grading papersBelow I lay out my rationale for how I assign grades. Basically, this is a list of nine specific types of behavior I look for in A and C students.

Performance that exhibits roughly equal behaviors from both lists will likely result in a B, while behaviors below the C level will likely result in a grade of less than C.

You might want to print this page our for your reference.

Ability (Talent):

“A” or outstanding student have special aptitude, motivation, or a combination of both. This talent may include either or both creativity and organizational skills.

“C” or average student vary greatly in aptitude. Some are quite talented but their success is limited by a lack of organizational skills or motivation. Others are motivated but lack special aptitude or creativity.

Attendance (Commitment):

“A” or outstanding student never miss class. Their commitment to the class resembles that of their professor. Attending class is their highest priority.

“C” or average students periodically miss class and/or are often late. They either place other priorities (such as a job) ahead of class or have illness/family problems that limit their success.

Attitude (Dedication):

“A” or outstanding students show initiative. Their desire to excel makes them do more work than is required.

“C” or average students seldom show initiative. They never do more than is required and sometimes do less.

Communications Skills:

“A” or outstanding students write well and speak confidently and clearly. Their communication work is thoughtful, provocative, well-organized, covers all relevant points, and is easy to listen to/read.

“C” or average students do not write or speak particularly well. Their thought processes lack organization and clarity. Their written work is uninspired, and may require a second reading by the professor to comprehend its meaning.


“A” or outstanding students are visibly interested during class and display interest in the subject matter through their comments and questions in class. They have a fire in their eyes and are clearly in college to enlarge their view of the world.

“C” or average students participate in class without enthusiasm, if at all. They show little, if any, interest in the subject matter. In the worst cases, they sometimes put their heads down on their desks, or fall asleep. They are just “marking time” until graduation.


“A” or outstanding students earn the highest scores in the class. They exhibit test-taking skills such as an ability to budget their time and to deal with test anxiety. They often volunteer thoughtful comments and ask interesting questions which indicates a sound understanding of the material.

“C” or average students obtain mediocre or inconsistent scores. They often do not budget their time well on exams and may not deal well with test anxiety. They rarely say much during class discussion and their occasional comments indicate only a superficial understanding of the material.

Note: Performance is a joint function of a student’s native ability and motivation. Punctuality, attendance, attitude, curiosity, effort or time commitment, and preparation all indicate motivation.


“A” or outstanding students are always prepared for class. Their assignments are fully and carefully completed, and handed in on time. They are careful readers. They always respond when called on. Their attention to detail sometimes results in catching flaws in the text or in the teacher’s lecture.

“C” or average students are not always prepared for class. They complete assignments in a careless manner, or hand their assignments in late. They don’t always read the assigned text, or have only read it superficially. This lack of regular preparation often shows in their class participation, or lack thereof.


“A” or outstanding students learn concepts rather than memorize details so they are better able to connect past learning with present material.

“C” or average students memorize details rather than learn concepts. Since they usually cram for tests, they perform relatively better on short quizzes than on more comprehensive tests such as the final exam.

Study Habits (Time Commitment):

“A” or outstanding students maintain a fixed study schedule. They regularly prepare for each class, and often study ahead. They average 3-4 hours of study for every hour in class.

“C” or average students study only under pressure. When no assignment is due, they do not review or study. They average less than 2 hours of study for every hour in class. They tend to cram for exams.

Treat these nine dimensions of behavior as general guidelines for earning these grades, rather than rigid conditions for or guarantees of success. In particular classes, for example, an A student can earn a C while a C student can earn an A. Likewise, an A student may earn an A without satisfying the characteristics of an A student on all nine dimensions. It is very difficult for anyone, no matter how exceptional, to consistently exhibit every quality associated with that of an A student.

On the other hand, the information makes it clear that an A is not reserved for the truly gifted, but is a level that a reasonably bright and motivated student can attain. The path to an A is not vague, but the result of behaviors students can consciously adopt to increase their likelihood of success.

Finally, keep in mind that not all instructors have the same standards. My purpose in explicitly communicating my values and expectations is to help you better understand how your performance will be judged in my class, and to guide you toward your performance goals.

Failing that, this presentation will perhaps dull the shock and dismay of students who fail to take my standards seriously until after the course is over.

Source: Adapted from a handout by Stephen Manning, Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Detroit Mercy. Dr. Manning’s handout was drawn from the Standards, Assessment and Testing Committee, Dr. Paul Solomon, Chair, College of Business, San Jose State University, April 1995. Adapted from John H. Williams, “Clarifying Grade Expectations,” The Teaching Professor, August/September 1993. Reprinted from Paul Solomon & Annette Nellen (SJSU), “Communicating About the Behavioral Dimensions of Grades,” The Teaching Professor, February 1996, pp. 3-4.