Home button

English 2000-4000 Grades and Grading Criteria

Find the overall breakdown of your semester grade on the English 2111 syllabus or the English 4900 syllabus. You should track your grades throughout the semester in Brightspace (D2L).

Grades on individual assignments
I assign letter grades with qualifiers—A-, B+, C-, etc.—on most individual assignments and accordingly-scaled numerical grades expressed as fractions on all assignments, with the upper term of the fraction indicating the number of points earned and the denominator the total possible points for the assignment. For instance, a C+ 7.8/10 on an assignment indicates a grade of C+ with 7.8 of the 10 points maximum.

Your semester grade
For the course as a whole, MGA awards only letter grades without qualifiers (pluses or minuses):

A for excellent work, B for good work, C for satisfactory work, D for marginally passing or "below average" work, and F for failing work, or unsatisfactory performance.

Following instructions is crucial. Regardless of the quality of your work in other respects, often the single most important factor in grades on individual assignments is how carefully you follow instructions. It is vitally important that you read all instructions for written assignments with carefully focused attention. Too often low grades reflect a student's not meeting assignment requirements or not doing the work specifically intended on a particular assignment. For instance, say an exam essay's instructions indicate that you are to write about four different literary works' portrayal of heroism and you skim through the instructions and write about heroism in only one work, albeit brilliantly and in depth—the essay would fail because you did not follow instructions. For all assignments, large and small, in class and out of class, your grade will be impacted tremendously by how carefully you follow instructions and meet requirements. Always read instructions with painstaking care, and let me know anytime you are unsure of what you are being asked to do on any assignment.

green marble bar

Grading criteria for "smaller assignments"
By "smaller assignments" I mean all graded work other than formal papers and midterm and final exams.

In grading most smaller assignments, I evaluate your work with two primary criteria in mind: 1) most importantly, the extent to which it meets and follows the assignment's intent by heeding instructions carefully and precisely, and 2) the level of effort indicated by your work.

With most smaller assignments, such as reading quizzes or critical responses, your grade will depend mainly on your careful attention to what the assignment asks you to do and on your level of effort. For many reading quiz questions, for instance, there will be no one "right" answer, and you will get full credit for any answer clearly indicating that you have read the material closely enough to provide a reasonable answer, whether or not yours is the specific answer I had in mind when making the quiz. With critical responses, I do not nit-pick too much on matters of grammar and mechanics but instead focus primarily on how directly and effectively you address the given topic. Persistent or flagrant weaknesses in the writing will affect your grade on critical responses to some extent, but how well you meet assignment requirements and the effort you make in offering sincere and insightful observations on the readings will have the greatest impact on critical response grades.

green marble bar

Grading criteria for midterm and final exams (literature courses only)

"Short answers" (explaining the significance of specific passages

Typically, in the short answer segment of each exam, I consider how well you explain the thematic significance of particular passages—that is, I evaluate how well you demonstrate an understanding of the importance of each passage in conveying the entire work's most important insights on the human condition or in supporting the work's fundamental "messages" or themes. With short answers, I take for granted that you can identify the passage, so in order to score well on short answers, you must go beyond simply indicating that the passage comes from a particular work and is spoken by this or that character.

Your relative success on the short answer portion of each exam often has the largest impact on exam grades overall. Students who a) do the reading initially, b) attend in class discussion and take notes, and c) study by reviewing all the passages emphasized in class, tend to do well on both this portion of the exam and on the essay(s). Those who neglect items a), b), or c) tend to do poorly. You should review these sample short answers as you prepare for any of my literature exams:

Sample short answer questions:

Identify and explain the thematic significance of the passages in 2-4 sentences.  (You will have some choice on an actual exam: as in choosing 6 passages from a possible 8, e.g.)

1. "He finally come into his manhood today, didn't he? Kind of like a rainbow after the rain."

An "F" answer:
This passage comes from A Raisin in the Sun. Here Mama says that Walter has become a man.

