Planning for Academic Success: Calculating Grades in College Classes

Family Modules

Module 2 Part 5



Objective: Students will demonstrate understanding of grade configuration for two different classes that have different assignment types and percentages.

This lesson is designed to teach you how to calculate grades for both a points-based grading system and a percentage/weight-based grading system. Percentage/weight-based systems are may be new to you since many high school courses grade only on a 100 point/percentage scale.

Estimated time 45 minutes

Materials included:

Additional materials needed:

Curriculum Link:

This section corresponds with Module 2 Activity 3 in the College Bound Transition curriculum resources.

Learn About It

How to calculate your GPA in college.

Did you know that calculating grades in college will be very different from calculating grades in high school?

Consider this:

  • Calculating your grade in college courses can sometimes seem challenging
  • Each course may have a different configuration of tests and assignments, with each weighted differently in your final grade
  • However, professors usually outline their grading structure in the course syllabus

When faced with columns of numbers, calculating grades can seem like a daunting task. This can be complicated by the fact that each course you will take will likely have a different combination of tests, projects, assignments, etc. and each item or category may be worth a different percentage or point value! However, college instructors generally spell out their grading structure in the course syllabus, so students will know from the first day of class how much each item is worth and how to accurately calculate their final grade or current standing in the class.

  • Some courses may weight assignments by percentage
    For example…
    • Test 1 is worth 40% of your grade
    • Test 2 is worth 40% of your grade
    • Paper 1 is worth 20% of your grade
  • Others may use a points system
    For example…
    • Test 1 is worth 100 points
    • Test 2 is worth 100 points
    • Paper 1 is worth 50 points

    You may encounter professors who weight assignments by either percentage or by points. In both of these examples the total number of points you can earn is 250. So the corresponding assignments actually carry the same weight. (i.e., 100 points out of 250 total points is 40%, 50 points out of 250 points is 20%).

Parents Chime In

  • Think back to your experiences with calculating grades in college and be prepared to share a personal example with your child. You may also share a personal example from a friend or relative. Providing a personal example makes it real for your child.
  • Discuss the differences in college grading systems and high school grading systems. Point out that high schools usually use a 100 point/percentage scale.
  • Emphasize the importance of the professor’s syllabus as the source of grading information.

Points-Based Grading

Points systems are often easier to calculate because the weights are built into the point values. All you have to do is add up the total number of points you’ve earned and divide by the total number of points possible to earn in the class. Then multiply the result by 100 to get the final grade expressed as a percentage. You’re probably familiar with this system because it is used most often in high school. Let’s look at an example:

Assignment Points Possible Points Earned
Test 1 100 75
Test 2 100 90
Paper 1 50 45
Total: 250 210

210 ÷ 250 = .84 .84 x 100 = 84% Final Grade

In this example, the student scored 75/100 on Test 1; 90/100 on Test 2; and 45/50 on Paper 1. This gives her a total of 210 points earned out of a possible 250 points. 210/250 is .84, which is a final grade of 84% in this course.

This video demonstrates how to calculate your grade using the point system. [Transcript]


Percentage/Weight-Based Grading

Percentage‐based grading involves a few more steps to calculate, but still follows the same basic idea. Where it can get a bit more complicated is when assignments aren’t necessarily all graded on the same scale or on a 100‐point scale. If you’re accustomed to seeing grades only on a 100‐point/percentage scale remember that you can’t directly compare grades that aren’t on the same scale. For example, a 50/60 is a actually 2 full letter grades higher than a 50/75, despite both having a raw score of 50.

To calculate the final grade in terms of a percentage/100‐point scale like you’re accustomed to, you need to start by converting the individual assignment grades to a percentage value. Check out this example:

Assignment Points Possible Points Earned Calculations of Grade Earned % Weight Calculations of Weighted Grade
Test 1 40 30 30 ÷ 40 = .75 x 100 = 75 40% 75 x .40 = 30
Test 2 80 72 72 ÷ 80 = .9 x 100 = 90 40% 90 x .40 = 36
Paper 1 10 9 9 ÷ 10 = .9 x 100 = 90 20% 90 x .20 = 18
30 + 36 + 18 = 84
84% Final Grade
  • For each assignment, divide points earned by points possible. Multiply by 100 for each individual assignment grade expressed as a percentage. (This is reflected in the “calculations of grade earned” column of the chart.)
  • Because items are weighted differently, you can’t find the average by simple adding these totals and dividing by the number of assignments. Instead, you need to first multiply each grade by its weighted percentage of the final grade for the course. (See the “calculations of weighted grade” column.) This yields a weighted total of points for each assignment.
  • Now you simply add up all the weighted grades to get the final grade expressed as a percentage/out of 100.

