Center for Educational Innovation

Academic Affairs and Provost

General descriptions of student work

General description of assignments, papers, projects, exams and other student work with a schedule of approximate due dates and relative weight in the grade

The grading section should include a complete list of course activities that contribute to the grade and an indication of the weight (number of points or percentage) assigned to each activity. Knowing the relative importance of the requirements at the beginning of a course helps students budget their time. Examples of course activities are:

  • quizzes and examinations
  • papers
  • homework assignments
  • journals
  • projects

Examples

Item

Points

2 Midterm Exams

250 points

Lecture Final Exam

175 points

Lab Final Exam

100 points

20 Quizzes, Lab Evals, Reports

500 points

Total

1025 points

Grade:

A = 90% to 100%

B = 80% to 89%

C= 70% to 79%

D= 60% to 69%

F= Below 60%

When preparing this section of your syllabus, keep in mind that both the number of activities and the types of activities that count toward the grade will affect the reliability and validity of your grading system.

Teaching Tip: Number of Activities

In general, the greater the number of items used to determine grades, the more valid and reliable the grades will be*. It is rarely justifiable to base students' grades solely on their performance on one or two items, such as exams. One or two graded items do not provide an adequate sampling of course content and objectives. An off-day could lower a student's grade considerably and be an inaccurate reflection of how much she or he has learned.

To have sufficient data to make valid evaluations of student achievement, you probably should have at least four activities counting toward the grade. For example:

1 homework + 2 presentations + 4 quizzes + 2 papers = 9

*However, including a variety of assessments may not be appropriate to your course objectives. For example, in a composition class, it may be entirely appropriate for students to be graded solely on the quality of their written compositions.

Teaching Tip: Types of Activities

Generally, the more variety in the types of activities used to determine grades, the more valid and reliable the grades will be.* Different kinds of activities allow for differences among students strengths. For example, if you currently base a student's grade solely on exams and quizzes, consider including a written project or an oral report. A student with a good grasp of your subject may perform poorly on exams due to test anxiety but may create an excellent project.

We recommend having at least three different kinds of activities count toward the grade, such as

homework + presentations + quizzes + papers = 4.

*However, including a variety of activities may not be appropriate to your course objectives. For example, in a composition class, it may be entirely appropriate for students to be graded solely on the quality of their written compositions.

Teaching Tip: Grading Participation

If you base part of your grade on participation, you should know that many evaluation experts feel that participation should not be a part of the grade. It is extremely difficult to grade participation and often the grade reflects personality rather than knowledge. An outgoing, talkative student will probably receive a higher grade than a shy, quiet student who has an equal grasp of content.

Grading Participation

If you include participation as a part of the grade solely as an incentive for active participation, you might consider using other incentives such as small group or partner work, or participation in an online discussion. If you are using participation to measure achievement of course objectives, you need to explain what constitutes participation and how you will grade it. Are you grading by frequency of comments? How do you keep track of this frequency? Be aware that this method sometimes lowers the quality of discussions as students attempt "get their points" even if they have nothing of substance to contribute. Are you grading the quality of their comments? If so, how?

Example

CLASS PARTICIPATION (20%).

Seminar participation will be negotiated between faculty and students based on the following criteria: C = Participates in discussion to demonstrate preparation. Occasionally presents issues for discussion. Comes prepared and presents therapy model in a clear, thorough, and understandable way. Occasionally offers feedback based on critical thinking. Demonstrates group membership skills and contributes to development of seminar group. B = Meets all criteria for C and actively contributes to discussion while also allowing opportunity for others to participate. Contributions illustrate a thorough understanding and critical analysis related to the topic and class objectives. Promotes group cohesion by: encouraging others to participate; soliciting others' ideas, applications, feedback, and analysis. A = Meets all criteria for B and contributions often illustrate a synthesis of knowledge. Demonstrates leadership behavior that facilitates the goals of the group.

- Merrie J. Kaas, Nursing 8001: Special Topics in Psychiatric-Mental Health Nursing (Working in Small Systems: Family and Group Therapy)

Grading Effort or Attendance

The purpose of grades is to communicate the extent to which students have learned the course materials. Therefore, grades should be based primarily on the student's performance on exams, presentations, papers, or other activities. Although effort and attendance may contribute to student learning, they do not reflect the extent to which students have learned the course material. For this reason many evaluation experts feel that items such as effort and attendance should not be a part of the grade.

Explain to students how you will compute their grades. Students will be more confident that you are grading fairly if they know your computation system. Explaining how you compute grades will also allow students to accurately track their own grades, thus avoiding "surprises" at the end of the term.

If you are assigning points to each activity, all you need to include is the number or percentage of points given to each grade.

