How to use your syllabus to calculate your final gradeOffbeat

End of the semester is drawing to a quick close. All around campus I see people tight with stress, sleeping in the stairwells, even sleeping in class. Often, time management issues is what causes stress and waiting until the last minute to complete projects. Often, it is at the end of the semester professors pile on all the difficult assignments (why do they do this?).

If you have read my list of 11 things professors wished students knew before finals, you would remember two things that made the list: 1. read the syllabus 2. don’t beg for grades.

You would be surprised how many students fail to read the syllabus. I should know, I used to be one of them.

You can avoid begging your professor for a grade if you use your syllabus to calculate your grade and to see what areas of the class you should spend most of your energy.

Below is an example break down of percentages on a syllabus and the possible grade that could be received in the course.

I am going to use imaginary grades to demonstrate how to calculate your final end of the semester grade.

How to calculate final grade


Calculating the grade

Weekly Presentations (15%) 

95, 95, 97, 90, 88,  87,87, 92, 93, 88

The math: 

95 + 95 + 97 + 90 + 88 + 87 + 87 + 92 + 93 + 88 = 912

912 (sum)/10 (total # of grades) = 91.2 (average)

91.2  x .15 (percentage) = 13.68

Total points: 13.68 out of 15


Participation (15%) 

This category is tough, because how can participation be calculated? If I raise my hand two times a class will I get the full 15%? What if I’m the type that emails interesting articles to the class or goes to all the office hours, am I participating? I don’t like the participation factor of grades because to me it is hard to calculate. I’m not sure if  I think participation is a fair measurement tool – at least not for such a large percentage of a grade.

Enough of my rant.

Lets assume you are an average participator, so you will get an 85

The math

85 x .15 = 12.75

Total points: 12.75 out of 15


Take-Home Mid-Term (20%)


The math

87 x .25 = 17.40

Total points: 17.40 out of 20


Final Presentation (15%)


The math

92 x .15 = 13.80

Total points: 13.80 out of 15


Take- Home Final  (35%)


The math 

90 x .35 = 31.50

Total points: 31.50 out of 35


Final end of the semester grade

The math

Add all the total points from each category

13.68 + 12.75 + 17.40 + 13.80 + 31.50 =  93.48

Final Grade: 89.13 out of 100 or B+ (based on the grading chart in the syllabus)

 (not sure why the picture is so small- click to enlarge) how to calculate final grade 2


So why does this all matter?

1. It saves you the stress of playing the guessing game.

2. It saves you and the professor the awkward conversation about your grades.

3. You can in the beginning of the semester plan on how you will dedicate your time. Maybe a class that has zero class participation, you can not attend as often and just study for exams.

In this class scenario, 70% of your final grade would come from your midterm, final presentation, and final. It would be in your best interest to focus energy on doing well on those three aspects of the course. Not saying you shouldn’t participate, attend class, or work hard on the presentations, but you could plan your semester accordingly based on other classes and what parts of the course will take more attention.

That way when the semester draws to a close, you are not stressed because you anticipated how much time and effort you were going to place in every aspect of a class.

If you are stressing, check out my colleague Dr. Bob Brinkmann’s tips for surviving the stress of November. 



An urban planning PhD student finding  peace in creating a balance between the mind, body, soul, & environment.

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Photo Credit: Lisa-Marie Pierre; Sage Ross


    • byDrave
    • onJuly 28, 2016

    Total points: 21.75 out of 25? when you first calculated the syllabus, it said 20%, where did 25% come from?

    • Wow! Thank you Drave. I never noticed I made that mistake. You are correct it was 20%, but that still does not change the method used to calculate the points.

      Thanks for pointing that out, I have made the corrections.

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