Examinations and Grading at UCLA

An Informal Summary of University Policies, Procedures, and Resources for Undergraduate Instruction

OID: Faculty Consultation

Examinations and Grading at UCLA

Assigning course grades

Most veteran instructors agree that examinations and grading remain one of the more challenging aspects of teaching. While the basic Academic Senate Regulations on grading are straightforward, special circumstances often confuse the process and have the potential to lead to complex decisions. The following information offers suggestions for addressing difficult situations.

According to Academic Senate Regulations, the instructor in charge of a course shall be responsible for determining the grade of each student in the course. The standards for evaluating student performance shall be based upon the course description as approved by the appropriate course committee (Divisional Senate Regulation A-306B). The final grade in a course shall be based upon the instructor’s evaluation of the student’s achievement in the course (Divisional Senate Regulation A-306C).

Students enroll in courses on either a letter grade or a Passed/Not Passed (P/NP) basis (Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory for graduate students). Some courses allow for a choice of grading basis, while others allow only P/NP grading or only letter grading.

UCLA grade categories

The following are the grades that undergraduate and graduate students may be assigned:

Undergraduate students

A+ = Extraordinary

A = Superior

B = Good

C = Fair

D = Poor

F = Failure

P = Passed (achievement at grade C level or better)

NP = Not Passed

I = Incomplete

IP = In Progress (for multiple-quarter courses)

DR = Deferred Report

Graduate students

A = Superior Achievement

B = Satisfactorily demonstrates potential for professional achievement

C = Passed but work does not indicate potential for professional achievement

F = Failure

S = Satisfactory (achievement at grade B level or better)

U = Unsatisfactory

I = Incomplete

IP = In Progress (for multiple-quarter courses)

DR = Deferred Report

For all students, the grades A, B, C, and D may be modified by a plus (+) or minus (-) suffix, to raise or lower the student’s grade point average. The one exception is the A+ grade, which will not raise a student’s grade point average because it carries the same number of grade points as the A grade. An F grade yields no unit or course credit.

For graduate students, the grades A, B, and S denote satisfactory progress toward an advanced degree, but a C grade must be offset by higher grades in the same term for a student to remain in good academic standing. The Schools of Dentistry, Medicine, and Law maintain separate grading systems for their graduate students.

Dealing with special circumstances

Incomplete (I) grades

Faculty members may assign an “I” grade when a student’s work is of passing quality but is incomplete for a good reason, such as illness. Instructors should not assign an “I” without talking to the student about the course to make sure that the student is in fact planning on finishing the coursework rather than simply taking a failing grade. A grade of I means that only a small portion of the work of the course — a term paper, a lab experiment, or an examination — remains to be finished. The work must be completed by the end of the next quarter in which the student is registered or the “I” will lapse to an “F”, “NP”, or “U.” The student should not enroll in the course for a second time while making up the Incomplete. When giving an Incomplete, the faculty member accepts the responsibility for making it possible for the student to make up the work during the next quarter. An instructor who will not be on campus during that quarter should make arrangements for administration of the process and alert the department chair who will authorize the final grade. The dean of the student’s College or school may extend the time for completion of incomplete work in extenuating circumstances (Divisional Senate Regulation A-309B).

To record completion of the course and final grade, an instructor must send a UCLA Report of Academic Revision form, available in each department, to the Registrar’s Office. Once the grade is received by the Registrar’s Office, a confirmation is issued to the department and/or instructor. Faculty members should not give the form to the student to file.

Deferred Report (DR) grades

An instructor should assign a “DR” grade if a student’s work is complete but a grade cannot be assigned because of disciplinary proceedings (such as suspected plagiarism or cheating) or other problems. The instructor must write a letter to the Dean of Students, with copies to the student and the dean of the school or College, explaining the reasons for assigning a “DR” grade (see Academic Dishonesty section).

Note: instructors sometimes mistake the “DR” grade for a drop notation. Students use URSA or petitions to drop a class. The “DR” grade should only be used for pending disciplinary issues.