This answer would get very little credit, only 1 point out of a possible 5, because it identifies the passage without explaining its actual thematic significance.

An "A" answer:
This passage in A Raisin in the Sun is significant because it summarizes one of the play's central themes, Walter's development into manhood. One of the play's major themes is that being a man is not a matter of making lots of money, as Walter believes initially, but rather, being a man means behaving with self-respect and dignity, setting a good example for one's children, as Walter does when he stands up to Mr. Lindner at the end of the play.

This answer would get full marks, 5/5 points, because it goes beyond identifying the passage and explains how the passage supports one of the play's central thematic concerns, Walter's growth into manhood.

2. "What I mean is—he thinks I'm sort of—prim and proper, you know! [She laughs out sharply.]"

An "F" answer:
This passage is spoken by Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire. She is talking to Stella about how prim and proper Mitch thinks she is. She teases Mitch and leads him on when truly she is not prim and proper at all. She is in fact very promiscuous and even gets fired from her job for sleeping with one of her students.

Simply identifies the passage and explains its context in the play, doesn't explain how the passage is significant in relation to a specifically identified theme because it doesn't indicate what any of the play's central themes actually are. 2/5 points.

An "A" answer:
Here Blanche tells Stella what Mitch thinks of her (Blanche) in Streetcar. The passage is significant because the conflict of illusion vs. reality is one of the play's central concerns: the play presents the theme that lying has a way of coming back to hurt the liar. When Mitch discovers that Blanche is full of crap with her "prim and proper" Southern belle act, her entire world crumbles because she has been counting on Mitch's marrying her.

Great answer, 5/5 pts. credit, because it ties the passage to central thematic concerns of the play directly: Blanche as a Southern belle, illusion vs. reality, and the consequences of lying.

3. "She would of been a good woman," The Misfit said, "if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life."

An "A" answer:
This passage is from Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man Is Hard to Find," and the Misfit is talking about the grandmother after he kills her. The passage is significant because it supports the story's theme of God extending grace in surprising and sometimes violent ways. The Misfit highlights the ironic point that the grandmother, who has been a dingbat throughout the story, actually behaves like a good Christian woman when he is about to kill her. She shows sympathy for her murderer when she reaches out to comfort him just as Jesus would—the implication is that she would have been a truly good woman if she had had such moments of stress all the time, and she behaves in Christlike fashion just as she is about to meet her Maker.

Very effective answer, 5/5 pts. credit since it ties the passage to the story's central-most theme of God extending grace in surprising ways, even to those who don't seem to deserve it.

An "almost D" answer:
The Misfit says this.  I don't remember the story too well, but I think it involves Julio Teheran and Freddie Freeman, and of course, its central theme is that the Atlanta Braves are the baddest freakin' team in baseball.

Not a bad idea, 2/5 pts.: mentioning the Atlanta Braves is always a smart thing to do whether or not you know the correct answer, and so is effective use of the highly underrated word "freakin'."

Exam essays:
I try to be understanding about examination pressure and time constraints with exam essays, but I do still expect essays on exams to be effective in overall focus, structure and development. Typically, I do not expect introductions and conclusions to be so thoroughly developed in exam essays as in formal papers written outside of class, and I tend to be more forgiving with most matters of grammar and mechanics. But by and large I expect your exam essays to meet the most important criteria for formal out-of-class essays outlined below, with the notable difference that I would not typically expect exam essays to include quotations, and I do not impose minimum word counts on exam essays.

