The UVic Writer's Guide

Grades—Or, Why Did I Get That B-?

What A Grade Means

The University of Victoria uses a nine point grading system divided into first class (A+, A, A-), second class (B+, B, B-), pass (C+, C, D) and fail (E, F). The Department of English offers these guidelines to its instructors on the meaning of the grades that are assigned:

First Class ("A" range)
Given for excellence in style and content, with evidence of perceptiveness and originality; ideas are formulated clearly and understood fully by the writer; the first class paper demonstrates a superior performance in most areas of expression and content.

Second Class ("B" range)

Given for good work, which may be flawed by omissions or by minor weaknesses of style or organization; often the paper tends toward vagueness or formlessness, as if the ideas are not quite clear in the writer's mind; often, too, it may contain a limited number or range of ideas, as if the writer has some general knowledge of the subject, but has not thought the material through; although papers in the upper range may suggest superior work, the second class essay remains a good, solid, but not spectacular performance.

Pass ("C" range and "D")

Given for satisfactory writing which contains errors in content, style, and organization; ideas are pedestrian and suggest no firm grasp of the material; sentences and ideas are dull and repetitive; "C" papers (C+ and C; there is no C- grade) are in no danger of failing, but have little hint of anything more than an average performance. "D" papers are on the borderline; they suggest incompetence in content and style; organization and substantiation are probably deficient, and the writing shows difficulty in dealing with written language; there may be some redeeming factors, but the result suggests failure rather than a passing grade.

Fail ("E" and "F")

Given for unsatisfactory performance; mechanical errors seriously inhibit understanding; any points made tend to be superficial; there is no sense of audience, of paragraphing, of making an argument, or of understanding the material. An "E" paper may suggest possibilities for improvement (and may qualify for a supplemental examination), but both failing papers clearly demonstrate incompetence.

Here is another comment, specifically on the kind of paper that earns a respectable but unspectacular grade, a B-:

The common B- paper will have nothing really bad, nothing really good. There will be a thesis, but it will probably be obvious, almost a truism; there will be paragraphs, but they will be short, and there will be only a few details of support for generalizations; there will be a conscious attempt at organization, but it will again be obvious (this is my introductory passage. . . here comes the conclusion. . .); sentences will be accurate but short, and will tend to be monotonous; there will be a few comma errors (one where there should be two) but probably no run-on sentences; vocabulary will be unadventurous.

Then there is the less common, more frustrating B-. There will be ideas, and signs of an active intelligence, but there will be more serious problems of expression: syntax in particular will be unbalanced or contorted, with awkward parallel constructions, problems of agreement, and dangling modifiers; there may be more spelling errors, often of less common words (though this is the kind of paper where you get the its/it's confusion).

Grading is more complicated than summaries such as this can show; if you do not understand why you were given a particular grade, you should first of all read over the essay carefully, deciphering the instructor's comments. Then, if the reason is still not clear, you should consult the instructor directly.

There are many reasons why you may not be performing as well as you expect. Statistics show that students coming to university from high school will on the whole earn grades almost one grade point lower than they are used to; those transferring from colleges may expect to perform about half a grade lower. Essays at the university level inevitably require more intellectual effort, and the result of dealing with more complex ideas is that sometimes the sentences and paragraphs you are used to using are no longer adequate.< p> The purpose of this manual is to give you the tools to improve your performance, not only in English courses, but in all courses that require thinking, organizing, and writing. There are not many at the University that do not.

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Copyright, Department of English, The University of Victoria, 1995
This page updated Sept. 24, 1995