Correction of grades

All grades, except “DR”, “I”, and “IP”, are final when the faculty member submits final grades to the Registrar. No change of grade, with the exception of an “I”, may be made on the basis of reexamination or the completion of additional work. However, if the faculty member has made a clerical error or procedural error in assigning a grade, the Registrar is authorized to change it when the instructor submits a UCLA Report of Academic Revision form, obtained from the department. If the faculty member requests a grade change more than one year after the original filing, his or her signature must be validated for authenticity by the department chair (Divisional Senate Regulation A-313). The Chair of the Academic Senate can also change a grade if it has been determined that the instructor has assigned a grade on other than academic grounds. See Divisional Senate Regulation A-306D for details.

Considering final examination issues

Final exams are a critical component of many courses, and over the years UCLA has instituted a number of regulations and policies concerning finals:

  • An instructor’s method of evaluation must be announced at the beginning of the course. The method may include a final written examination, a term paper, a final oral examination, a take-home exam, or other examination device (Divisional Senate Regulation A-332A).

  • Although faculty members have the freedom to select the form of assessment that best fits their course, the examination methods must be of reasonable duration and difficulty and in accordance with applicable departmental policies. Final written examinations should not exceed three hours’ duration and should be given only at the times and places established by the department chair and Registrar (Divisional Senate Regulation A-332A).

  • Instructors may return final examinations (or copies) to students. They are otherwise required to retain exams for student access until the end of the next succeeding regular quarter (Divisional Senate Regulation A-332C).

  • If a final written examination is one of the regular requirements in the course, there can be no individual exemption from the examination (Statewide Senate Regulation SR 770) except as provided in Statewide Senate Regulation 772D, which allows a graduating student to be excused from final exams by their major department in their final term.

  • It is the responsibility of the student to make sure final examination times do not conflict by checking the Schedule of Classes (http://www.registrar.ucla.edu/schedule/).

  • No term grade except an Incomplete may be revised by reexamination of the student (Statewide Senate Regulation SR 780B)..

Setting alternate examination dates

In compliance with Section 92640(a) of the California Education Code, the University must accommodate requests for alternate examination dates at a time when that activity would not violate a student’s religious creed. This requirement does not apply in the event that administering the test or examination at an alternate time would impose an undue hardship that could not reasonably be avoided. Accommodations for alternate examination dates are worked out directly and on an individual basis between the student and the faculty member involved.

  • In general, students should make such requests of the instructor during the first two weeks of any given academic term, or as soon as possible after a particular examination date is announced by the instructor.

  • Students and instructors unable to reach a satisfactory arrangement should contact the Campus Ombuds Office or the Office of the Dean of Students.

  • Instructors who have questions or who wish to verify the nature of the religious event or practice involved should contact the Campus Ombuds Office or the Office of the Dean of Students for assistance.

This policy has been reviewed and approved by the Academic Senate Undergraduate Council. Faculty members should remember that while it is fully within their discretion to make arrangements with individual students for alternate examination times, including final examinations, they must conduct the scheduled final examination for the class as a whole at the times and places established by the department chair and the Registrar’s Office.

Maintaining student confidentiality

According to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), and UCLA policy on privacy and confidentiality of student records, instructors cannot post grades by name or leave exams out for pick-up by students. The confidentiality issue may seem an unnecessary annoyance, but many students are really quite uncomfortable about public posting of grades. Also, there is an increasing problem with thefts of exams and papers that have been left out unattended.

To comply with legal and policy requirements, graded materials should only be returned by the following means:

  • Faculty members may hand out papers directly to students during class or office hours. If the instructor cannot recognize a student, he or she should check the student’s photo ID.

  • Faculty members can arrange for someone in the department to hand out graded materials to students who come to the office to collect them; in this case, it would be advisable for the department office staff to check the photo ID of every student. The instructor is free to restrict the hours of collection. Instructors should check with their department before employing this option.

  • So far as posting grades is concerned, faculty members cannot circumvent the privacy issue by using student numbers or initials. These are considered personally identifiable in Federal Privacy laws. If posting grades is the only feasible option, obtain signed waivers from students before using student numbers or initials. Final course grades are available to students through URSA within 48 hours of grade submission to the Registrar.

