Department of History
H. R. Spendelow
Grading System
updated:  22 Nov 2012
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A few words about grades...  We all, students and professors alike, realize that grading is an intuitive and somewhat arbitrary act, especially in history, where few answers are obviously "right" or "wrong."  My promise to you is that the grading standard, however subjective it may be, will be applied uniformly to the whole class, and any grade will be explained (if not altered) upon request.  My usual procedure is to read an answer (essays may be read several times) and then assign it a letter grade intended to convey a message according to the  general standard found in a separate document:  the Grading System Summary.  My responsibility  is to bring to my reading of your work the background/expertise that helps me understand what you're trying to say, but to edit with enough rigor that the non-specialist will understand it too.

 General Notes on Grades: There are several peculiarities about my grading system which should be made explicit. Two relate to the grading of Identifications on exams.  First of all, you cannot earn a perfect A if you leave out the time-frame or the significance of the item.  "Significance" does not mean piling on more data, but means stepping back to analyze the data you have already presented.  Secondly, if you mistake one ID for another (e.g., the equivalent of writing about the Treaty of Portsmouth when asked to identify the Treaty of Nerchinsk), all is not lost; you drop down to around a C and then your answer is judged as if I had in fact asked the question you answered.

Students often assume that they start out in a presumed state of perfection (i.e., with an A) and get points taken off only to the extent that they fall from grace through ambiguity or error. On the contrary, I assume that students start out at the median range of B-/C+ and have to work their way up from there by demonstrating mastery of the data and brilliance of interpretation. Hence, particularly on mid-terms, you may find your grade to be lower than expected.

For papers in particular, be advised that I take very seriously the fulfillment of our scholarly responsibilities in annotation. Inadequate indication of sources will drop even a paper with content at the "A" level down to a "C", while wilful misrepresentation will be grounds for, at the very least, an F for the paper.

 Letter Grades and Numerical Weights: In order to facilitate giving appropriate weights to various grades (e.g., a single ID vs. a 60-point essay, or a paper counting 35% toward your course grade vs. the mid-term exam counting 20%), letter grades are assigned numerical equivalents according to the following table:
blank / no response = 0

For example, combining a grade of C+ for the mid-term essay (78.33 x 60% = 47) with an overall average of, let us say, B+ for the IDs (88.33 x 40% = 35.33 gives a total of 82.33 for the entire exam, which falls in the B- range.  Reversing those grades (i.e., B+ on the essay, an average of C+ for the IDs) gives 84.33, which falls in the B range.

At the level of individual questions, the important grade is the letter grade, but at the level of the entire exam, the significant grade is the numerical total.  For example, totals of 77 and 79 would both register in the C+ range, but the latter would contribute two more points toward the mid-term component of your course average than the former would .  In calculating final grades for the course, the following table applies:

 A 93.334 and above C 73.334 - 76.667
A- 90.000 - 93.333 C- 70.000 - 73.333
B+ 86.668 - 89.999 D+ 66.668 - 69.999
B 83.334 - 86.667 D 63.334 - 66.667
B- 80.000 - 83.333 D- 60.000 - 63.333
C+ 76.668 - 79.999 F 59.999 and below
 Where This All Fits In: Your syllabus tells you the relative weight for each part of the course's requirements. For each component, I try to give as candid an assessment as I can. However, at the end of the semester there is usually some sort of upward adjustment. While I do not believe in grading on a strict curve (i.e., a certain percentage of grades at each level), I do try to make sure that there are a reasonable number of "A"'s for the class. If this means adding some points to the totals, then everyone rises equally.  Markings on Tests and Papers: On your tests, and especially on your papers, you will find a number of editorial markings in my usually hurried and illegible script.  Explanations of some of the most common are listed below. Also, you may find wrong dates or terms X'd out, while important words or phrases will be underlined.  A single vertical line in the margin indicates an important point in your argument, while a double line marks a very good point.

Admittedly, my tendency is to mark mistakes or problem areas more than I mark good parts, so do not get discouraged if the corrections seem excessively negative.  Please feel free to take advantage of office-hours to come and talk about the strengths of your work, along with the areas that could still be improved.  And also, don't hesitate to take advantage of the tutorial services at the Writing Center (Lauinger 217; phone 687-4246).

  On the version I hand out in class, from this point on the left-hand column shows the kinds of marks I'm likely to put on a paper; so far, I haven't gotten around to figuring out how to get a graphic representation of those marks up on the web.

= i.e. [id est, or "that is": you should have given a brief explanation of the term just used]

= e.g. [exempli gratia, or "for example": give an example which illustrates the generalization just made]

= sp. [spelling error; e.g., "emporer".  If you have more than a couple per page, you've got serious problems.]

= awk. [awkwardness in expression]

= ambig. [ambiguous phrase which is open to misinterpretation]

= vague [not enough here in the context of your statement to make the meaning clear]

= ? [date doubtful, "fact" questionable, interpretation difficult to support, etc.]

= ?? [date highly doubtful, "fact" scarcely credible, interpretation virtually impossible to support, etc.]

= ??? [off-the-wall, etc.]

= ?! [silly or ridiculous error]

= not quite... [you've got the right names/terms, but don't have a clear idea of their relationship]

= OK... [technically, this isn't wrong, but seems to miss the point]

= relevance? [Your facts are correct, but how do they relate to the general point you're making?]

= significance? [What conclusion can you draw from these data?]

= evidence? [On what basis do you make this statement?]

= focus? [This paragraph seems to be going in several directions at once and lacks a clear focus.]

= source? [Where did you get this information?  a footnote is needed here...]

= paragraph [You should begin a new paragraph here.]

= paraphrase [rather than quoting directly]

= block quotation [check any of the standard guides  for the proper format]

= passive voice [try to recast the sentence in the active voice]

= vocabulary / (or "word choice" ) [wrong vocabulary item, e.g., confusing "effect" with "affect," etc., or a word with a perhaps unintended nuance]

= brackets indicating that the enclosed words or letters are not necessary

= unnecessary punctuation or letter; e.g., "we see it's influence on..."; Confuscian...

17 = [indicates a footnote that was checked and found to be accurate]

= [indicates the word- or letter-order should be reversed; e.g., "buraeucracy," "to gladly agree"]

= [There's an apparent contradiction between the circled parts.]