Understanding Your Grade

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Receiving feedback on an essay is often a frustrating experience. It’s hard to deal with all the red ink and focus on learning from our mistakes. In addition, students often disagree with instructors on what constitutes a good grade. An instructor might see a B- as a perfectly respectable mark, whereas the student is satisfied with nothing less than a B+.

To prevent misunderstandings, we’ve tried to describe how most instructors think about each type of grade. These grading criteria should give you some rough idea of whether your instructor’s mark is fair or not.

Common Grading Criteria

The following grade descriptions are commonly used for marking essays at the university level.

A Grade

An A grade is reserved for an outstanding essay that provides genuine insight and a persuasive argument. While complete originality is not required, the writer’s thesis should be complex, nuanced, and compelling. In addition, the essay structure is coherent and logical, the evidence is well-integrated, the analysis is detailed, and the writer is able to deal fairly with possible objections and other points of view. Essays that deserve an A grade require little correction in terms of spelling and grammar, though there is no expectation that the writing is flawless.

B Grade

A B grade is given to a strong essay that has a clear structure and an effective argument. This type of essay does require some more polish and editing, but it has an interesting thesis backed up by a sufficient amount of evidence. A B essay may be a bit rough around the edges (both in terms of content and style), but it successfully accomplishes the main objectives of the assignment.

C Grade

A C grade does not stand for crappy. It stands for competent. A C signifies that your writing meets all the basic requirements. Your work has structure, a decent argument, and an adequate amount of proof. In short, your work has potential. With a bit more work and editing you can turn your competent paper into something really good. To improve, you’ll likely also need to fix quite a lot of writing errors. If you struggle with a persistent error such as comma splices or apostrophe problems, your instructor may not give you anything higher than a C until you deal with the issue.

D Grade

A D grade is given to essays that are deficient and provide barely enough content to merit a passing grade. Such essays also contain a significant number of writing errors and tend to lack at least one of the basic aspects of an essay (a thesis, a coherent argument, sufficient evidence, and good paragraph structure). A D essay often reveals some misunderstanding of the topic or assignment and requires major revision.

F Grade

A failing grade is given to essays that are so illogical, poorly organized, and underdeveloped that the instructor cannot find any justification for passing the assignment. An F suggests that the writing is riddled with errors and that the argument is inadequate or incorrect. Note also that essays that are heavily plagiarized will automatically receive an F.

Grading Abbreviations

Can’t figure out what your instructor’s scribbles mean? Check out our sheet of Grading Abbreviations used by editors and academics.