The following activities are routinely done by faculty members not aware that they are violating FERPA

  • Providing grades via e-mail, phone, or postcard— FERPA does not consider these confidential means of transmitting information,

  • Circulating printed class list with student name and ID (e.g. from the Registrar) for use in attendance—this practice violates both the confidentiality of identification numbers and attendance under FERPA guidelines,

  • Including a student’s course grade in a letter of recommendation—under FERPA guidelines, course grades may not be disclosed without written permission,

  • Placing papers, exams, lab reports, etc. in publicly accessible places, particularly a common box where students must go through everyone else’s work to find their own or passing back papers, exams, lab reports, etc. by circulating an entire set for individuals to find their own—under FERPA guidelines, students may not have access to other students’ graded work without written permission,

  • Public posting, including course/institutional website, of grades by university ID, partial or full Social Security Number, phone number, etc. without prior written permission—FERPA prohibits the use of identifiable numbers that can be linked or traced to students, and

  • Allowing students to pick up graded work for a classmate.

The following are suggested practices allowed under FERPA guidelines:

  • Ask students to create a PIN number that only the student and professor know (this is the most legally sound way to post grades).
  • Obtain voluntary consent to post grades by student number.
  • Mail grade, with written consent, to student via postal service in self-addressed envelope provided by the student.
  • Leave papers, exams, lab reports, etc. with an assistant or receptionist to give to students or place papers, exams, lab reports, etc. in a sealed envelope with the student’s name on it in a departmental mailbox.

Individual course grading standards and policies

Grading inevitably involves some sort of comparison. Instructors compare students to their internal standard of excellence, to a set of objective standards, to other students in the class, or, most probably, some combination of all of these. Grading standards at UCLA vary across departments and instructors. Despite their differences, departments can agree on the following guidelines for grading based on Academic Senate regulations and principles of fairness:

  • Grades should be based solely on an evaluation of the student’s achievement of the course goals as outlined in the course description and syllabus and approved by appropriate Senate committees.

  • Grades should conform to the practices of the department and the institution.

  • Grading plans should be communicated to the class at the beginning of the term and should not be changed without significant consideration and a thorough explanation to the students (preferably in writing).

  • Once a grade is assigned, it should be changed only in cases of clerical or procedural errors in calculating and assigning grades. Regarding of exams is permitted, but not reexamination of students (Divisional Senate Regulation A-313).

The main conflict with these guidelines comes from assignment of “I” grades to allow students to retake all or part of a course, and from changes of final grades based on considerations other than a student’s work in a course. There are considerable pressures from students to raise their final grades, or to give them an Incomplete, so that they will have a chance to do better. Common arguments often involve blaming the instructor for previous scholarly failure, or may invoke some personal trauma which prevented studying. Examples: Unless you raise my “D” to a “C”, I will be dismissed from school; I am pre-med, and the “C” you gave me will probably keep me out of medical school; or I had a big fight with my girlfriend/boyfriend and couldn’t concentrate on my final exams.

In order to avoid serious misunderstandings of this nature at the end of the quarter, instructors might consider the following issues when formulating their individual course grading policies, and make a point of explaining these policies to students at the beginning of the course:

Policy on changing grades

Many instructors inform students that they will not change a student’s grade once assigned. Instructors should assure students that they always carefully consider a grade before assigning it. Instructors may be willing to recheck students’ scores, but it is against University policies and regulations to change a grade based on a student’s scholastic or personal situation, and it is not fair to other students in the class. Once again, it is advisable to incorporate the policy regarding these matters into the course syllabus and openly discuss it in class at the first meeting.

Student personal situations

When an instructor is concerned about a student’s personal situation, he or she should check with the student’s staff counselor in their school or for the available options (see Enrolling and Advising Students section). It is not one course alone that leads to a scholastic problem. Typically, a student’s academic difficulties are due to a continuing pattern of poor performance. Concern about a particular student’s dismissal should be weighed against the morality of changing a grade or allowing a course repeat through assigning an Incomplete without considering all other students in the class.