green marble bar

Grading criteria for threaded online discussions
The most essential factors in grades for threaded online discussions are how carefully you follow posting instructions and the level of thoughtful, thorough engagement with the readings indicated through your contributions. In online courses, "threaded discussions" are the primary vehicle of instruction, approximating the real-time discussion in a traditional face-to-face class, so it is crucially important that you post and view the postings of others at different points throughout each unit's discussion period. I understand that flexibility in participation is one of the key benefits of an online course, but students learn relatively little when all of their participating in threaded discussions comes in only one session per unit and when they are not diligent in reading the posts of their classmates and instructor. As I explain in the "instruments of evaluation" portion of the syllabus for each online class, "just as students in traditional classrooms cannot simply share their contributions and leave the classroom without hearing and benefitting from what others say in discussion, you should not just contribute your posts to discussions without attending to what everyone else has to say. Students who post only on the last day of any unit will receive no higher grade for that unit's discussion than a B-; students who fail to read at least 75% of classmates' postings each unit will receive no higher grade than C." Note that you can always read the posts of others in the day or two following the close of actual discussion.

green marble bar

Grading criteria for formal essays
Here are the general standards by which I evaluate your formal writing.

Matters of course: the bedrock basics.
In order to receive a passing grade:

blue bullet An essay must first and foremost address a viable topic, meaning that if you are given a specific assignment for the essay, your paper must address the assigned topic squarely, directly, and fully. In the absence of a specific assigned topic, the essay must set up and address a topic genuinely worthy of exploration at the college level. We will deal with this issue later in the semester, but here's one quick illustration: a beautifully written paper proving that Hester Prynne is treated harshly in The Scarlet Letter for her sin of adultery would receive a quick F because the point is too obvious to need elaboration: any reader of the novel would know simply from reading the book that Hester is treated harshly. Each essay should develop a thesis that enlightens your readers: you should present and develop significant argument or analysis that goes beyond simply stating the obvious.

blue bullet Secondly, every essay must meet all specified assignment requirements. For instance, if an assignment stipulates that you must incorporate a personal anecdote from your own life and you do not include one, your essay has no chance of passing however brilliant it may be in other respects. Or if you are asked to incorporate four quotations from our readings and you include only three? No chance to pass.

blue bullet An essay must be adequately developed in order to receive a passing grade. At the very least, all essays must exceed the minimum word count—in the text of the essay itself, excluding the title, header, works cited page, etc. If you are asked to write an essay of 500-750 words, 498 words will get you an automatic F. Be advised that the word minimum means absolute minimum in this class.

blue bullet To pass, an essay must have some apparent structure at the paragraph level: the introductory paragraph should establish the essay's central focus, body paragraphs should explore that focus with distinctly separate main points in separate body paragraphs, and the concluding paragraph should bring the discussion to a satisfying close.

blue bullet The writing must be intelligible standard English, without an excess of "major" errors in grammar—subject-verb agreement problems, sentence fragments, comma splices, fused sentences, pronoun agreement problems, etc. We will discuss "major errors" early in the semester.

The "A" paper: My expectations for "A" work on formal essays are high. It is not unusual early in the semester for me to award A's on fewer than 5% of the papers I grade. The percentage tends to rise as the semester progresses, but often not much beyond the 10-15% range. I believe A essays should be truly exceptional work. Beyond satisfying each of the "bedrock basics" listed above, I expect an A essay to do each of the following:

The "B" paper: Essays in the "B" range generally satisfy most of the requirements for "A" work as outlined above—for me, a "B" essay is very strong work, definitely above average. What usually distinguishes B papers from A papers is one or more of the following: The "C" paper: "C" essays usually present and develop a viable thesis in reasonably convincing fashion, with generally solid writing at the local level of grammar, mechanics, diction, and convention. A "C" paper is usually acceptable work in the main, with one or more of the following weaknesses: The "D" paper: Essays in the "D" range are only marginally acceptable. They usually have significant and troubling weaknesses in one or more of the following areas: The "F" paper: An "F" indicates clearly unacceptable work. Most often I assign "F's" on essays that fail to satisfy all of the "bedrock basics" listed above: in viability of topic or overall focus, meeting assignment requirements, adequate development, minimally effective paragraph structure, or minimally acceptable grammar and mechanics. Additionally, the following can be grounds for failure: