The way a grade is assigned in a course influences the way students study which in turn influences their gain from the course.

I want to focus on ways to assign grades which aim to eventually increase the students' gain from the course (in contrast with grade assignment methods which try to single out the most talented students).

I'll start with the questions:

  1. What are such grade assignment methods?
  2. Are there texts/papers/other resources discussing this subject?

An answer should address issues such as: memorization vs. creativity, the temptation to get help from external sources while doing homework, spoonfeeding vs. self-learning, etc.

I will now give my own example of grade assignment components:

  1. Excercises which are graded regularly throught the semester
  2. Exercises for self-learning with a solutions manual provided
  3. Quizes during the semester
  4. Strictly technical questions in quizes/exams
  5. Questions in quizes/exams which mostly require to repeat what was taught in class
  6. Questions in quizes/exams which require some creativity
  7. Student presentations
  8. Practical assignments (programming/labs)
  9. Interviews (oral exams)

I believe all of the above may have a place in some courses with the specificed goal in mind and would like to get new ideas for grading components, for how to combine them, and to know whether any written work exists which tries to answer this question.

I am thinking mostly of courses aimed towards math and CS students and mostly about senior undergraduates, but I do not want to limit the question to these subjects and this level of students.

  • 1
    Perhaps the best way is not to assign grades at all to prevent substitution of intrinsic motivation by extrinsic motivation. Providing feedback is still essential. Alas, usually this is not an option.
    – Boris Bukh
    Jul 3, 2012 at 14:43

3 Answers 3


As a recent graduate in CS I can only provide my experience with grade assignment methods I came across during my studies.

I think the worst method is to let the grade solely depend on one exam at the end of the semester. The students will most likely put no effort in learning for this exam during the semester and will instead invest a couple of days before the exam to repeat the lecture's content.

The most promising method I came across was using (bi-)weekly assignments out of which the student had to reach at least 50% of the points. This way, they have to focus on the topic in order to solve the assignments to be able to take part in the exam.

In addition to this method, some lecturers awarded students with more than 80% of the overall points a bonus in the exam, i.e. they will obtain (let's say) 10 points bonus within the exam. I for myself think this really motivated me to invest time into the assignments and consequently into the lecture content.

Finally, there was one lecture where students could pose questions with possible answers in an online learning platform. The other students could use these questions (after review by an assistant or professor) to learn for the final exam. Students posing very good questions gained a bonus for the exam, similar to the above approach.

  • Posing questions as a grade component is a new and interesting idea for me.
    – user302099
    Jul 2, 2012 at 16:21

A good place to begin research on grading methods is under such topics as "formative assessment", "educational assessment/evaluation" and more general headings would be "evaluation" and "educational measurement". From memory, there have been favorable results from formative assessments given periodically throughout a course session. Such tests or quizzes help provide numerous chances for students to demonstrate their learning, as well as giving themselves feedback on how well they are or are not progressing. Finding out early that the subject is beyond them is always helpful, as is giving the more capable opportunities to improve over time. There is little merit in giving single, end of course exams or projects, assuming that you value students' opinions and their mastery of the course objectives.

Note that there are a variety of alternatives to "tests" these days, many of which can provide students with the chance to show their learning way beyond the mastery of the facts.


I've used several Pedagogical Patterns in my courses, namely Grade it again, Sam that is part of Some Pedagogical Patterns. They're oriented towards computer-science curriculum, but could be adapted to other areas.

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