Grades: Undergraduate Policies and Guidelines

Grades: Guidelines for Grading in Undergraduate Courses
Grades: Reporting
Grades: Reporting a Grade Change
Incompletes: Policies, Guidelines, and the Incomplete Agreement Form
Other Marks on the Grade Report
Grades: Concerns and Complaints from Undergraduates
GPA Needed for Undergraduate Degree

    Grades: Guidelines for Grading in Undergraduate Courses

    Grading is a difficult task and departments are encouraged to set aside time each year to share best practices and to discuss grading strategies within the department or program. New instructors should especially be mentored about undergraduate vs graduate student grades and grading issues while being introduced to best grading practices.

    • Please enter grades in the ICON grade book as soon as possible so that students understand their standing in the course. Students need to see their grades throughout the semester in order to avoid confusion about their progress and to learn if they might need to change their study habits or to improve their time management skills. Help on using the ICON grade book is here:
    • CLAS does not require either one or the other of the below grading schemes to be used; additionally, some instructors use elements from both. For example, those using a criterion-referenced grading scheme may also apply a curve at the end of the course to adjust grades upward if very few students earn the higher grades normally expected in the course.
    • Generally a curve should not be used to lower grades if one is using a criterion-based grading scheme.
    • CLAS has always recommended the use of +/- grading since it helps to distinguish students' performance.
    • A through F letter grades are used, with plus and minuses used by almost all instructors; note that the grade of F is never given with a plus or a minus; other grades may use the plus or minus.
    • Instructors should choose a grading strategy appropriate to departmental guidelines, to the related discipline, and to its professional organization’s recommendations. Departments are encouraged to discuss grading schemes and expectations. 
    • Grades and grading should be as transparent as possible. Students should have enough information to understand grades earned on various assignments, quizzes, and exams and their relation to the final semester grade so that the student can reasonably predict this semester grade as the course proceeds.
    • The grading scheme should be described in the syllabus and reviewed with students frequently during the course. (The syllabus date must be current and please include any needed information related to the use of plus or minus grades.)
    • Once the semester begins, a grading scheme may be modified in order to benefit students; however, it may not be adjusted to lower students’ grades.
    • The number of students who drop the course should not affect the overall grades of those who remain in the course.
    • Instructors are obligated to evaluate each student's work fairly and without bias and to assign grades based on valid academic criteria that has been well-defined for students. (See the University Operations Manual on professional ethics and academic responsibility, part 2(e) and the University policy on human rights.)
    • It is especially important that grading be consistent across sections of multi-section courses. 
    • The College supports grades that accurately reflect the level of the student’s mastery of the course content and related skills regardless of the performance by other students in the course. 
    • The DEO or Program Coordinator reviews all semester grades when submitted and should ensure that the grades and grading meet the above guidelines.
    • Questions about grades and grading? Please consult with the associate dean for undergraduate education or the associate dean for graduate education.

    Students from other colleges taking courses administered by the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences are subject to CLAS policies. CLAS students taking courses offered by other UI colleges are subject to the grading policies of those colleges.

    Criterion-Referenced Grading

    With criterion-reference grading, students receive grades based on the quality of their work in relation to the criteria defined by the instructor and by the rubrics or models specifying the qualities of each grade. Students’ achievements are measured by this mastery of concepts and skills.

    Below is one standard set of letter grades and percent equivalencies that is used by some instructors in criterion-referenced grading. Each instructor may choose their own percent equivalencies for letter grades.

    Standard set of letter grades and percent equivalencies
    A+     A       A-     B+     B      B-     C+   C     C -   D+   D     D-   F   
    100-99     98-93     92-90     89-87     86-83     82-80     79-77     76-73     72-70    69-67     66-63     62-60     59 or below 

    Norm-Referenced Grading

    A “curve” is applied to generate the final percentage of each letter grade awarded. Final grades are assigned in part based on how others in the class perform. Norm-based grading is generally used in large courses in order to be statistically relevant, with the largest percentage of students performing at the average level.

    Below is a distribution of grades used by some instructors for a norm-referenced grading system; some departments prefer to use an internal norming process. Instructors and/or departments may set their own percentages.

    Distribution of grades used by some instructors
    Course Level  A B    C    D    F   
    Elementary courses (1000-1999)   15% 34% 40% 8% 3%
    Intermediate courses (2000-3999) 18% 36% 39% 5% 2%
    Advanced courses  (4000-4999) 22% 38% 36% 3% 1%

     Grades: Changing a Previously Reported Grade

    To correct an error in computing or in transcribing a grade or to change a grade for similar, justifiable reasons, the instructor must complete a grade change on MAUI.

