US Grading System [What Is the Academic Grading System in the US?]

The grade is not everything about a student, but using a reliable grading system ensures that students are rated as accurately as possible. What is the US grading system?

The US grading system uses the letter grading system. American schools commonly use the A to F grading scale in grading assignments, tests, and other school works. A is the highest score, while D is a passing grade, and F indicates a failing grade.

Teachers could also give the corresponding percentages to the letter grade, as follows:

  • A (A-, A, A+) – between 90% to 100%
  • B (B-, B, B+) – above-average score between 80% to 89%
  • C (C-, C, C+) – between 70% to 79%
  • D (D-, D, D+) – lowest passing grade between 59% to 69%
  • F – a failing grade

Read on to learn more about the US letter grading system, the Grade Point Average (GPA), and the US university grading system.

US Grading System

us grading system

The US grading system uses the letters A, B, C, D, and F. American schools use this A – F grading scale in grading reports, tests, assignments, and other school works. 

The highest score is A+, while the passing grade is D. An F indicates a failing grade. Note that there is no E mark, as E is also a failing mark. E is sometimes mistaken for Excellent, so schools decided to use only F for failing marks instead.

Evaluators could also give the corresponding percentages to the letter grades:

  • A – from 90% to 100%
  • B – above-average score from 80% to 89%
  • C – from 70% to 79%
  • D – lowest passing grade from 59% to 69%
  • F – a failing grade

Your grades could correspond to a quality point in many American universities that evaluators include in your Grade Point Average (GPA). Most schools score the quality point on a 4.0 scale.

What Is the Grade Point Average (GPA)?

The Grade Point Average or The Weighted Grade Point Average is the sum of the quality points divided by your subjects’ course credits or units. Not all schools have the same method of computing the GPA but use the same principle. Generally, the GPA represents the students’ total performance in all their course subjects.

Teachers can quickly compute for grades due to advances in technology. For example, they could create a formula that they can input into excel working sheets. These sheets could compute grades and GPAs automatically as teachers enter the data

Some countries call the GPA the Grade Weighted Average (GWA) and are computed much the same way.

GPA Does Not Necessarily Show How Smart A Student Is

The GPA does not necessarily show how smart you are because there may be inevitable reasons for your low performance, such as poor health or missed exams and school works. 

Teachers usually consider these factors when evaluating students. The concept of multiple intelligences also comes into the equation. 

The US grading system commonly uses the letters’ grading scale from A to F. But it is expected that American schools give the percentage grades too in grading school works.

On the letter grading scale, A is the highest score, while D is the passing grade. F is a failing grade and does not earn any credits. 

The other letter grade corresponds to the following percentages: A – from 90% to 100%; B – above-average score from 80% to 89%; C – from 70% to 79%; D – lowest passing grade from 59% to 69%’ and F – a failing grade.

How to Calculate GPA?

Below is a simple example. Note that this is only a rough formula that uses the sum of quality points divided by the total course credits. [1]

Using 5-point System

The GPA could also use the 5-point system; where: A = 5 or 4.5 points, B = 4 or 3.5 points, C = 3 or 2.5 points, D for 2 or 1.5 points, and F for 0 points.

Clinical Chemistry (3 course credit or units) = 3.5 quality points = 10.5 (3 x 3.5)

Anatomy (3 course credits or units) = 3 quality points = 9 (3 x 3)

Parasitology (2 course credits or units) = 4 quality points = 8 (4 x 2)

Microbiology (5 course credits or units) = 4 quality points = 20 (4 x 5)

Add all the quality points = 10.5 + 9 + 8 + 20 = 47.5 

Divide this by the total course credits/units (47.5/13) = 3.6538 GPA

Using Percentages

Instructors could also use the grade percentages:

Clinical Chemistry (3 course credit or units) = 85% = 255 (85 x 3)

Anatomy (3 course credits or units) = 79% = 237 (79 x 3)

Parasitology (2 course credits or units) = 89% = 178 (89 x 2)

Microbiology (5 course credits or units) = 89% = 445 (89 x 5)

Add all the grade percentages and divide it by the number of course credits or units

255 + 237 + 178 + 445 = 1115 total

Then, divide the total by the number of course credits (1115/13 credits) = 85.769% GPA

Some schools have unique GPA values. So, if you want to know the details for a particular school, it would be best to inquire directly from the school’s website.

Uses of the GPA

Schools compute the students’ GPA for the following purposes:

  • To compute for Latin honors: Cum Laude, Magna Cum Laude, and Summa Cum Laude, with Summa Cum Laude being the highest honors.
  • For school enrolment and evaluation 
  • To determine students’ final class ranking
  • Establish students’ academic performance
  • To evaluate students for advanced placement courses.

US Grading System in Public Schools and High Schools

academic grading system in us

Public schools commonly use the grading system as described in the table below. Some schools use an edited version of the college grading system: [2]

Letter GradePercentage (%)GPA
A90 to 1004.0
B80 to 893.0
C70 to 792.0
D60 to 691.0
FLess than 600.0

D is usually the lowest passing grade, and F is a failing grade. 

Behavior

Some teachers in US elementary schools award points when students are friendly or for behaving well. This type of evaluation does not measure the mental aptitude of the student, and many considered it unreliable. Sometimes, teachers give credit from peer review and self-evaluation. 

This practice could develop poor study habits because often students depend upon good behavior to get good grades.

Numerical Grading System

Some elementary school districts use the 1,2,3 and 4 rating system. The advantage of this grading system is that teachers can give advanced lessons to students with 3 and 4 ratings while attending specifically to the needs of the 1 & 2-rating students.

