Grading System in the USA (2024): Guide for International Students

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Anand Patinge

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Are you planning on going to the USA for your higher education? Have you shortlisted a list of universities you prefer? It is now time for you to understand the grading system in the USA. 

Understanding the Grading System in the USA (2022)

In India, like most other countries, we follow a numerical scoring system that is converted into a percentage score at each academic year’s end. 

When you are studying in the USA, things will be different. Go through this article to get a grasp of the grading system in the USA. 

Understanding the Grading System in the USA (2022)

Grading Systems in the USA

The grading system in the USA is as perplexing as it is detailed. 

The system was implemented in 1975 and has undergone several revamps since. It essentially boils down to this: students are given a numeric score on an overall scale of letter grades to indicate how well they’d do in various subjects. These letter grades are then converted into numerical scores. 

Many people assume that the grading system used in the USA is some form of the inverted pyramid: 

  • higher-scoring students get bigger letter grades to reflect their greater ability
  • lower-scoring students receive lesser marks for the same level of performance. 

This is not exactly true — though the way it’s often explained can confuse people about what the system represents.

Grading Systems in the USA

When you study in the USA, your lecturer or teacher will grade every assignment you complete. 

Your grades will represent your overall performance at the end of each year, just like in any other country. But unlike in other countries, there are several types of grading systems in the USA. 

Types Of Grading Systems in the USA

There are two types of grading systems in the USA. They are 

  • The numerical grading system: your performance is a percentage of your scores in each assignment. It starts from 0 and ends at 100. A grade is assigned based on the percentage you obtain by each year’s end. 
  • The letter grading system: your performance is analysed, and you get a grade between A and F. Each letter has its meaning 

The two systems are simple, interrelated and are used in deriving the grade point average (GPA). 

How Are the Two Grading Systems in The USA Related?

The numerical and letter scoring systems are interrelated, and you can arrive at one using the other. 

There are further divisions in the letter grading system through the use of + and -. The below table provides a clear picture of the association between the two grading systems in the USA. 

Grade Percentages (%)
A 93 – 100
A (-) 90 – 92
B (+) 87 – 89
B 83 – 86
B (-) 80 – 82
C (+) 77 – 79
C 73 – 76
C (-) 70 – 72
D (+) 67 – 69
D 63 – 66
D (-) 60 – 62
F Below 60

Is There An “Average” Score in The USA For Any Letter Grade?

Yes, but it can vary between institutions and different sections of the same institution. 

When you study in the USA, some schools might be quite lenient with their grading; others might be extremely strict — and, therefore, have much lower averages. 

Generally speaking, an A- averages out to around 90, B+ averages out to around 84, a B averages out to around 78, and C+ averages out to around 65.

Grade Point Average (GPA)

In the grading system in the USA, the GPA is a crucial mark of eligibility for every candidate. It determines every candidate’s chance of getting a scholarship or enrollment in a university. It is an average measure of the grades you accumulate over your course or programme years. 

The unique aspect of the grading system in the USA is its 4-point scale. 

When you study in the USA, you will receive a numerical score for each assignment, and this will be converted to letter grades. The letter grades are then converted into a GPA. 

But What Does It All Mean??

A GPA of 2.8 means that, as a whole, your grades are lower than average: you are below average. 

A GPA of 3.8 indicates that you are above average: you’re doing better than most. 

You don’t need to know the specific numbers to understand this, though — it’s enough to know that a GPA is a simple measurement of how you’re doing in school. 

A GPA is calculated by adding together your course grades (and converting them to a four-point scale: A+ is worth 4 points, A is worth 3 points, B is worth 2 points, etc.), and dividing this number by the number of courses you’ve taken. 

For example, if you have 4 A+s, 5 A-s, 2 B+s and 1 F, the total number is 11. If you have 9 courses, the total number of credits is 18. 

The below table provides a conversion chart for the two types of grading systems in the USA and the GPA. 

Percentile Letter Grade 4.0 Scale
93 – 100 A 4.0
90 – 92 A (-) 3.7
87 – 89 B (+) 3.3
83 – 86 B 3.0
80 – 82 B (-) 2.7
77 – 79 C (+) 2.3
73 – 76 C 2.0
70 – 72 C (-) 1.7
67 – 69 D (+) 1.3
63 – 66 D 1.0
60 – 62 D (-) 0.7
<60 F 0.0

Types Of GPA

There are several types of GPA that students can choose from when trying to calculate their overall performance in school. 