    In some situations where a student has an extenuating circumstance and they have earned a passing grade in the course with only a small amount of work remaining to complete, CLAS encourages an instructor to enter the grade the student earned at the end of the course, then to allow the student a short extension to complete the remaining work. After the remaining work is completed, the instructor may submit a grade change. The remaining required course work should be completed, and the grade changed, within one additional semester (excluding summer or winter sessions). Another option is for an instructor to assign a mark of Incomplete, see Incomplete Policy.

    To change a grade, log in to MAUI and use the "Grade Change: Instructor" link, submitting the grade change to the DEO. The DEO evaluates the circumstances and decides whether to approve the change.

    If the DEO approves the change it is then routed to the student's primary college of enrollment for Dean's level approval.

    Instructors should notify students in writing if the result of changing a grade is a lower grade.

    Incompletes, Policies, Guidelines, and Incomplete Agreement Form

    Instructors may report a mark of I (Incomplete) only if all three of the following conditions are met:

    • The unfinished part of the student's work is small.

    • The work is unfinished for reasons acceptable to the instructor.

    • The student's standing in the course is satisfactory.

    Using the attached form, the student and instructor should agree on a deadline for the work missed and include any other expectations in writing: Incomplete Agreement Form in order to remind each party of the agreements.

    A course may not be repeated by the student to remove a grade of Incomplete; the grade must be removed by the student completing the unfinished portion of the work. If the work is not completed, the grade will automatically turn into an F, with the student then able to repeat the course for a new grade.

    • During the semester immediately following the one in which a mark of I (Incomplete) was recorded, the mark may be changed to a grade without the approval of CLAS Undergraduate Programs. The instructor should submit a grade change through MAUI, which will then be routed to the DEO for review. When the DEO approves the change, it is routed to the Registrar's Office for final processing.

    • If the instructor does not submit a change of grade by the end of the next full semester (i.e., excluding summer or winter sessions), the I mark automatically will be converted to an F.

    • To change an Incomplete that has been converted to an F to another grade, the instructor should follow the same procedure outlined above, but should include an explanation of why the student was allowed extra time to remove the Incomplete.

    In most cases, a key factor is whether one can be assured that the student has a reasonable chance to achieve the learning goals of the course. Without this assurance, it can be better to encourage a student to drop the course after talking to a professional academic advisor and Financial Aid, for example.

    Questions to Consider before Agreeing to an Incomplete or Offering Extended Due Dates

    UEPCC members recently recommended that instructors consider the below questions about the student and the course before making any decisions about extensions or an Incomplete. These guidelines assume that SDS accommodations are always given as required.

    Questions about the student’s performance before the absences occurred:

    • Did the student usually attend class?
    • Has the student communicated reliably with the instructor as needed if absent or if other concerns occurred?
    • Was the student’s written work generally submitted by the relevant deadlines?
    • Did the student usually participate by speaking, asking questions, and listening actively when given opportunities to do so?
    • Did the student take the previous exams or quizzes at the day and time as scheduled?
    • Overall, was the student’s work to date satisfactory, i.e., at least of average quality?
    • Did the student provide the instructor with the related absence form and, if gone for more than a short absence, some type of documentation?
    • Keep in mind CLAS requires documentation for a longer absence; generally, a short absence is considered one or two class periods. These are relevant qualities and must be decided by the instructor based on the course schedule and related information.

    Questions about the course size, level, and structure:

    • Does the course build on earlier course components, with the course’s learning outcomes depending on the student having competence in a previous course component?
    • If the course, on the other hand, is built around discrete modules, can the student reenter the course and finish it without making up the missed modules while still being able to achieve the course’s learning outcomes? 
    • Do students in the course generally learn through interactive and applied, systemic skill-building and/or practice during the class? Can this learning be “made up” in short experiences or alternative activities outside of class?
    • Given the level of the course and the complexity of the content matter, does the student have enough prior knowledge about the subject matter, perhaps from related courses, to successfully complete the course and to achieve competency in its learning outcomes with little additional instructional support?
    • Given the class size, would you be able to offer the same opportunities for extended due dates or help to others in similar situations? 

    If the student expresses concerns related to probation, dismissal, overall academic standing, and graduation requirements, for example, the student should also be encouraged to discuss the matter with an academic advisor and may be referred to staff in the CLAS Undergraduate Programs office ( UI athletes and international students may also be reminded to contact Athletics and ISSS about hours needed. 


