Search for...

The Grading System in U.S. Colleges

by Marcus Paine, Demand Media

    The United States educational system does not use the traditional percentage point system followed in many other countries. A letter-grade system and grade point average are used in America for determining academic performance. The letter-grading systems are usually on a four-point scale with undergraduates requiring at least a C average and graduates requiring not less than a B.

    History

    The grading system in the United States might seem like it has been in existence forever, but it was only in the early 1900s when the letter system was tested by different schools and colleges. Between 1911 and 1960, schools and colleges experimented with using letters to grade students. During the 1930s, most schools and colleges switched over to letter grades from the percentage system. Over time, letter grades have become an integral part of the student-performance evaluation system in United States universities and colleges.

    Basics

    Most of the colleges and universities in America use the letters A, B, C, D and F. Letter A stands for exceptional or outstanding performance, and its percentage conversion is 94 percent and above. Letter B means good performance, and its percentage equivalent is from 80 percent to 93.9 percent. Letter C stands for average performance and a D for poor performance. An F means failure in passing the course. Some schools add plus and minus signs to reflect a grading subtleties.

    Record Translations

    Many colleges and universities outside of the U.S. are familiar with the letter-grading system, and some of them have also implemented it in their grading policies. Schools that do not use letter grades use academic transcripts to judge a student's overall performance. In converting a student's grades into the letter-based grading system, foreign colleges take the student's percentage grade, judge the student's performance in comparison to other students and allot the student a translated grade. Some colleges skip the comparisons and allot a letter grade directly equivalent to the percentage points.

    Passing Standards

    In United States colleges' grade-point-average system, an A is worth four points, a B is worth three points, a C is two points, a D is one point and F is zero. Undergraduates and graduate students need to have a minimum of a 2.0 GPA and a 3.0 GPA, respectively. However, some schools establish a 2.75 GPA as a pass standard for graduate programs. For doctoral or research degrees, most colleges give more importance to the final thesis of the student than to letter grades or GPA. But that doesn't mean that a student with low grades can qualify for the doctoral degree solely on the basis of a final dissertation.

    Style Your World With Color

    About the Author

    Marcus Paine started writing in 2002 and has worked with some popular publishing houses in Gloucestershire like Edward Elgar Publishing and Nelson Thornes. His work, "Exploring Cheltenham" was featured in Elgar Publishing's weekly newsletters. Paine earned a Bachelor of Arts in journalism and a Master of Arts in mass communication from the University of Gloucestershire and London Metropolitan University, respectively.

    Photo Credits

    • Jupiterimages/BananaStock/Getty Images

    Watch An Education Video!