- A = Excellent. The student has been well prepared and demonstrated, during the whole course, an impressive understanding of readings, discussions, themes and ideas. The written work is fluid, clear, analytical, well organized and grammatically polished. Reasoning and logic are well grounded and examples precise. The “A” grade reflects quality work where the student cites outside materials, draws connections between topics from multiple sessions, and generally impresses.
- B = Good. The student demonstrates a clear understanding of the topic. The submitted work and participation demonstrate a thorough and solid understanding of readings, discussions, themes and ideas. Written work is clear, competent, and grammatically polished but is somewhat general, a bit vague, or otherwise lacking in precision. While analytical, writing presents more description than analysis. Arguments are solid but not thoroughly original or polished.
- C = Fair. The student shows limited understanding of the material or has put in a limited amount of effort. The work and participation demonstrate a somewhat fragmented understanding of readings, discussions, themes and ideas. The student demonstrates an acquaintance with readings and ideas, but not intellectual engagement. Written work is choppy and argument somewhat difficult to follow, examples are vague or irrelevant, and ideas are imprecise. Work veers toward underdeveloped ideas, off-topic sources or examples, personal anecdotes, creative writing, memoir, etc.
- D = Unsatisfactory. The student’s work and participation demonstrate little understanding or even acquaintance with readings, discussions, themes and ideas. The written work is choppy, fractured and unclear. Submission has little logical development, and reveals little effort to really engage.
- F = Failure / Unacceptable. Work does not demonstrate understanding of topics, ideas and readings. This is also the grade for work not submitted and plagiarized work.
This article by Ahmed Afzaal – Grading and Its Discontents – is another great explanation of the same general approach:
So I explain: It is not the case that you start out with a perfect score and then “lose” some points because the professor “takes” them “off.” Rather, you start out with zero and must earn all of your points. Moreover, a proactive student would not ask “Why did you take off my points?” but rather “Why was I not able to earn a perfect score?”
Learning is never directly caused by anything that a professor does. It happens as a result of the student’s own activities (reading, thinking, writing, etc.), while the professor can only facilitate that process. Since the responsibility for learning lies with the student, so does the burden of demonstrating that he or she has actually achieved that learning.