After the Exam: Grading Systems II

In this post, we conclude our discussion on grading systems by looking at less common approaches. There are at least three other approaches to grading. These systems are comparison with aptitude, comparison with effort, and comparison with improvement.

Comparison with Aptitude

In this approach, a student is compared with their own potential. In other words, the teacher grades the student on whether or not the student is reaching their full potential on an assignment as determined by the teacher. For example, if an average student does average work, they get an “A.” However, if an excellent student does average work they get a “C”.  To get an “A”, the excellent student must do excellent work as determined by the teacher.

The advantage of this system is everyone, regardless of ability, has a chance at earning high grades. However, the disadvantages are serious. The teacher gets to decide what potential a student has. If the teacher is wrong, weak students are pushed too hard, strong students may not be pushed hard enough, and or vice versa. This grading is also unfair to stronger students as weaker students earn the same grade for inferior work.

Comparison with Effort

This approach does not look at potential as much as it looks at how hard a student works. To receive a higher grade an average student must demonstrate a great deal of effort on a test. For the strong student, if they show little effort on an assessment they will receive a lower grade.

This system has the same advantages and disadvantages of the aptitude system. It is unfair to the stronger students to be held to a different standard in comparison to their peers. Also, it is hard to be objective when determining the amount of effort a student puts forth.

Comparison with Improvement

This system of grading looks at the progress a student makes over time to assign a grade. Students who improve the most will receive the highest grade. Students who show little improvement will not do so well.

This system is more objective than the previous two examples because it relies on data collected over time that is more than a teacher’s impression. However, one significant drawback is the student who does well from the beginning. If a student is strong from the beginning there will be little improvement. Committing to this grading system could hurt high-performing students.


Which system to use depends on the context and needs of your students. The number rule for grading is to maintain consistency within one assessment but it is perhaps okay to flexible from one assignment to the next.

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