Example

Item

Percentage

Essay 1

25%

Essay 2

25%

Final Project

50%

 

To compute your final grade, I will convert the letter grade on the paper to its numerical equivalent (e.g., A = 4.00, A- 3.67). I will then add the numbers assigned to essays 1 and 2 plus the number assigned to your final project multiplied by two and divide the total by 4. I will then convert this figure to a letter grade.

For example, if you received a B on Essay 1, and A on Essay 2, and an A- on the Final Project, your grade would be computed as follows:

{Essay 1} + {Essay 2} + 2{Final Project} = [ 3.0 + 4.0 + ( 2 x 3.67) ] / 4 = 3.58

Your final grade will be an A- (3.58)

If you would like assistance in determining a statistically sound method of computing grades, University of Minnesota Office of Measurement Services can help you find an appropriate procedure or provide you with a grade book program you can use on your computer.

You can promote student success by defining evaluation criteria that answer such questions as:

  • What kind of exams do you give? Essay? Multiple choice? True/false?
  • Will the exams test memory? Understanding? Ability to apply knowledge in a new context? Ability to present evidence logically?
  • Are the mechanics of writing included in the grading for papers and essay tests?
  • Is it necessary for students to show their work in problem solving?
  • Do you give credit for a sound approach even if the answer is wrong?

 

Similar to including a rationale for your learning outcomes, you can also include a rationale for your evaluation criteria, which conveys valuable information about your field.

Example

PROJECT #3: ANNOTATED BIBLIOGRAPHY

Choose three journal articles on ONE women, law, and public policy question or issue that interests you. The articles may be from several different journals, but need not be (for example, if there is a symposium issue on your topic). Submit a SHORT annotated bibliography. The annotation should be a paragraph or two at most. Begin with the correct citation (either Chicago Manual, APSA, or Blue Book citation style), then include a sentence summarizing the argument. A brief description of the method and sources used to further the thesis and a brief evaluation of its merits should follow. Careful skimming may be an important skill in writing the annotations. But pick three articles you'd really like to read. Being able to summarize an argument, article, or report effectively is a vital skill in the world of public affairs where congressional staffers, for example, are asked to confine their memos to one page. When you have to state the argument in one or two sentences, and describe the evidence used to support the argument, you realize that your understanding of the text may be much fuzzier than you had thought. The clarity required to write succinctly helps you to separate out which details and points are most important. Annotating, however, takes practice and requires revision. The key quality is detail and precision. Rather than use general evaluative words, such as "this is an interesting article" or "this article is good" you need to precisely convey what specific quality made it so. For example, "By comparing the treatment of white middle-class unwed mothers over time, and by comparing the social services they received to those received by black women, Solinger demonstrates how meaning of unwed motherhood is socially constructed." Rather than merely stating that her evidence is historical, you might want to point out that she examines the governance and operation of private homes for unwed mothers, even exploring the newsletters and board minutes of the home. I will grade the annotation according to four criteria: Did you cite the material correctly? Did you state the argument clearly in one or two sentences? Did you describe the evidence considered? Did you evaluate the piece?

- Sally Kenney, Public Affairs 5441: Women and Public Policy in the United States

In addition to telling how they will be graded, you can also guide student learning by telling them how they should prepare for exams or approach assignments.

Example

I will provide all relevant formulas. Spend your time practicing how to solve the problems at the end of each chapter instead of memorizing formulas. After you've completed your outline for the paper, look over the papers from past classes which I've put on reserve; they may suggest additional items for you to include.

- a math course

Example

Remarks on Grading

Problems in homework, the midterm and the final exams will be graded on your success in clearly explaining the logical path you have followed to achieve the correct solution based on a correct assessment of the underlying physics. Diagrams, phrases and, especially, a logical algebraic development including well defined variables are key elements to obtaining correct solutions to problems. Failure to provide a clear exposition of your solution will result in a loss of, or no credit. The grader must be able to understand what you have done, how and why you have done it and to be able to ascertain the nature of your reasoning.

- R. Rusack, Physics 5201

Try to include any information that can help students develop effective study habits from the beginning of the course. The following sample shows how a psychology professor provided guidance about how students might best prepare for the essay portion of his exam. Note that he combines guidance with reassurance.

Example

PART II: ESSAY

The purpose of the course is to provide an understanding of the field. Understanding is best measured by assessing a student's ability to use the material in thinking about people. Therefore, the essay questions usually ask students to think with the material--to compare, argue, conclude, and so on, going beyond what is spelled out for them in readings and lectures. In this way, the essay questions also perform an important teaching function in their own right. Since psychology is a science, the questions ask students to think scientifically. Therefore, statements of opinion are worth very little--whether or not they agree with mine--unless they are supported by valid arguments based where possible on rigorous evidence. This may sound formidable, but most students learn to do this well enough to be successful on these examinations. As you study, keep in the back of your mind questions such as, "How does the author know this is true?" "On the basis of what evidence does she disagree with So-and-so?" and so on.