Check out this example of how to calculate an average using a weighted grading scale.


Parents Chime In

Review this example thoroughly with your child to make sure that they understand the steps needed to calculate grades on a percentage/weight-based system. This may be a more difficult task for students who have a disability in math.

Watch Your Weights!

As a new college student beware of falling into the trap of assuming that having a large number of high grades means that you’re doing well in the class – regardless of what those grades are on. Some students will say things like, “I don’t understand why my midterm grade is a D. I made 100 on all of my homework. The only bad grade I have is an F on the first test.”

Keep in mind that:

  • Sometimes, each individual assignment grade will be weighted
  • Other times, the average of a group of assignments will be weighted
  • This may mean that a large number of grades actually have little impact on your final grade

Take a look at this example:

As this example shows, it’s important to understand the weights of each assignment and how they are calculated in order to accurately determine your grade in a class.

Parents Chime In

This can be a difficult concept for your child to grasp. Carefully review the example with them. Point out that there are 37 individual grades in the course: 2 tests, 2 papers, 5 quizzes, and 28 participation/attendance grades. However, only 4 grades (tests 1 & 2 and papers 1 & 2) account for 80% of the student’s final mark in the class. The other 33 grades have a much more negligible impact on the overall grade.

Assignment Points Possible Points Earned Calculations of Grade Earned % Weight Calculations of Weighted Grade
Tests 200 110 110 ÷ 200 = .55 x 100 = 55 50% 55 x .50 = 27.5
Papers 100 45 45 ÷ 100 = .45 x 100 = 45 30% 45 x .30 = 13.5
Quizzes 50 41 41 ÷ 50 = .82 x 100 = 82 10% 32 x .10 = 8.2
Participation 56 54 54 ÷ 56 = .96 x 100 = 96 10% 96 x .10 = 9.6
27.5 + 13.5 + 8.2 + 9.6 = 58.8
59% Final Grade
  • Most (80%) of a student’s final grade in this course is based on grades on the tests and papers
  • Even though there are many more grades in the categories of quizzes and participation/attendance, all of those together are only worth 20%

In this example, strong grades on quizzes and participation/attendance are not enough to balance out low grades on tests and papers. As a result, the student fails the class despite having an A average in the participation/attendance category and a B average in the quiz category.

If all of these areas had been weighted equally (25% each), the student would have earned a 69.5% in the course—assuming the professor had rounded up to 70, that’s the difference between an F and a C‐ at many schools.

This is one of the reasons why knowing how to correctly calculate grades is so important; without constant feedback from instructors like you often have in high school, you’re on your own to figure out where you stand in a course! Mistakenly calculating your standing can potentially lead to prioritizing your studying/assignments poorly or even to getting a huge shock/disappointment when grades are posted.

Tips for Watching Your Weights

  • Pay careful attention to the weights of assignments in calculating your overall grade.
    • For every class, be aware of what graded assignments will be given, when each is due, and how much of your final grade each of these will account for
    • Find this information in your syllabus for each course
    • If it’s not listed, ask your professor
  • Use this information to prioritize and manage your time.
    • Give the most attention to assignments that have the most impact on your grade
    • In the example given on the previous slides, it would be wise to spend more time revising one of the papers in that class, which is worth 15% of your grade. That should take priority over taking one of the online quizzes, which are each worth only 2% of your grade
    • However, it’s worth noting that another aspect of college time management (and an advantage of having a syllabus for each class at the beginning of the semester) is learning to budget your time such that you don’t have to make choices about prioritizing during a “crunch time.”
    • It is not ideal to need to skip or cut corners on any assignment, regardless of its overall value, as the smaller‐value assignments do also add up to make a difference in the end. Even in this example, consistently needing to cut corners on quizzes in order to prioritize other assignments could end up meaning a full letter grade difference in a student’s final grade.

Practice Calculating Grades

  • Using the examples on the worksheet, calculate the final grades for both classes listed.
  • Then discuss the following questions with your parents:
    • What are the main differences between the two classes?
    • Why is it important to keep track of your grades in each class

Click here to view the Grade Calculation Worksheet

Parents Chime In

  • Review the Grade Calculation Worksheet with your child and discuss these questions:
    • What are the main differences between the 2 classes?
    • Why is it important to keep track of your grades in each class?

Objective Check

Have you accomplished today's objective?

Objective: Students will demonstrate understanding of grade configuration for two different classes that have different assignment types and percentages.

If so, congratulations!

If not, review the sections on Points-Based Grading and Percentage/Weight-Based Grading then do some of the extra practice calculations at the links below.

For more information…Digging Deeper