    CLAS students may choose to take courses without earning credit for them. This is called “auditing” and requires the approval of the course instructor and the appropriate academic advisor. Audited courses do not meet College requirements and carry no credit toward graduation, but students are still charged for auditing. To add a course as an auditor on or after the first day of the semester, the student must fill out a Change of Registration Form and choose Add a Class and Change Hours, enter 0 s.h. for the course, then obtain signatures from both the student's advisor and the course instructor. The form must be submitted to the UI Service Center in 2700 UCC by 4:30 p.m. on the "last day for undergraduates to add or change to P-N or audit status" as listed on the Registrar’s Academic Calendar for semester-length courses, or the "last day to add without dean's approval" listed on the Course Deadlines page for an individual course. A student may change the registration for a course from “credit” to “audit” (or vice versa), but only during the period when adding courses is allowed. To register as an auditor during the scheduled early registration period, the student must obtain special permission from the course instructor.

    For information about the “grading” and notation of audited courses, see Audit Successful/Audit Unsuccessful (AUS/AUU). Visit the Registrar's tuition tables for more information about tuition and fees.

    Instructor permission is required for a student to audit a course; in some cases, an audit for a course is not appropriate and the instructor may decide not to allow an auditor to join the course even if there is space in the class.

    Auditors generally are required to attend class and to complete all assignments, projects, and exams as the syllabus indicates for enrolled students in the course. The only difference is the grade for an audit, which is recorded as Audit Successful/Audit Unsuccessful (AUS/AUU). Instructors should carefully review these course expectations with the auditor.  

    In some cases, an instructor may decide that reducing some assignments or exams, for example, is appropriate for a particular auditor. These details should be discussed, and the instructor and auditor should put this agreement in writing to ensure that disagreements do not occur about whether or not the auditor has earned a successful completion of the audit.

    Instructors should also keep in mind that a student's particular registration status for a course, such as taking the course as an auditor, is considered private information and should not be shared.

    Grades: Reporting

    Midterm Grades

    All instructors are expected to submit a mid-term grade for students earning a course grade below a C-. In some departments, faculty are required to submit a mid-term grade even if the earned grade is above a D+; in other departments, this is optional.

    Final Semester Grades

    Final grades are reported to the DEO for review using MAUI. After the DEO approves each class list, the grades are recorded on the student's permanent record and become available through the student's MyUI account.

    • Final grades must be submitted by instructors (via MAUI) at least 24 hours before the final deadline, providing time for the DEO to review the grades.

    • Specific deadlines may be found on the Registrar's academic calendar.

    • All grade reports (including those for independent studies and off-cycle courses) must be turned in by the deadline.

    • Grades are essential to the evaluation of students for graduation, academic probation, or dismissal.

    • If grade reports are late, instructors may be penalized by a delay in paycheck issuance following the delinquency.

    Specific deadlines may be found on the Registrar's academic calendar.

    For more information on grading and student records and confidentiality, see Student Records.

    Undergraduate Grades: Concerns and Complaints from Undergraduates 

    Students who have a grading concern or complaint are encouraged to follow the procedures described in the Student Rights section of the CLAS Academic Policies Handbook.

    Students should first consult with their course instructor about the issue since this is the best and fastest way to reduce misunderstandings; please encourage the student to visit during office hours to discuss the matter. If the issue is not resolved, please refer students to the course supervisor or/ and finally with the DEO/Chair of the unit that serves as the administrative home of the course.

    After the student has meet with the instructor, supervisor or/and DEO, the student may also discuss the complaint with CLAS Undergraduate Programs (120 Schaeffer Hall, 335-2633) and may schedule a meeting with that office to review the complaint process and the complaint.

    Students who have not yet spoken with their instructor or DEO about the problem will be asked do so. All grading concerns must be filed within six months of the incident.

    GPA Required for Graduation

    To graduate, a student must achieve a 2.0 grade point average in four GPA calculations:

    • all college work attempted (both at the University of Iowa and at any transfer institutions)
    • all work undertaken at the University of Iowa
    • all work in the major
    • and all work for the major undertaken at the University of Iowa.

    The degree audit (available to students through MyUI) provides students with their current GPAs.

    Grade Points Per Semester Hour

    Grade Points Per Semester Hour
    Grade Description Grade Point per Semester Hour
    A+/ A / A- Superior 4.33 / 4.00 / 3.67
    B+/ B / B- Above Average 3.33 / 3.00 / 2.67
    C+/ C / C- Average 2.33 / 2.00 / 1.67
    D+/ D/ D- Below Average 1.33 / 1.00 / 0.67


    Failing 0.0

    Computing the GPA

    The cumulative grade point average (GPA) is computed by (a) multiplying the number of semester hours in each course by the appropriate grade points; (b) adding up the results in (a); and (c) dividing the total in (b) by the total number of hours taken. The Registrar's website offers an interactive GPA calculator.