- Eric Klinger, Psychology 3400 (Morris Campus) Discussing

Evaluation Criteria

You have many different options for discussing your evaluation criteria. You can:

  • Include a separate section with an appropriate heading for each activity included in the grade (i.e., Paper 1, Group project, etc.). If the syllabus is lengthy you may want to include a table of contents to help students access the information more easily.
  • Link to more detailed explanations of the criteria for particular projects on an on-line syllabus.
  • Make only a general statement about the project and let the students know how and when they will receive more detailed information about the assignment.

Example

For your final project, you will apply the principles and concepts we have been studying. I will hand out a detailed description of this final project in the third week of the semester. The description will outline the project requirements and the criteria I will use to determine your grade. You will also have access to some past student papers. You can expect to spend from 20 to 30 hours on this project.

- a political science course
 

Teaching Tip: Use rubrics to help standardize your grading, decrease grading time, and provide students with support for creating quality assignments. Rubrics can be used to grade any type of assignment, click here for more information about creating rubrics for a writing assignment.

Construct a course calendar to organize assignments papers, projects, exams and other student work

Example

Class

Topic

Activity

Assessment

1

9/8

Principles - Synapse overview

Lecture & Active Learning

 

2

9/15

Principles - Synthesis, Release, Termination, & Targets

Lecture & Active Learning

Quiz

3

9/22

Targets - Synthesis - DA Neurons & Parkinsons

Lecture & Active Learning

Quiz

4

9/29

IN-CLASS EXAM 1

5

10/6

Targets - Postsynaptic Targets - Ion Channels & Anxiety

Lecture & Active Learning

Quiz

6 10/13

Targets - Presynaptic Targets - GPCR & Pain

Lecture & Active Learning

Quiz

7 10/20

Targets - Release Machinery - ACh Receptors & Bo Tox

Lecture & Active Learning

Quiz

8 10/27

IN- CLASS EXAM 2

9

11/3

Targets - Reuptake and Termination - Transporters & Depression

Lecture & Active Learning

Quiz

10

11/10

Complex Neuromodulation - THC & the endocannabinoid system

Lecture & Active Learning

Quiz

11

11/17

Genetic predisposition to synaptic dysfunction

Lecture & Active Learning

Quiz

12

11/24

Complex neuromodulation - circuit - GPCRs & Addiction

Lecture & Active Learning

Quiz

13

12/1

Student Presentations

Student-led presentations

Presentations

14

12/8

Synthesis & Exam Prep

Review & Active Learning

Team evaluation

 

12/15

FINAL EXAM - December 15, 10:30 - 12:30

 

According to University Senate policy, the course syllabus for every course which enrolls undergraduates shall include the definitions of grades as follows, and shall also include the workload expectations set forth in the Senate Policy Statement on class Hour-Credit Ratio, as follows.

DEFINTIONS OF GRADES

Example

A

Achievement that is outstanding relative to the level necessary to meet course requirements.

B

Achievement that is significantly above the level necessary to meet course requirements.

C

Achievement that meets the course requirements in every respect.

D

Achievement that is worthy of credit even though it fails to meet fully the course requirements.

S

Achievement that is satisfactory, which is equivalent to a C- or better (achievement required for an S is at the discretion of the instructor but may be no lower than equivalent to a C-.)

I

(Incomplete) Assigned at the discretion of the instructor when, due to extraordinary circumstances, e.g., hospitalization, a student is prevented from completing the work of the course on time. Requires a written agreement between instructor and student.

F

-

N

Represents failure (or no credit) and signifies that the work was either (1) completed but at a level of achievement that is not worthy of credit or (2) was not completed and there was no agreement between the instructor and the student that the student would be awarded an I (see also I).

 

WORKLOAD

Student workload expectations per undergraduate credit.

For fall or spring semester, one credit represents, for the average University undergraduate student, three hours of academic work per week (including lectures, laboratories, recitations, discussion groups, field work, study, and so on), averaged over the semester, in order to complete the work of the course to achieve an average grade. One credit equals 42 to 45 hours of work over the course of the semester (1 credit x 3 hours of work per week x 14 or 15 weeks in a semester equals 42 to 45 hours of academic work). Thus, enrollment for 15 credits in a semester represents approximately 45 hours of work per week, on average, over the course of the semester.

- University Administrative Policy

Teaching Tip: Review Your Evaluation Criteria

 

When you have completed your evaluation criteria, ask yourself: Do my evaluation criteria accurately reflect what I consider to be most important about this course? Be certain that there is a clear relationship between your course objectives and the way students are evaluated. Students often complain that they don't see this connection. One frequent lament sounds similar to this: "Professor X said the most important thing she wanted us to get out of this class is to be able to think critically about the material, but our entire grade was based on two multiple choice exams which tested our memory of names, dates, and definitions!"

If you would like help strengthening the relationship between your grading criteria and your course objectives, contact the Center for Educational Innovation.

Stay Connected