I’ve been informed by reliable sources that it’s near the end of the college semester for most United States colleges and universities. So let me bring back some of my very minor perennials. What Do I Need To Pass This Class? is my old and slightly overwritten description of how to get a particular course grade. It allows for any weightings of course work and final exam plus any extra credit that might be hanging around.
What Do I Need To Get An A In This Class? meanwhile is less flexible but maybe more useful at a glance. It’s simply tables of some common grade weightings and class averages, and shows what final exam score (if any) makes possible an A, B, C, D, or F. This is on the assumption that a 90 or above is an A, an 80 or above is a B, 70 or above is C, and 60 or above is a D.
And as ever the real answer is more fundamental. You should get more sleep. You should study a fair bit every day rather than cram at the end of the term. If you’re able, you should take notes by hand rather than by computer. You should talk with the instructor the moment you start feeling lost, rather than when you feel hopelessly lost. You should use the tutoring services the school offers. If you have special needs for exams or other class work, you should meet with the school’s office for that sort of thing. Your instructors can make accommodations but they need to know what you need, and the sooner the better. In short, don’t try to do it all in the final. But yeah, I know, you’re wondering too.
The end of the (US) semester snuck up on me but, in my defense, I’m not teaching this semester. If you know someone who needs me to teach, please leave me a note. But as a service for people who are just trying to figure out exactly how much studying they need to do for their finals, knock it off. You’re not playing a video game. It’s not like you can figure out how much effort it takes to get an 83.5 on the final and then put the rest of your energy into your major’s classes.
But it’s a question people ask, and keep asking, so here’s my answers. This essay describes exactly how to figure out what you need, given whatever grade you have and whatever extra credit you have and whatever the weighting of the final exam is and all that. That might be more mechanism than you need. If you’re content with an approximate answer, here’s some tables for common finals weightings, and a selection of pre-final grades.
For those not interested in grade-grubbing, here’s some old-time radio. Vic and Sade was a longrunning 15-minute morning radio program written with exquisite care by Paul Rhymer. It’s not going to be to everyone’s taste. But if it is yours, it’s going to be really yours: a tiny cast of people talking not quite past one another while respecting the classic Greek unities. Part of the Overnightscape Underground is the Vic and Sadecast, which curates episodes of the show, particularly trying to explain the context of things gone by since 1940. This episode, from October 1941, is aptly titled “It’s Algebra, Uncle Fletcher”. Neither Vic nor Sade are in the episode, but their son Rush and Uncle Fletcher are. And they try to work through high school algebra problems. I’m tickled to hear Uncle Fletcher explaining mathematics homework. I hope you are too.
Really, you needed to start worrying about this earlier. Getting a high grade in any course is one of those self-reinforcing cycles. Improve your work a little bit early on and it iterates. Every bit makes every future bit that much easier. This isn’t inspirational-quote talk; this is just how it works. For mathematics courses, where most of the time one subject feeds into the next, this is obvious. It’s also obvious for mathematics-in-disguise courses like physics. But even for courses where one topic doesn’t directly lead to the next it’s so. Every subject has ways of thinking about its topics, the kinds of questions to ask and the typical sorts of answers they draw. The sooner you ask your instructor, your peers, and whatever tutoring centers are available — and they are — the better off you are.
That said, everyone wants numbers. So here’s my posts. This is the original, about how to calculate exactly the score you need on your final to get whatever course grade you want. It allows for different sorts of weighting and extra credit and all that. If you don’t want to worry about extra credit here are some tables for common final-exam weightings with which you can approximate your needed score.
Also: review the syllabus. Read and understand any study guides you have. Review the in-course exams and homework assignments. Eat regularly and sleep as fully as you can the week or so before the exam; you do not have any problems that sleep deprivation will make better.
(Yes, this post is early. The schools I’m loosely affiliated with started early this term.)