Supporting TA authority

If teaching assistants (TAs) are doing the grading for a course, the instructor should decide before the course begins how to handle grade disputes. If a student is displeased with the grade assigned by his or her TA, will the instructor review the examination or paper (informing the TA that there is a dispute)? Or will the instructor make a blanket policy of standing by the TA’s grade? Whatever policy the instructor decides in this regard, it is important to inform both the TA(s) and the students at the beginning of the course. Generally, it is preferable for the instructor and TA(s) to present a united front on such questions, rather than to allow students to undermine a TA’s authority by circumventing them.

Emphasizing fairness

Anything an instructor can do to emphasize fairness in grading is helpful. For example, faculty members may choose to maintain student anonymity in grading as an attempt to assess each student’s work in an unbiased fashion. The instructor can code examinations or have students fold back the front page of their blue books before turning them in. Of course, for classes in which students are working on long-term papers or projects that involve personal consultations with the faculty member, he or she will be well-acquainted with students’ work and anonymity will be much harder to achieve.

Whether to grade “on the curve”

Grading on the curve involves assigning grades on the basis of how each student compares with other students in the class, rather than on the basis of the degree to which the student has achieved some benchmark standard of performance. The instructor must decide whether he or she wants to evaluate the extent to which students have mastered the course material or whether they merely understand it better than other people in the class. In making this decision, it is important to consider the desired atmosphere in the classroom. Grades that rest on peer ranking may create competition or even hostility among students, whereas an absolute grading scale sometimes adds incentive for students to work or study collaboratively. Add and drop policies vary by College and school and may affect a grading curve.

Grading Strategies

Using test scoring services

The Evaluation of Instruction Program maintains a test scoring service which is available, on a limited basis, to UCLA instructors who teach large undergraduate courses. The guiding philosophy of the test scoring service is to make the scoring of multiple-choice exams more efficient with the intention that the reports generated should be used by instructors to improve the testing process itself. The service does not seek to encourage the use of multiple choice examinations where student learning may be better assessed through other means. It is, for example, pedagogically difficult to justify the use of multiple-choice examinations in courses with fewer than 75 students. Short answer questions, essay questions, research papers, group projects, oral presentations, performance testing, and a variety of other assessment procedures should be considered in such circumstances.

Those with larger courses, who are interested in using the test-scoring service, should employ the test-scoring forms (provided free of charge by EIP), which will then allow the optical scanner/software to read student responses and compile a variety of detailed statistical reports for the instructor’s information.

Essay grading

The following are some suggested strategies that may help those grading essay exams (see Student Writing section for additional information).

Handing out criteria ahead of time

Handing out grading criteria ahead of time helps to keep an instructor on track when grading, and will also be useful if any students query their grades later. In the case of an exam, make explicit the criteria by which students will be judged. In the case of a written assignment, hand out the grading criteria with the assignment, giving a written description of expectations.

Setting up a grading key

Ideally, the grading key should be constructed by the instructor in consultation with the TAs at the same time as the exam or assignment. It can then be given to students at the same time, so that potential misunderstandings can be minimized.

Issues of quality control and multiple sections

It is very important for TAs in multi-section classes to coordinate their grading keys, both with each other and with the instructor of the course. Problems of consistency often can be solved by having TAs grade one question across sections rather than within a section.

Maximizing the use of time with a grading sheet

Instructors are often torn between their need to get through a large pile of tests/assignments and their desire to give detailed comments to each student. Also, they often find that, by the time they reach the 20th paper, they have written the same comment many times. This problem can be prevented, and the use of instructor time maximized, by using a grading sheet that can be clipped to each student’s paper. If the instructor needs to keep detailed records (because students need to show improvement during the course, for example) then these sheets can easily be photocopied. A grading sheet might consist of:

A summary of the common mistakes everyone made - Before beginning, read a sample of the papers through to get a sense of what the common mistakes/misunderstandings are, and list them. The instructor can then simply check the relevant items for each student.

A shortened version of the grading criteria (which may have been given to the students in advance) - Again, the instructor can check what applies and underline what has been missed.

A space for comments - This is where the instructor can best use his/her time to address the particular needs of the individual student.

