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Oct 5, 2011
Jennifer Leavey, Ph.D.
Senior Academic Professional, School of Biology
Steven P. Girardot, Ph.D.
Director, Center for Academic Success
Adjusting to Georgia Techâs grading systems is a huge challenge for incoming freshmen. Even upper class students can feel like they are starting all over with each new class and each new professor. Often it can be difficult to determine how a numerical grade corresponds to a letter grade, in part because many faculty may grade âon the curve.â For example, a 50 percent on an exam in one class could be a âBâ while in another it is an âF.â With mid-semester upon us, and progress grades for 1000- and 2000-level courses released, now is a good time to have a conversation with your student about how they are doing academically. If your student is feeling anxious about his/her grades (or even if they are feeling positive!), here are a few questions you can ask your student:
What is the professorâs grading system? Your student should have a course syllabus for each class. Sometimes syllabi are posted on T-Square, Techâs online learning management system. The syllabus will contain a clear explanation of how students will be graded in the course. Be sure your student understands all the different components that make up a course grade. In many core freshman and sophomore classes, the final grade may depend on exams, quizzes, a final exam, homework or other class assignments, and lab report grades (for science courses).
What was the class average? If your student calls home panicking over a low score on an exam, this is a critical question to ask. As a general rule of thumb, if an exam score is around the same as the class average, it is likely a âCâ grade. If the exam score is slightly above average, it may be in the âBâ or âAâ range (depending on how much higher), and if it is lower than the average, it may be in the âDâ or âFâ range. It is important, however, for your student to ask the professor how he or she defines this. If it is not discussed at the time exams scores are released, encourage your student to make an appointment with the professor or attend office hours to get clarification.
What are your other grades (labs, participation, homework, etc.)? For lab-based science courses, lab grades can contribute anywhere up to 25 percent of the final grade. If students do well in lab, it can raise their overall course grade considerably. On the other hand, failing a lab may result in their failing the entire course. In addition to labs, many courses use âclickersâ to monitor course attendance and assess understanding of the material. If students miss class or donât read the material before class, this portion of the grade can be low. Some courses also have online quizzes and homework. If students donât complete this work it can quickly drop their grade. Ask your student how he/she is doing on these other components of the course. In addition, almost every course will have a final exam. Final exams often comprise a significant portion of a final grade (usually between 20-30 percent), and provide an opportunity to improve grades.
Are you attending class? You may not get an honest answer to this question, but it is important to ask. If your student nods or says âyes,â follow up with, âAre you attending EVERY class?â Class attendance is one of the most often-cited predictor of success in a class. However, attendance does not simply mean being in the seat with an iPhone in hand, Facebook running on the laptop, and chatting with neighbors. Be sure your student understands what it means to be engaged in the class session. Remind your student to prepare for class by doing the readings or assignments, pay attention, ask questions, and, if possible, sit near the front of the room where the professor is lecturing (they will pay better attention).
Have you attended your professorâs office hours or used other academic support resources? It is important to remind your student that professors really do want their students to succeed in their courses - really, they do! However, it is difficult for professors to get to know everyone in large, introductory courses. This is when students benefit from office hours and other support services. When students attend office hours they get to know their professors, clarify concepts that may not have been clear during the lecture, and get their questions answered. Professors often make recommendations on effective study habits. In addition to office hours, be sure your student knows about other campus resources, such as tutoring and study groups. Many of these resources are listed on the Center for Academic Successâs website www.success.gatech.edu. There is tutoring for freshman and sophomore level core course offered almost every day of the week!
The final message is that is important for students to take responsibility for their grades and ultimately their own learning. They are in the driverâs seat now and must navigate all of the different resources available to help them succeed on their own.
For more information visit the Center for Academic Success website www.success.gatech.edu.