What's in a Grade?

    We all know, and have been told over and over, to keep our grades up. Good grades are, of course, important. But how do you get your grades up, and keep them there, so you have a good GPA, or Grade Point Average?

    If you’re getting a low grade, is it even worth it to try to increase your grade? Yes! And, we will take you through just how to do that, step by step. Just looking to calculate your GPA? Check out our easy to use GPA calculator; simply enter your classes and grades and get a full report on your academic progress.

    How are Grades Calculated?

    Every teacher or instructor has a different way of calculating grades. So, the first rule here is: know how every class is calculating grades!

    Let’s take a look at two different courses, and how the instructor is calculating the grade for each.

    Psychology 101 Composition 101
    Homework 25% Homework 10%
    Quizzes 25% Quizzes 15%
    Unit Tests 10% Unit Tests 25%
    Final Exam 40% Final Exam 50%

    In each of the above classes, certain “weights” are placed on different aspects of your grade. For example, in Psychology 101, the final exam is “weighted” to be 40% of your grade. In Composition 101, the final is “weighted” to be 50% of your grade.

    So, of the two classes, which one is putting more emphasis on your final exam?

    Right—Composition 101, because the final is worth a bigger part of your class grade than any other single assignment.

    But, that’s not the end of the story—let’s dig a little deeper.

    As we can see from above, each course has homework, quizzes, unit tests and a final exam. Now, let’s see how those can differ from class to class, too. Below is a breakdown of the individual aspects of each class, with the number of quizzes, assignments, etc.

    Psychology 101 Composition 101
    Homework 32 Assignments Homework 16 Assignments
    Quizzes 10 Quizzes Quizzes 10 Quizzes
    Unit Tests 10 Tests Unit Tests 10 Tests
    Final Exam 1 Final Exam 1

    Take a look at the main difference between these two courses. They each have 10 quizzes, 10 tests and 1 final exam. But, as you can see, Psychology 101 has twice as many homework assignments than Composition 101.

    When it comes time for your teacher to calculate your grade, he or she is going to add up all the grades you received for each part of your total grade. Every single homework assignment, every quiz, test and the final exam. Then, he or she is going to calculate your letter grade from there.

    In each of the class examples, the final has quite a bit of importance to it. If you keep your grades up throughout the class, you have a little bit of a buffer for that final exam. For example, if you haven’t been doing your homework, or studying for quizzes or tests, you start at a real disadvantage.

    Let’s say you are averaging a “C” grade, up until you are taking the final exam. Even if you get a perfect 100% grade on the final exam, you would only earn a “B.” More realistically, you wouldn’t be able to get out of “C” range, unless there’s a lot of extra credit you can take advantage of.

    If, on the other hand, you’ve been taking every assignment seriously, and going into the final you have a 95% average, you only need an 85% on the final to maintain your “A” grade. Note, if you're curious how to convert between letter grades and percentages, see our handy GPA scale which provides an easy to use chart for converting between letter grades, percentage grades and GPAs on a 4-point scale.

    How to Calculate Your Grade

    Let’s figure out how you did in Composition 101

    Homework: to keep it simple, let’s just say you got 10/10 points for each assignment you turned in, but you skipped one assignment, and only turned in 15. You received 150 points for your homework.

    Quizzes: You took all 10 quizzes, and received an 100% on them all for 10/10 points on each quiz. You earned 100 points for the quizzes.

    Tests: Again, to keep it simple, let’s say you earned 9/10 on each of the 10 tests you took. So, you received 90 points for the tests.

    Final: You did a great job on the final, and earned 95 points out of 100.

    Here’s a summary of what the teacher will use to calculate your grade, showing points you received for each part of your grade:

    Assessment Grade Points
    Homework 150 points
    Quizzes 100 points
    Unit Tests 90 points
    Final Exam 95 points
    Total 435 Points (out of 450)

    Now the teacher has to figure out your grade, based on how he or she has weighted each aspect of your grade. Remember at the beginning of this section when we talked about what percent each part of your grade is worth?

    Here’s how Composition 101 is weighted, with your total points for each part, multiplied by the percent each part is worth, showing your final tally.

    Assessment Grade Points Weight Total
    Homework 150 points 10% 15 (out of 16 possible)
    Quizzes 100 points 15% 15 (out of 15 possible)
    Unit Tests 90 points 25% 22.5 (out of 25 possible)
    Final Exam 95 points 50% 47.5 (out of 50 possible)
    Total 100 (out of 106 possible)

    Now, the instructor will calculate your total percentage, by dividing your total weighted points earned by total weighted points possible:

    100 ÷ 106 = 0.94 (rounded to two decimal places).

    In grade percentages, that’s a 94% for an “A.” Great job!

    How to calculate what you need on the final exam

    We talked about this briefly, above—but, let’s look at a few examples of how to get the grade you want, based on what you’ve earned so far. For this example, let’s assume that the final is worth 50% of your grade.

    We are also going to assume that you are shooting for a final “A” grade, right?

    Ok, so let’s look at some examples of grades so far, and what you need to get on the final to get your “A.”

