3.9 and 4.0), with some expecting outstanding or exceptional work, and others expecting full participation and completion of all work.
  • Work that shows low engagement or limited effort will often be graded in the 3.0-3.2 band.
  • Work that is incomplete or which fails to address the core issues/questions, invariably falls below the 3.0 mark.
  • Work that is late may not be accepted at all or may be awarded a lower grade (pay careful attention to instructors’ “late policy” in the syllabus as they vary).

And just to recap …

These are all general norms and typical expectations, rules of thumb to help you decide if you should be concerned about your grade. These are not hard-and-fast rules, nor are they regulations to which faculty have to adhere. A grade should be treated as a form of feedback and as an opportunity to seek out ways to improve as you move forwards.