I have seen a grading policy for a course with two midterms. Under this policy, if a student scores better in the second midterm than in the first one, the first test will be "forgiven" and the weight shifts to the second one. For example, if midterm 1 and are 15% each and a student got 60 for midterm 1 and 80 for midterm 2, then the weigh of the two exams become 0% and 30%. I can see the good side of the policy is to encourage students making progress. But I worry that this will cause students complain about unfairness, particularly those who can't take advantage of this policy.

Any thoughts would be appreciated.

  • Imo if you use such a policy (a) You should assign final grade based on absolute scale not relative scale(i.e. on a curve). (b) The difficulty of the exams should get harder and harder.(e.g. Final>Midterm 2> Midterm 1 in terms of difficulty)
    – user22080
    Dec 10, 2015 at 21:47
  • 1
    I have not used this grading system. But the idea is not uncommon. In some sense it's a twist on dropping a grade of some type (e.g., which is built into a management system like Blackboard by default). Dec 10, 2015 at 22:16
  • I've seen a similar system for homework assignments – i.e., only the best five out of six homework assignments are counted. I would lean towards weighting the grades towards the better exam (i.e. 12.5% and 17.5%) rather than completely discounting the worse one.
    – Moriarty
    Dec 10, 2015 at 22:16
  • This system, or variations of it, is common in my experience. For example some professors have a rule that the students grade in the course will never be lower than their final exam grade, although not all those professors announce that policy at the beginning of the semester. Dec 11, 2015 at 1:54
  • If every student is graded in the same way, how can they complain about unfairness?
    – user9646
    Dec 11, 2015 at 12:39

3 Answers 3


The version we use in my calculus class says that we drop the lowest score out of homeworks and midterms. There are 4 midterms, worth 15% each, and the homeworks are worth a total of 15%. The rest is decided by the final. When calculating the final grade, we drop the lowest score out of the midterms and homeworks, and calculate the grade as if each is worth 75/4 % instead.

Some students (the ones who read the syllabus) that have good scores on the first three tests and the homeworks elect to not take the fourth test. Other (less wise) students put all their faith in tests and don't do any homeworks. Most students still do all the homeworks and take all tests.

We think of it as a way to allow the students to have one bad day, without destroying their grade in the course.


Some degree of "forgiveness" is not only humane, but consistent with the purported goal of kids' learning things by the time the course is over, not necessarily on the schedule (a pure artifact) of the syllabus.

One skewing is that presumably the course "builds", so that later exams presume competency in earlier... so a good early score is not at all a substitute for a good later score.

Keeping the latter in mind: in all my teaching, a good later score trumps a bad earlier one, period. Sure, it's not a good thing that people messed up earlier, but if the real goal/issue is acquisition of certain ideas, why do we care what schedule they're on?

At the same time, yes, most assuredly, a too-generous-sounding description of grading system will "confuse" many people, certainly undergrads, and often beginning grad students who've spent the previous four years (not to mention high school) figuring out how to avoid being pwned by The System... as opposed to believing (which is not at all true...) that the system has benign interest in them.

That is, even if not discussed too fully with students... who will often seriously/fatally misunderstand ... think of the genuine goals, namely, imparting some knowledge by the end of the term. That is, adherence to schedule of acquisition is really not essential, though it'd be handy.

All of this changes, of course, if by mischance the true purpose of the class is "filter/weeder", in which case one might contemplate issues unrelated to the course content, or even course structure. That is, if the filter might be to reward "steadiness" (not a bad thing at all!), then don't give a break to people who aren't "steady".

(Sure, there's hubris aplenty in figuring out or caring to speculate what the true purpose of most math courses might be...)


Here's one fair variation:

If a student scores greater than a 90 on Mid1 they can elect to take Mid2 or not and if taken can only make grade go up. Regardless, both will be greatest grade * 2.

If a student bombs the first (60). They must take the second. Grades become greatest of the two * 2.

I think that's fair without getting too mathematical.

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