More on Grading Scale and Course Policies

Grading Scale

Many assignments and questions on exams will be graded 0–5 (some assignments will be weighed more than others, however). The scale will be very different than what you might be used to. Expect to get scores in the 2–4 range. 60% of the typical grading scale is wasted on failing grades, while only 20% of the scale (80%–100%) decides between adequate and exceptional answers. The expectation here is that most answers will be good or better and that we don't need to waste the scale on work that does not meet this expectation:

Exceptional (see below) 5 (100%) 5 (100%) A+
Superb 4.8 (96%) 4.5+ (90%) A
Excellent 4.6 (92%) 4+ (80%) A–
Very Good 4.4 (88%) 3+ (60%) B+
Good 4.25 (85%) 2.5+ (50%) B
Acceptable to Adequate 4 (80%) 2+ (40%) B–
Barely Adequate 3.5 (70%) 1.5+ (30%) C
Substantially Flawed 3 or lower (60%) 1 or lower (20%) D (1+) or F (0–1)

A consequence of this scale is that, for instance, two excellent assignments (4pts each) and one missing (0) will average 2.7 points (B/B+), while three adequate assignments (2pts each) will earn a B–/C+. The traditional system would give the first student a D+ and makes it nearly impossible to get an A or B+ range grade if you have even one bad or missing assignment (this is why so many professors fudge grades). There is also little reward in this scale for trying to fill space on an exam on an answer you know absolutely nothing about, since the difference between a D and a 0 is little. Of course, if you know just a little, you should write what you do know.

The final consequence of the scale is it lets me reserve the grade of '5' for truly mind-blowing work. A 4.5 is usually the maximum given for a "perfect" assignment, while a 5 is a once or twice a year event. At the end of the semester, the important cutoff between A– and B+ is usually between 3.5 and 4.

(Note that this weird scale doesn't mean that the grades will be higher or lower than typical MIT classes—that is not my intent. I just hope that they are more fair in the end).

Course Policies

These are bureaucratic things that should just be assumed but occasionally are not (i.e. the "terms of service"):

  1. The only excused absences from classes or assignments are those which are requested and approved ahead of time (do not ask the night before if it's a conflict that you've known about for a long time).
  2. Late assignments will be accepted at the instructor's discretion only and generally penalized (usually 1/3–1 letter grade per class). Missed quizzes will not be made up without prior permission (not just notice) or a doctor's note.
  3. If you have a medical condition that affects your performance in class, please tell me now and present a note from the Dean testifying to the condition by the first class of the second week.
  4. If you miss class (for any reason), it is first your responsibility to get the assignments from someone else in class (as soon as possible) and to go over his or her notes about the lecture; only after you have done this should you ask me to discuss the lecture with you.
  5. Ultimate discretion in grading, rules, etc. is reserved for the instructor.