Physics 4011 Grades
Individual grades are posted in Canvas.
Any letter grades assigned before the semester is over are merely intended to give you a hint of how you're doing in case of a meteor hit forcing the semester to end early. As the course rolls on the percentage-to-letter grade conversion is likely to change based on how everyone is doing. The weights of the different parts are stated on the syllabus. The lowest homework grade is dropped.
The University's instructions as to what a letter grade means:
A: Represents achievement that is outstanding relative to the level necessary to meet course requirements.
B: Represents achievement that is significantly above the level necessary to meet course requirements.
C: Represents achievement that meets the course requirements in every respect.
D: Represents achievement that is worthy of credit although it fails to fully meet the course requirements.
F: Represents failure.
How do I turn a percent into a letter grade? The standard grade scale you're familiar with: 93%=A, 83%=B, etc. I'm not capable of writing tests such that I can be confident that the difficulty level is neither too easy nor too hard to match this arbitrary traditional scale. Also, I learn more about how well you know the stuff on my tests by asking hard questions, which you are likely not to get all the way right. If you got a bunch of easy questions right, that doesn't tell me if you're “outstanding” vs “significantly above”. So, I have to look at how well people did and come up with a percentage-to-letter conversion, commonly known as a “curve”.
There are two ways I could curve this. The “flat” method takes the highest grade in the course, calls that a “100%”, so 93% of that high score is an A, 83% of it a B, etc.
The second way is to use Gaussian statistics (the old “bell curve”). In this method, a bell curve is fit to the grades. The letter grades are assigned to percentiles based upon the bell curve.
In lower level classes, I then choose grade breakpoints algorithmically, since there are lots of students and statistics works. In upper level classes, I use this as a basis, and try to match the above rubric to the data by hand, since there are fewer students: so statistics are fuzzier, but there are few of you and it’s easier to know how well people are doing.
Note that UMD doesn't allow grades of A+ or D- .
For what it's worth, you already do this outside of the context of school. What if you applied the “standard” percent-to-grade conversion to sports? That'd be pretty tough even for free throw shooters in the NBA (college players would all get “D”s). What about a QB's completion percentage? Baseball hitters would be completely hosed. Poor Ted Williams: he only got a 40% in his best year ever, talk about an awful “F”! He must have been a lousy baseball player: probably was his batting coach's fault for not teaching him how to hit .930.