  • The main type of GPA is a cumulative GPA, which compares your grade point average over the entire time you have been in school. 
  • Another type of GPA is a per-semester GPA, which tracks your performance over the course of just one semester. 
  • A final type of GPA is an annualised GPA, which takes into account both semesters and years when calculating your overall grade point average.

Each of these different types of GPAs has its own set of advantages and disadvantages. 

For example, a cumulative GPA can better indicate how well you are doing in class as it shows how much work you put into each subject throughout your education. 

However, a cumulative GPA does not consider the different courses you take each semester or year, making it bad for tracking your progress over time. 

On the other hand, a per-semester GPA is a good way to track how well you are doing in one particular subject at one particular time. But this type of GPA does not provide an overall view of how well you are doing in all your classes because it only tracks one semester’s worth of work.

How Is the GPA Calculated in the USA?

It is calculated by taking the weighted average of your grades for all your classes. So, it has nothing to do with the quality of your work, so it should not be used as any type of measure of performance.

When you study in the USA, the GPA is calculated using the following formula:

  • Undergraduate GPA = Cumulative Grade Points / Credit Hours * 100%
  • Graduate GPA = Cumulative Grade Points / Credit Hours * 100% + 1.0%* Unweighted (This stems from the fact that if a course is worth 2 credit hours, then each credit hour should be worth 2 points.)

You can also use an online GPA calculator like the one in the below image to calculate your GPA. 

How Is the GPA Calculated in the USA

How Does the Grading System in The USA Differ from The One in India?

The grading system in the United States is much more complex, but it always involves the same four components: quality of work, quantity of work, timeliness of work, and effort. These four components are usually weighted equally to arrive at a final grade. 

For example, if one student completes all his assignments but does so carelessly and sloppily, he might receive a low overall score. However, if another student turns in perfect work every time on time and with great attention to detail, he might end up with an A+.

In contrast, in the Indian system, students first take a standardised test to determine their grade level and then receive scores ranging from 0% to 100%. 

These scores are converted into percentages that reflect how well each student performed compared to others of the same age group. Those with higher percentages would receive higher scores (and, therefore, better grades).

For example, a student who scored 90% would get an A (outstanding performance), while another student who scored 80% would get a B (good performance).

The main advantage of using percentages is that grading is more consistent across schools. It allows teachers to have more control over their teaching process by reflecting on their students’ learning progress over time. In addition, it helps parents understand how their child has performed compared to other children

What Are Honours?

American high schools have a long history of awarding academic honours. 

In the 19th century, students received class credit for outstanding work. In the early 1900s, students could earn honours by excelling in a particular field. 

By the 1940s, students could receive academic awards based on overall performance and community service. 

Today, honours programs vary by school and by state. At most high schools, honours programs are available to students who excel in many different areas. 

Students can earn academic medals for outstanding grades, attendance, or participation in clubs and sports. They can also earn academic recognition for their research or creative work. 

Some high schools offer a variety of other types of academic honours. These include top awards like valedictorian and salutatorian as well as more specialized honours like student teacher of the year or literary awards. 

When you study in the USA, honours confer additional advantages to students who receive them. 

  • They can help boost student morale and motivation, which can have a positive impact on their performance in classes. 
  • They may also help attract higher-quality teachers who are willing to give challenging assignments to rising stars with potential for future greatness. 
  • Honours may also lead to higher GPAs than would otherwise be possible because they encourage students to strive for excellence at all times.

A degree issued by the University of Wales mentioning ‘magna cum laude

There are three primary categories of honours, named in Latin, awarded in the USA. They are, 

  • Cum Laude (with honour)
  • Magna Cum Laude (with great honour)
  • Suma Cum Laude (with the greatest honour)

The grading system in the USA is complex, but it is not too difficult to understand. As you can see, there are many different grades that students can receive for their work, which will affect their final GPA greatly if they don’t maintain a high average throughout their schooling years. We hope this article cleared your doubts about the USA grading system. 

Picture of Anand Patinge

Anand Patinge

A master storyteller, Anand has enriched multiple entities with captivating designs, compelling messaging, and impactful media campaigns. Beyond work, you can find him feeding stray dogs, exploring art, and watching insiprational documentaries.

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