Grading participation

Several instructors require that students participate in lab or discussion sections. In some cases section participation can be a substantial part of a student’s overall grade, so it is probably best not to leave grade assignment to an arbitrary decision at the end of the quarter. Rather, at the beginning of the quarter, it is helpful to establish with the class what system will be used to grade participation. This is usually some combination of attendance and useful contribution to the educational goals of the section. Again, coordination of the participation grading system among TAs assigned to the course is essential, especially if they are to help the instructor with its implementation.

Electronic Grade Submission

Pursuant to a collective recommendation by the Academic Senate Executive Committee, the Graduate and Undergraduate Councils, and administrative officers, it was determined that electronic-only submission of final grades would significantly benefit students, faculty, and staff. As such, since fall quarter 2005 paper grade rosters are no longer printed. All final grades must be submitted electronically through the MyUCLA Gradebook the Gradebook Express, http://www.my.ucla.edu/. Both versions allow faculty to delegate access to TAs or departmental staff to help enter grades; however, only faculty of record for a class may submit final grades to the Registrar. The schools of Law, Medicine, and Dentistry are not included in this because of their separate record systems and grading methods which are not currently supported by the MyUCLA Gradebook.

Both Gradebook and Gradebook Express require a UCLA Logon (formerly Bruin OnLine) e-mail account. New accounts can be set up, user names can be obtained, and passwords can be reset online at http://www.bol.ucla.edu/services/accounts/ . Faculty who need help with accounts can contact the help desk at 310-267-4357, option 2, or e-mail consult@ucla.edu. Additionally, Gradebook and Gradebook Express require that the faculty member’s e-mail be recorded in the Campus Directory database. There are various options for what information is displayed in the web directory. Contact a departmental representative to add or update the directory listing.

Instructors have access to their grade rosters via MyUCLA Gradebook or Gradebook Express. If a student listed on the grade roster never attends or stops attending class during the quarter, record the grade F for that student, and note in the remarks section the reason for the F and whether the student has taken the final exam. Note: do not use the DR (deferred report) grade to indicate a drop. Students must use URSA or petition to drop a class. The DR grade is only used when disciplinary issues are pending resolution.

In cases where a student completes a course but his or her name does not appear on the grade roster, the instructor should instruct the student to file a petition with his or her College or school. The documentation required to approve the late addition of a course to the student’s study list varies by College and school.

Students can view their final grades and comments from instructors immediately through their MyUCLA pages. In URSA, viewing times vary. Grades submitted Monday through Friday can generally be viewed the next business day. Grades submitted on Saturday or Sunday can generally be viewed within two business days.
Students may request official transcripts through URSA or from the Registrar’s office about three weeks after the quarter ends.

Late grade submission

Instructors’ cooperation in getting final grades to the Registrar promptly is critical so that scholastic reports (such as dean’s honors lists and subject to dismissal reports) and student transcripts can be prepared. In addition, no course evaluations can be released until grades have been submitted.

The deadline to submit grades is one week after the end of finals week.
The Registrar’s Office sends instructors who have not submitted their grades a Special Request for Missing Grade form for each student in the class. Late final grades are not accepted in any by any other method once the electronic deadline has passed.


Suggested readings:

Jacobs, L.C. & Clinton I. C. (1992). Developing and using tests effectively: A guide for faculty. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

McKeachie, W.J. & Svinicki, M. (2006). Countdown for course preparation. In McKeachie, W.J., Teaching tips: Strategies, research, and theory for college and university teachers. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.

Neff, R.A. & Weimer. M. (Eds.). (1990). Teaching college: Collected reading for the new instructor. Madison, WI: Magna Publications.

Ory, J.C. & Ryan, K.E. (1993). Tips for improving testing and grading. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Sample grading sheet

Date______________ Course/Section_________________________

Student name: __________________ Assignment #_______________

Major concepts relevant to this assignment


  • __________________________________________________
  • __________________________________________________
  • __________________________________________________

Grading criteria employed

A. _____________________________________________________

B. _____________________________________________________

C. _____________________________________________________

D. _____________________________________________________