    Example Final Grade Needed for an “A” (at least 93%)
    73% (“C”) 113%
    83% (“B”) 103%
    93% (“A”) 93%

    This can, as you see, get a little complicated. But fear not, if you're trying to calculate what grade you'll need on your final exam use our simple final grade calculator; just enter your current class grade, desired final grade and the weight of your final exam and voilà, it outputs what you'll need to score on the final!

    How to Raise a Low Grade

    As we’ve mentioned, it’s important to keep your grades as high as possible, throughout the course, and not just wait until the end as the final exam is looming.

    However, if your grade is lower than you would like it to be, there are some basic things you can do to increase your grade. Keep in mind, there are no shortcuts. To raise your grade will require hard work, but it’s worth it, especially as you try to keep your overall GPA up, too.

    Talk with your teacher. Ask him or her what you need to do to increase your grade. You're not asking the teacher to raise your grade. That’s your job, but your teacher can give you some ideas on what you need to do. He or she may even be willing to assign make-up work, or extra-credit assignments.

    Do extra credit assignments. If there are already any extra credit options available, do them all. Any time extra points are available, make sure take advantage of them.

    Participate in class. Some teachers give points for participation and/or attendance. It’s always important to attend class, every time, and when you’re there, raise your hand, and participate in the discussions. Even if there aren’t points available, your teacher will take note and see that you’re trying hard. When you ask for help in raising your grade, they may be more willing to work with you if you’ve been showing real effort.

    Study with friends. If there’s already a study group, join it. If there isn’t, start one. Chances are you’re not the only one having a tough time in the class, and taking things through with other students can really help.

    Work with a tutor. Take advantage of any tutoring or study assistance that might be available from the school. Maybe there’s a free study session after school, or tutoring available in the library. Talk to your teacher or the school librarian about what might help you.

    By following the above tips, you can avoid low grades in the first place. Attend class. Every day. Participate. Do your homework. Study for quizzes and tests. Study for the final. Talk with your teacher. Ask for help. These are all basic skills that will help you with your grades in any class that you take.

    If you pay attention to each class grade, you can make sure that your overall GPA stays high, too.

    How Grades Affect Your GPA (Grade Point Average)

    Your cumulative GPA is used as a benchmark for academic performance across your entire high school or college career. It's a combined average of all classes across all semesters, with the most granular unit begin the class grade. If you're interested in digging deeper check out our detailed guide and cumulative GPA calculator.

    Cumulative GPA is an important tool that colleges, universities, scholarship committees and future employers use to gauge how serious you are about your studies. Having a high GPA opens doors for you, and gives you more options for future education or even employment. Financial aid and/or scholarships are often based, at least in part, on your GPA, so it’s important to keep your GPA as high as you possibly can. And to do so, you'll need to perform well in your studies.

    Calculating cumulative GPA is another story, but, to help make it easier, we've put together some easy to use calculators that will do the heavy lifting. If you're currently in high school, check out our high school GPA calculator, and for those in college, use our college GPA calculator.

    But, how exactly do class grades factor into your GPA? Does it really matter if you get a low grade in a class, if all your other grades are high? Unfortunately, yes. Just one class can drag down your GPA. Let’s take a quick look at how this might work. Here’s a sample schedule, and corresponding grades:

    Course Grade
    English 3 75%
    Algebra 2 100%
    US History 90%
    Biology 2 70%
    Average Grade 80% (total % points 320 divided by 4 classes)

    An 80% average grade translates to a 3.0 GPA—or, straight “B” average. That’s “OK,” but certainly you can probably do better.

    Which class or classes are dragging you down? What kind of GPA do you want?

    Algebra 2 and Biology 2 are slowing you down a bit, as you’re just getting “Cs.” What can you do to increase your grade? First, be honest with yourself. Are you trying as hard as you really can? Don’t make excuses. Your grade is your responsibility, so figure out what you can do to increase your grades in these two classes. (Hint: see the tips above).

    If you want to get a GPA of 3.5 (or 85%), you can focus on those two classes where you clearly need a little extra help, and you can get your grades in the other classes even higher. Every little bit helps.

    Let’s say you worked a lot harder in Algebra and Biology, and also upped your grade in English 3. Here are your new grades, going into the final:

    Course Grade
    English 3 90%
    Algebra 2 80%
    US History 90%
    Biology 2 85%
    Average Grade 86.25% (total % points 320 divided by 4 classes)

    Congratulations! You did it! You're now in solid “B” territory. To maintain that average, do well on each class final, and you’ve increased your GPA to a very respectable level.

    The key is to not give up. Work hard the entire year, and communicate with your teacher if you are having any problems. Most will work with you and help you out. If one or more classes are dragging you down, keep at it, and look at how your other classes can help raise your overall GPA, too.

    Final Thoughts

    The good news is that you can control, to a great extent, what your grades are. Most of the time there is help available, and if you focus on your studies, you should be able to keep your grades high, and your GPA in a respectable range to be considered by the best employers, colleges and scholarship committees.

    Hard work pays off—go for it!

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