What is the GPA Scale?
You’ve probably heard the term, GPA or Grade Point Average, and discovered how important it is during high school, college, and your early career.
A person’s GPA can affect what colleges are likely to accept him or her. It can also open or close doors to what graduate or advanced degree programs might be available. An individual’s GPA can affect the availability of grants or scholarships for financial aid. Finally, job opportunities can be dependent on a person’s GPA.
GPA’s are actually calculations, based on a person’s letter grade. For example, the letter grade of an “A” has a number value. Likewise, calculating a letter grade is usually done by looking at a particular percentage.
These three factors, together, make up the GPA scale.
Let’s take a closer look.
Percentages to Letter Grades to Grade Points and Back Again
Calculating your percentage
Most of us are familiar with “letter grades.” Since early childhood, we’ve most likely received grades on our report cards that are based on the letter grade system. We know, for example, that an “A” is great! An “F,” not so much.
But, what’s the breakdown of a letter grade, as it relates to the GPA scale in particular?
Basically, to calculate a letter grade, your teacher figured out your class percentage grade, and converted that to a letter grade.
Let’s say you’ve taken the following class, and you have 10 grades for the final report card. We’ll look at how many points you received, how many were available, what your percentage grade was, and how that translates to a letter grade.
|Assignment||Points Earned||Points Available|
As we see, you earned 340 points out of 380 available. Let’s first figure out your percentage, in other words, what percentage of the total points you earned.
We take the total points earned (340), and divide them by the total points available (380).
340 ÷ 380 = 0.89
To convert that to a percentage, we move the decimal point to the right two spaces, giving us a percentage grade of 89%.
Figuring out your letter grade
Now, we take that percentage, and convert it into a letter grade. Here is a typical conversion table:
(NOTE - not all schools or teachers use this exact scale, but this is pretty standard)
So, in this example, with a grade percentage of 89%, that translates or converts to a “B+.”
Let’s now figure out how those letter grades get converted into a GPA.
Converting your letter grade to a grade point average (GPA)
As a reminder, your GPA is a number that colleges and universities look at to determine if you’re eligible to attend. The higher your GPA, the better. If you take classes that are particularly difficult, Advanced Placement (AP), or Honors coursework that’s even better. (We’ll talk about AP and Honors classes and how they affect your GPA, in just a bit).
To figure out your GPA, we have to look at the GPA Scale, which changes your letter grade into a point system. Here’s a typical scale, for regular (not AP or Honors coursework) at the high school or college level.
|Letter Grade||Percentage||Grade Points|
For AP and Honors classes, these are calculated with an “A” being worth 5 points (instead of 4); a “B” is worth 4 points, a “C” is worth 3 points, and so on.
In our example, an 89% grade converts to a “B+” letter grade; what does that do for your GPA? As the above table shows, a “B+” is worth 3.3 points on the GPA Scale. Not too bad!
To figure out your overall GPA at the high school level (college is a little different—we’ll take a look at that in a second), you convert your class letter grades to grade points using a GPA Scale. Then you add all of your classes up, and average them. Confused?
Let’s do a quick example to make some sense out of it. Let’s say during your first semester of senior year in high school you had these grades, and GPA scale values.
|Class||Letter Grade||Grade Points|
First, let’s add up all the GPA Scale points: 4.0 + 3.0 + 3.0 + 4.0 + 4.0 = 18.
Now, we average that sum by dividing the total by how many classes you took, or “5”:
18 ÷ 5 = 3.6
Your average for that semester is a 3.6 GPA. To figure out your cumulative GPA, or high school career GPA, we simply add up all your semester GPAs, divide them by how many semesters completed, and get your average GPA. Here’s a quick look at that:
|Semester 1 (Fall)||3.1c|
|Semester 2 (Spring)||3.5|
|Semester 3 (Fall)||3.6|
|Semester 4 (Spring)||3.8|
|Semester 5 (Fall)||3.5|
|Semester 6 (Spring)||3.8|
|Semester 7 (Fall)||3.6|
Now, we divide that total by the number of semesters (7) to get your cumulative GPA:
24.8 ÷ 7 = 3.4
The result? A 3.4 GPA. Pretty easy, right? But, if you want to skip the calculations altogether, head on over to our wonderful high school GPA calculator which will perform the same math but behind the scenes, letting you focus on getting those grades where you want them.
How AP and Honors Classes Affect GPA
As mentioned above, if you take an AP or Honors class, your “A” is converted to a 5.0, instead of a 4.0.
So, when you take an AP or Honors class, your GPA scale for that class is higher than for a regular class. This will increase your GPA, almost automatically—so, it’s a great idea to take AP and Honors classes whenever you can.
Let’s look at a quick example of this. Let’s say you took two honors classes this semester:
|Class||Letter Grade||Grade Points|
|Art & Design 1||A||4.0|
Summing up the grade points (19) and dividing by the number of classes (5) yields:
19 ÷ 5 = 3.8
A 3.8 GPA is very good! See how the 5.0 scale for the Honors and AP classes increased the GPA to an “A-” range, even though you earned 3 “B” grades? If you're taking Honors or AP classes and want to see what your current weighted class grades are, try our weighted grade calculator which lets you select different weights for each of your high school class assignments.
How to Calculate College GPA
We won’t get into too much detail, but let’s quickly look at college GPAs, because they’re calculated a little differently.
Each college class has a certain number of credit usually 3, but they can sometimes be 4–5 if the class is particularly difficult, or requires extra time, like lab work.
The credit hours are multiplied by the course grade point, and then divided accordingly. Let’s take a look at an example college semester to help understand it better.
|Class||Letter Grade||Grade Points||Credit Hours||Total Points|
For each course we multiply the grade points received by the course's credit hours to determine the total points awarded. Finally, we divide the total points by total credit hours to get the semester grade point average, like so:
43 ÷ 13 = 3.3
Not too shabby! A 3.3 GPA, when converted back into a letter grade, is a solid “B+.” Could use a little work, but impressive nonetheless. Again, this is just an example to demonstrate the underlying how of college GPA calculation; if you're interested in calculating your own college GPA, check out our easy to use college GPA calculator which will handle all of the math for you, no questions asked.
So, Why Do You Need to Know This?
This might seem kind of like Algebra! You might be saying to yourself, “When am I ever going to need to know how to convert my GPA to a letter grade, or understand a college grading scale.”
Well, believe it or not, you WILL need Algebra in your life (at least figuring for “x”)! And, it does help to know this information.
For example, let’s say that you are shooting for a 3.8 GPA, but your professors don’t hand back assignments on that grading scale. You won’t, for instance, get a final exam back with a score of “3.8 GPA.” So, you need to know how your percentage grade will affect your GPA.
If you get a test back that has a percentage grade of 94%, you can safely assume that you just earned an “A.” But, how is that calculated in relation to your GPA on your final grade?
As we learned above, a 94% is a 4.0 GPA, and a solid “A.” So, if you are shooting for a cumulative GPA of 3.8, your 94% will work its magic and help you out.
If, however, your grade for that final is an 89%, which translates to a “B+” or 3.3-3.6 GPA, you can see how that will fall short of your 3.8 GPA goal.
Your GPA Scale and You
Knowing how your grades are converted from a percentage to a letter grade, and then into your GPA can really help you plan your future to meet your needs and goals. Knowing how each individual class grade is either going to help or hurt you can make a big difference. It might, for example, help you understand that you need to study for a particular final much more than another in a different class.
Remember, colleges, universities, scholarship committees and future employers are looking at your GPA as an indicator of how good a student you are. Aim high!