Teaching Tip: Setting Up a Percentage-Based Grade Book

Many higher education faculty have developed elaborate point systems to assess student work and ultimately to determine final course grades. The problem with points is that they are not always equitable across assignments. For example, each question on a 10-point quiz is high stakes because each question is worth 10% of the total quiz score. On the other hand, a major project worth 500 points leaves ample opportunity for a passing grade unless “chunks” of points are deducted. Points require calculation and interpretation because the base standard varies from assignment to assignment. Percentages, on the other hand, allow you to consistently scale every assignment, from the 10 question quiz to the major project, in a way that students can easily understand: 100%.

Online course management systems such as Blackboard and Sakai make setting up a percentage-based grade book quite easy. In preparation, list your course requirements (everything students will do for a grade). Next, determine the percentage that each assignment will contribute to the total course grade. Obviously, your total should be 100%. Your list might look something like this:

Exams (3)


Group Project


Learning Journal

Professionalism (Attendance and Participation)










Now you are ready to set up your online grade book. In Blackboard, you will reflect the course requirement percentages by creating categories and “weighting” your various assignments so that some will count more than others in calculating the total course grade. In Sakai, you will simply choose percentages over points. You may wish to divide some assignments further. For example, I list each exam separately at 15% each. You also may wish to nuance the value of some assignments beyond whole numbers. For example, in my course, the learning journal is submitted three times during the semester. Therefore, each time I grade it, students can earn up to 3.33% (for submissions one and two) and 3.34% (for submission three) which totals 10% by the end of the semester. Nuancing beyond whole numbers also works for tests and quizzes administered through your online course management system. For example, each exam in my course is comprised of 60 questions worth .25% each.

Once your percentage-based grade book is set up, your grading system will be equitable because all course requirements will be based on the consistent standard of 100%. Moreover, when your students receive their graded work, they will easily understand 92% as opposed to 460/500. Neither you nor your students will have to get out your calculators to figure out what 460 points means!

Note: While this teaching tip advocates for a percentage-based grading system, the jury is still out on regarding percentages versus points. For more information about the pros and cons of each approach, please view the following resources.


EStarkState (2011, February 8). Gradebook preferences: Points vs. percentages. Retrieved from

Growing Learners (2012, March 29). Total points vs. weighted grades. Retrieved from

Weimer, M. (2011, October 19). Grading practices: Liabilities of the points system. Faculty Focus: Higher Ed Teaching Strategies from Magna Publications. Retrieved from


Submitted by
Jana Hunzicker, Ed.D.
Associate Professor, Department of Teacher Education
William T. Kemper Fellow for Teaching Excellence, College of Education and Health Sciences
Executive Director, Center for Teaching Excellence and Learning
Bradley University
Peoria, IL