    Courses in which marks of AUS, AUU, I, IP, N, O, P, R, S, U, or W have been given are not included in the GPA calculation. Grades of F are included in computing the GPA.

    Waiver of the Minimum GPA in the Major

    If a student falls slightly below the 2.0 standard in major course work, the DEO or the department's director of undergraduate studies may petition the College for an exception to the minimum GPA requirement in the major. The student must still achieve a 2.0 GPA in all course work at the University, and the petition must come from the department, not the student. CLAS Undergraduate Programs, 120 Schaeffer Hall (319-335-2633), can provide more information on the conditions for requesting such an exception. Ordinarily, the department must demonstrate that there is no pedagogical advantage in holding the student for more course work in the major.

    Grading Marks Not Included in GPA

    The following marks are never included in the grade point average.

    Mark Description
    AUS Audit Successful
    AUU Audit Unsuccessful
    I Incomplete
    IP In Progress
    N Nonpass
    O No grade reported
    P Pass
    R Registered, no grade required
    S Satisfactory
    U Unsatisfactory
    W Withdrawn

    The following marks are at times used on the grade report but are not computed in the grade point average.

    Audit Successful (AUS) and Audit Unsuccessful (AUU)

    • A student auditing a course (see Auditing courses in the Academic Policies Handbook) receives an "AUS" if the course is completed and "AUU" if it is not.

    • Note: Students may not attend a class without being registered; those who do not wish to earn credit in a course should request permission to register as auditors.

    Registered (R)

    • A small number of courses are offered for 0 semester hours. An "R" is recorded if the course is completed and a "W" if it is not.

    Withdrawn (W)

    • Students who drop a class after the last day to drop without a W have a "W" entered on the permanent record (see Registered/Withdrawn in the Academic Policies Handbook).

    In Progress (IP)

    • The mark of IP is used to denote a course in progress.

    Pass/Nonpass Grading Option (P/N)

    • With the instructor's permission, students in good standing in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences may take elective courses pass/nonpass (P/N).
    • Students who request this option must obtain the signatures of both the advisor and the instructor on a P/N form, available online at the Registrar's homepage at Forms for Students (Grading Option Form); at the UI Service Center, and in the CLAS Undergraduate Programs Office, 120 Schaeffer Hall.
    • The form may be submitted to the UI Service Center before the deadline listed on the Registrar's Academic Deadlines page.
    • At the end of the semester, the instructor calculates a standard letter grade for any student who has registered under the P/N option and then assigns either a P or N as follows:
    1. Grades of A+, A, A-, B+, B, B-, C+, C, and C- are assigned a grade of P.

    2.  Grades of D+, D, D-, and F are assigned a grade of N.

    Students may not use the pass/nonpass (P/N) grading option in courses taken for General Education credit or for courses offered in their major department. The DEO may, however, authorize P/N grading for a student in a departmental course that will not be applied toward the major requirements. The DEO may send authorization directly to Graduation Services, 2700 UCC.

    Satisfactory/Fail Grading (S/F) for Undergraduate Students

    • Students do not need special forms to register for S/F courses since all undergraduates enrolled in such courses automatically receive either an S (Satisfactory) or an F (Fail).

    • S/F grading is an option available for undergraduate courses in which letter grading is not the most useful measure of the learning and for experiences that are not specifically academic in nature but for which credit toward graduation may be appropriate.

    • The department may designate independent study courses, readings courses, academic internships, and other appropriate courses as "offered on S/F basis only. " Instructors must submit S or F grades for all undergraduate students enrolled in these courses.

    • S/F grading may be adopted at the time a course is developed, or it may be requested later by submission of a course approval.

    • Restrictions on the use of S/F grading are described in the Academic Policies Handbook.​

    Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory Grading (S/U) for Undergraduate Students

    • Students do not need special forms to register for S/U courses since all undergraduates enrolled in such courses automatically receive either an S or an U.

    • A "U" grade in an undergraduate course will not affect the GPA.

    • Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory grading is an option available for undergraduate courses in which neither letter grading nor S/F grading is the most useful measure of the learning and for experiences that are not specifically academic in nature but for which credit toward graduation may be appropriate.

    • A department may designate a course as "offered on S/U basis only" and instructors for such courses must submit S or U grades for all undergraduate students enrolled in these courses.

    • S/U grading may be adopted at the time a course is developed, or it may be requested later by submission of a course approval form.

    • Further information on the use of S/U grading is available in the Academic Policies Handbook.