What they mean

This page describes the standards that I employ in assigning grades to written work. Specifically, it describes my general attitude towards grades, what letter grades mean, the numerical scale that will be used to compute the final grade, and how the penalty for late papers is calculated.

If you have questions about these standards or if you think they have not been followed accurately in a particular case, please bring your questions or concerns to my attention. It is very important to me that your work is given a fair evaluation and that you see it that way.

To get a sense of how I apply these standards, I recommend reading the page of advice on philosophical writing.

About grades

I am committed to seeing that my students are able to do very high quality work and that high quality work will be recognized. I do not employ a curve and there is nothing competitive about grading in my courses.

Grades apply to papers, not to people. They have no bearing on whether I like or respect you. In particular, they do not measure improvement or hard work. This is because there is no fair way to assess these factors.

Even if there were a way of assessing effort and progress, it would be misleading for grades to reflect these things since one may put a lot of effort into trying to make a bad idea work or produce a very good paper with ease. Trust me, I have done both. So I try to confine myself to offering as honest an evaluation of the work itself as I can.

I understand that it is stressful and unpleasant to have one’s work graded. I don’t particularly enjoy doing it for that very reason. While I think we make far too much of grades, they are a good way of communicating where written work stands on as objective a scale as we can devise. Just bear in mind that this is really all that they involve.

What the letters mean

A papers
These are accurate, elegantly written, and innovative. An A paper adds something original, creative, or imaginative to the problem under discussion. The grade of A is given to papers that are exceptional.
B papers
These are accurate, well written, but less innovative than A papers. This may be because the paper does not attempt to add much or because the attempt made is not fully successful. The grade of B signifies very good work. There are no significant problems with these papers.
C papers
These have problems with accuracy, reasoning, or quality of writing. The grade of C signifies work that has significant problems but is otherwise acceptable.
D papers
These have severe problems with accuracy, reasoning, or the quality of writing. D quality work is not acceptable college-level work.
F papers
The grade of F is given for work that has not been completed, cannot be understood, or has little relevance to the course.


You should see a number on your paper that falls within the range of a given letter grade. Using numbers like this makes it easy to implement a no-fault late policy and to employ some discrimination within grades by giving higher or lower numbers within the range for a given grade.

Final grades will be assigned using the College’s grade scale, as described on p. 38 of the 2006-07 Catalog. The table shows how they will be assigned. The numerical average must be greater than half the distance between two grades in order to earn the higher grade.

The weight given to each assignment is described in the syllabus.

Letter Number Range
A 12 11.5 < A ≤ 12
A- 11 10.5 < A- ≤ 11.5
B+ 10 9.5 < B+ ≤ 10.5
B 9 8.5 < B ≤ 9.5
B- 8 7.5 < B- ≤ 8.5
C+ 7 6.5 < C+ ≤ 7.5
C 6 5.5 < C ≤ 6.5
C- 5 4.5 < C- ≤ 5.5
D+ 4 3.5 < D+ ≤ 4.5
D 3 2.5 < D ≤ 3.5
D- 2 1 < D ≤ 2.5
F 0 0 < F ≤ 1

Late papers

I understand that you can get jammed up with assignments. One way of dealing with this is to give you a lot of time to complete writing assignments; the other is to accept late papers with no questions asked and a mild penalty. (I have to have some incentive to turn them in on time, for obvious reasons).

So, plan ahead and do the assignment well in advance. But if disaster strikes and you’re stuck, turn it in a day late: it won’t kill you.

The penalty is one-half of a point, per day. That includes weekends and holidays. If you want to turn an assignment in on a day when the office is closed, email it to me in order to establish when it was completed. Then turn a paper copy in to the office as soon as you can.

Finally, the penalty stops at C-. I don’t think that the late penalty should make a difference between receiving a grade that indicates your work is acceptable and one that indicates it is unacceptable. That’s a bit of a fudge since there is a sense in which turning in work weeks late really is unacceptable, but grades are crude measuring devices and so require fudges.