Chatting with friends made me aware some schools have already started finals. So I’m sorry to be late with this. But for those who need it here’s my ancient post on how to calculate the minimum score you need on the final to get the grade you want in the class. And for those who see my old prose style and recoil in horror I’m sorry. I was less experienced back then. Don’t look smug; you were too. But here’s a set of tables for common grade distributions, so you don’t have to do any calculations yourself. Just look up numbers instead.
With that information delivered, let me say once more: what you really need is to start preparing early, and consistently. Talk with your instructor about stuff you don’t understand, and stuff you think you understand, early on. Don’t give a line about the grade you need; that puts an inappropriate pressure on the instructor to grade you incorrectly. Study because it’s worth studying. Even if you don’t see why the subject is interesting, it is something that people smarter than you have spent a lot of time thinking about. It’s worth figuring out something of what they know that you don’t yet.
I had thought we were barely entering Final Exam season. But I hear reports many (United States) colleges and universities have already got them started. And I see what people are searching for around my writing here. So let me help folks out here.
Here, under “What Do I Need To Pass This Class”, besides start worrying about grades sooner, is an explanation of how to calculate exactly what score one needs. It allows for the exam to have any weighting possible, and for extra credit points to be considered, to get any desired score. And then since not everyone looking for their grade is actually a mathematics student interested in following equations that, I believe, are well-explained, I put together some tables with the results for some common final exam weightings and target scores. The tables include what scores are needed for finals that are one-fifth, one-quarter, one-third, and two-fifths the total course grade.
Good luck. Read the syllabus and any test preparation sheets the instructor gives. Get a full night’s sleep before and eat well the day of the exam. Don’t pester with e-mails asking for extra credit. Only bother your professor with requests to correct errors of fact, which would be recorded grades or an error in calculation. Have your returned assignment to show, and understand how weighted grades work, before you do.
It’s finals season, at least for colleges that run on a semesterly schedule, and a couple of my posts are turning up in search query results again. So I thought it worth drawing a little more attention to them and hopefully getting people what they need sooner.
The answer: you need to study a steady but not excessive bit every night from now to before the exam; you need to get a full night of sleep before the exam; and you really needed to pay attention in class and do the fiddly little assignments all semester, so, sorry it’s too late for that. Also you need to not pointlessly antagonize your professor; even if you don’t like this class, you could have taken others to meet your academic requirement, so don’t act like you were dragged into Topics in Civilization: Death against your will even if it does satisfy three general-education requirements at the cost of being a 7:50 am section.
Anyway, that doesn’t help figuring out whether you can relax as soon as you get 82.3 percent of the final right or if you have to strain to get that 82.6. So let me point to those: What Do I Need To Pass This Class? (December 2013 Edition) gives an expression for working out the score you need, and shows how to develop that formula, based on things like the pre-final grade, the weight given the exam, and extra credit (or demerits) that you’ve received, and is therefore good for absolutely any weighted-average based course grade you might have.
That also involves formulas, though, and I know that makes people nervous, so What Do I Need To Get An A In This Class? simplifies matters a bit by working out a couple common cases: for finals worth 40, 33, 30, 25, and 20 percent of the class, based on pre-final averages, what final exam grade do you need to get to at least a given level. Good luck, but you really shouldn’t be scrounging for points. Study because it’s fun to learn things and the grades will be good of their own accord.
I admit a bit of difficulty in identifying with people who are very worried about their grades. I stopped worrying about my grades somewhere around fifth grade, when I missed a straight-A report card by one question on one spelling test and decided the stress wasn’t worth it for changing one B+ into an A-. But it’s a question instructors get, increasingly, as the final exam approaches, and students are almost never satisfied with the correct answers, especially when circumstances require a time machine. I suppose I understand the despair in that case.
Anyway, working out the minimum grade you need to pass — or what you need to get an A, or to get a B, or whatever you like — is an easy enough problem it’s surprising when students don’t work it out on their own. Maybe they don’t realize this is what they learn algebra for. But here’s how to do it.
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