Teachers give an “Exemplary” grade to students with 90% to 100 marks and a numeric grade of 4. Students are marked “Accomplished” when they earn an 80% to 89% with a numeric grade of 3. 

A numeric grade of 2 is when a student is still “Developing” and earns a percentage grade between 70% to 79%. “Beginning” and “Bad” are used for students with 0% to 69% ratings and a numeric grade of 0.0 to 1.0.

The E, S, N, and U System

Another method used in the U.S. for grading kindergartens, elementary students, and high schools in the E, S, N, and U system. E stands for Excellent, S for Satisfactory, N for Needs Improvement, and U for Unsatisfactory.

For exemplary performance, some schools use the letter O for Outstanding, which is higher than Excellent. They also used F for Failure and NS for Not satisfactory.

A few high schools use a 3-point scale for below-average-difficulty courses and a 5-point scale for Honors courses. Some AP courses use the 6-point scale grading system.

The high school GPA can serve as a predictor for college academic performances. But, the standardized-based examination is still the best predictor for college grades.

US Grading System in Some Colleges

US colleges also can vary in their grading systems based on the schools’ goals.

Moreover, schools that offer specialized courses (medicine, laboratory scientists) may have higher passing grades than other courses. This grading system is warranted because learned skills must be accurate and precise:

 Letter GradePercentageGPA
A+97% to 100%4.00 or 4.33
A93% to 96%4.00
A-90% to 92%3.67
B+87% to 89%3.33
B83% to 86%3.00
B-80% to 82%2.67
C+77% to 79%2.33
C73% to 76%2.00
C-70% to 72%1.67
D+67% to 69%1.33
D63% to 66%1.00
D-60% to 62%0.67
F0% to 59%%0.00

Students’ final grades use a 100%-point scale, wherein all the school activities contribute to the final grade. Moreover, typically, faculty members decide on the weight of each aspect based on the skills they want to focus on.

Example

Chapter quizzes = 20%

Comprehensive final exams = 40%

Daily assignments = 10%

Oral reports = 10%

Practical exams = 20%

For a total of 100%

Colleges consider C or D as the lowest passing grade, but they must earn at least a C grade or higher for students to earn credits in some specialized courses.

Many US law schools consider any mark below C as failing. They also require no more than a 2.0-grade point average to enroll for a doctorate in law. Some law schools require a 2.3 or 2.5-grade point average for post-doctoral degrees. 

Some US Liberal Arts Colleges do not issue grades but instead use narrative evaluations to evaluate their students. [3]

Other Grades/Marks Used in Colleges

  • WP – Withdrawal with a passing grade at the time of withdrawal
  • WF – Withdrawal with a failing grade at the time of withdrawal
  • FN – Failure due to Non-Attendance
  • DW – Disciplinary withdrawal
  • W – Withdrawal
  • UW – Unofficial Withdrawal
  • NR – Not Reported by the instructor
  • X – Audit /Exemption
  • E – Excellent

Standards of Academic Progress (SAP) Requirement

us school grading system

Note that students receiving financial aid must fulfill the Standards of Academic Progress (SAP) requirement. SAP generally requires students to earn an average score of 2 using the 4-scale grading system.

If students fail to obtain this grade, SAP will stop the financial assistance, and students have to refund the previous fees SAP paid.

The SAPs of students who receive W marks are not affected as the course credit is not included in the students’ enrolled subjects. So, students must withdraw before the finalization of their enrolment. 

However, the course credit of students with WP and WF marks is included in the students’ course credits. Therefore, these marks would affect their academic standing. 

SAP could disqualify the student based on the 4-scale grading system for the rest of the grades, except for X and E. [4]

US Standardized-Based Grading System

Presently, many colleges use standards-based education to create examinations that educators, employers, parents, and other stakeholders deem necessary to learn for a particular course. This method would focus more on each professional’s skills and competencies in their particular fields.

The passing grade for the standard test is generally higher than the traditional test. However, it is more objective and reliable as the tests use the same sets of questions for all students. Through this method, students can earn extra credits by doing optional school work.

Conclusion – Academic Grading System in the US

The US grading system uses the letters A – F to grade students. Most American schools grade exams, assignments, and school work using the letter grading scale. 

A indicates the highest score, while F means a failing grade. D is the passing grade. Instructors may also give the specific percentages of the letter grades:

  • A – from 90% to 100%
  • B – above-average score from 80% to 89%
  • C – from 70% to 79%
  • D – lowest passing grade from 59% to 69%
  • F – a failing grade

Some US schools use the letter grading system variants by adding “+” and “- “after the letter grades. 

Examples are A+, A, A-; B+, B, B-; C+, C, C-; and D+, D, D-. A+ is the highest grade, and F the failing grade. If you are a foreigner planning to enroll in a US school, you could inquire directly from the school’s website. Moreover, note that school policies for international students may differ slightly from school rules for US citizens.

Again, for your quick reference, below are the tables showing grading systems used in the US:

Elementary and High School

Letter GradePercentage (%)GPA
A90 to 1004.0
B80 to 893.0
C70 to 792.0
D60 to 691.0
FLess than 600.0

College

 Letter GradePercentageGPA
A+97% to 100%4.00 or 4.33
A93% to 96%4.00
A-90% to 92%3.67
B+87% to 89%3.33
B83% to 86%3.00
B-80% to 82%2.67
C+77% to 79%2.33
C73% to 76%2.00
C-70% to 72%1.67
D+67% to 69%1.33
D63% to 66%1.00
D-60% to 62%0.67
F0% to 59%%0.00