Weighted Grades: What Is it And How To Calculate It

Last Updated on May 31, 2021 by David Shaw

weighted grades

I once took a Calculus class and stumbled across the term ‘weighted grades’ but wasn’t sure what was it all about. Most people are told weighted grades help with the percentile of students with lower grades, but there’s actually more to what weighted grades are about after further research on this topic.

So what exactly are weighted grades and how do you calculate it?

As a general rule, a weighted grade is a grading system that uses a simple equation formula to provide students a numerical advantage in their grades. This grading system typically offers advantages based on students’ midterm or finals exams due to the higher points exams usually account for in the overall course syllabus.

Despite the simple explanation, there is a lot of confusion and debates about the disadvantages of the weighted grading system compared to the normal grading system which is by adding up the overall points and multiplying it by 100%. To keep clear of further complications, let’s understand weighted grading systems in more detail in this article.

Understanding Weighted Grades

Let’s visualize the idea behind weighted grades before diving into the wordy details. In the following picture, Rhett Allain uses a great example to help us visualize how we can easily understand how weighted grades work.

In the below representation Rhett Allain uses:

  1. A stick labeled with grades A, B, C, D at equal distances in between
  2. 3 metal cylinders – each representing the Quiz, Project, and Test modules in a typical course syllabus
weighted grade visualization

To understand this representation, judging from the ‘Test’ cylinder block’s weight, imagine where the center of mass for the setup in the picture would be. If you scored slightly over the score for ‘B’ on your Test, the center of gravity would represent your overall course grade which is approximately where his left index finger labeled in the picture – in between grade C and B. However, if you scored grade A and above on your test instead, you would shift the center of gravity (the overall grade) towards the right which is between the B and A range.

Tests modules typically account for 30-50% of your course grade compared to Quizzes or Projects with a smaller percentage for 10-20% of your total course grade.

Intuitively, if you stacked the ‘Project’ cylinder blocks on top of the ‘Test’ cylinder instead, you would expect the center of mass to lean closer towards the grade ‘B’ label, simply because it has more weight to their scores.

We can see Rhett uses a bigger and heavier cylinder for the ‘Test’ module as it usually carries a higher score or ‘weight’ in the syllabus compared to Quizzes and Projects, hence the different weights of the cylinder blocks in the setup.

How to Calculate your weighted grades

A weighted grade is the average of a set of grades for each module (percentage) multiplied by its weight (percentage decimal). Each module, (Xn) is accompanied by its respective weight, (Wn) set by the instructor. A weighted grade is calculated by the following formula

Weighted grade = (W1 × X1 + W2 × X2 + W3 × X3 + …) / (W1+W2+W3…)

The formula to calculate your Weighted Grades is simple using the RapidTables online tool instead of physically writing and calculating an equation. A sample calculation would look like this:

weighted grade formula
sample course data
Using the weighted grade formula

  • Or if you’re using RapidTables
weighted grade calc

The ‘1.05’ Weight Grading Distribution

Weighted grades have their perks and quirks, if not understood correctly, students often get confused by this system. With that said, weighted grades don’t usually benefit students with higher scores as much compared to those with lower scores.

In fact, weighted grades will hurt students with a higher score if applying the formula directly, which is why professors usually use the ‘1.05 weight’ by adding an additional 5% to their weighted grade to not put them at a disadvantage. A good example of this scenario can be shown in the following data example:

sample course data 2
Sample Course Data with Grade Calculation Method comparison
sample random course data

We can see in the above data, students who scored 90.7% and 96.3% in their Exams are at disadvantage from the Weighted Grading System compared to the Normal Grading System. This is where the 1.05 weight comes into play to help avoid students from losing points. Some professors would implement the 1.05 weight to only the exams or finals module like in the following example:

1.05 grade weight
Applying the 1.05 weighted grade
1.05 weighted score
Data comparison

The above examples only represents common formulations, although you should know grading systems and GPA scales may vary significantly across professors and the school’s grading system preference.

Given the fact that weighted-grade systems are be calculated in different ways by different professors across various school systems. It is fully a student’s responsibility to understand and communicate with their instructors to understand how their professors would weigh their grades, and what advantages or disadvantages may apply to the students.

Debates On The Use of Weighted-Grading System

The rationale behind the weighted grade system is essentially implemented to provide students with incentives for numerical grade advantage if they did badly on one exam or finals paper that they can leverage and benefit from.

From the examples and explanations we have seen and discussed so far, students with higher scores tend to be more likely at a numerical disadvantage only if your professor applied the weighted grade formula without any multiplier like the ‘1.05 weight’ which is rarely the case.

Common critics of the practice tend to be the following arguments:

  • Weighted grades discourage students from taking certain classes

Students might be discouraged when posed with the situation to take a Statistics or Music class that offers valuable knowledge but also presents a numerical disadvantage when calculating grades. It is helpful to know weighted grades are more commonly applied to competitive STEM classes like Calculus, Organic Chemistry, or Physics. These classes are usually inevitable for STEM students, so students should not worry about a Music or Public Speaking class implementing the weighted grades system.

  • Weighted grades are unfair towards students with a higher score

It would be unreasonable for professors to hurt students with high grades for performing well in the class, so professors always apply something similar to the 1.05 weight scale to the overall grade or say the Exams or Finals modules. Although rarely the case, I’ve known professors who just multiply 1.05 to their final grades which is basically bumping their finalized grade by 5%. Most professors would decide on applying the 1.05 weight to only Exams, or Finals, or even both.

In terms of the fairness of grade distribution, the professor can make grading modifications for the students with numerical disadvantage if applying the weighted graded system directly. Communicate well with your classmates and professor, help your professor decide the rationale being used to support students and not hurt their scores.

  • Weighted grades exploit opportunities for students to manipulate the grading matrix.

Logically, there is only a maximum range within 1-5% of additional grades students can be subjected to from this grading system. Realistically, 5% can only help students by a letter grade and nothing more. Think of this system as a leverage opportunity for students instead. If you’re simply underperforming in class or an Exam, you’re given a helpful opportunity to be exempted from a failing grade, or if you’re the opposite, you can more likely get the A+ if you’re performing just alright in class.

A good tip is to communicate well with your professors to discuss the rationale behind the suitable choice, let them know if you’re doing well or not to provide more feedback for them to decide on how to weigh your final grades.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I personally support the implementation of the weighted-grading system as it can be super helpful for the average satisfactory performing student. I almost never encounter students at a numerical disadvantage from this grading system. It simply serves as a tool students can play leverage from if they put in the effort. A helpful reminder is to communicate well with your professors to discuss the rationale behind the suitable choice, let them know if you’re doing well or not to provide more feedback for them to decide on how to weigh your final grades.

David Shaw

I enjoy blogging about the college experience, teaching people how to navigate and hack their way through college. I also enjoy promoting financial literacy among young individuals.

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