On Grading

It is my firm personal belief that education would vastly improve if we did not have to waste time on grades. However, I am required to give you grades, and I always work hard to make sure that the grades you receive are fair, and reflect your ability and effort. The most important thing you should know about your grades is this:


When in doubt, always consider the work you did, or did not do, during the semester. Besides that, there are other things you should think about…


Therefore, before contacting me about your grade, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Did I complete all assignments in the class? (Including posting at least weekly on any class blog that was set up for my class?)
  • Did I participate actively in classes? (Attendance is almost never counted towards your grade: if you attend every class but do not participate, you can potentially get a zero for participation.)
  • Did I perform well on exams, or in assignments where I was evaluated by my peers?
  • Does the grade I received seem radically different from grades I assigned myself during self-evaluation exercises?
  • Did I work hard and contribute significantly to team projects outside of class? Can I be sure my teammates felt this way? (Peer evaluation does matter in those classes where it was used.)
  • Was the class larger than 20 people? If it was, then a “grading curve” is required by the university, limiting the number of As and Bs that can be assigned in the class. See below for more about that.
  • (If the class had a participation component:) Did I do anything to stand out? Did I make myself a leader or contributor in the class? Did I make a special effort each and every time the class met to ensure that I would be remembered as making a special contribution to the class, regardless of my skill level or English ability?

If you are still confused about why you got the grade you did, a gradesheet will soon be available at the department office early next week (ie. by 2 July 2008). You are free to visit and ask about the specific breakdown of your grade in the class.


Please be advised that while I am very willing to correct an error, I am, like most of your Korean professors, very unimpressed by emails begging for a higher grade. Sending an email asking me to turn an A0 to an A+, or a B0 to a B+, or some similar change, will not work… but I will also give me a bad impression of you personally.

Please be advised that my first and strongest gut reaction to any complaint about grades (except genuine mistakes on my part) is to lower the complainer’s grade, and that if I get that idea in my head, I can probably find a good reason to do so.

Please also, finally, be advised that, occasionally, when a student has complained about his or her grade to me, I have discovered that I indeed did make an accident, and that he or she was supposed to have a LOWER grade than I originally assigned him or her. And yes, in that case, I corrected by mistake by giving the lower grade. So there is a risk involved for you if you complain.

So before you contact me, consider the following things.


  • If you plagiarized anything in our class, and did not get an F in the class, I’m already being too nice. Don’t push your luck, or I might reconsider passing you at all.
  • Yes, it is possible to attend every class and still fail, if you do one of the following things:
    • … don’t complete all major assignments. And no, sitting in the front of the room silently during a panel discussion does not count as completing the assignment.
    • … don’t hand in any, or even just a majority, of homework assignments.
    • … don’t sit the midterm or final exam, or complete a final project.
    • … don’t participate in class but instead sit there silently like a rock.
    • … don’t demonstrate a reasonable level of skill or knowledge acquisition as outlined in the syllabus for the class under the section describing the purpose of the class. (In other words, if you seem to have learned absolutely nothing from the class, or less than a minimum amount,then you will fail.)
  • No, I will not change your grade from an A0 to an A+, not for any special reason except if I made a mistake. And trust me, I only rarely make mistakes with grades. If you want a scholarship or to live in the dormitory, try harder in your classes.

Please remember to be responsible and professional about your grades. They are your responsibility, and are only earned by your work.


Like most universities in Korea, our university compels professors to apply a “grading curve” to all classes of more than 19 students. The standard rule is, not counting foreign students, up to 30% of the class can have an A0 or A+, and up to 70% of the class can have between B0 and A+. This means that 30% of the class must receive a C+ or lower.

However, there are some misconceptions about this. Allow me to clear some of them up:

  • This does not mean it’s “easier” to get an A0 or A+ in a class of less than 20 people. It’s hard in classes of both sizes, and in classes of both sizes, you need to make a special effort to get into the A-range. True, in bigger classes, there’s more competition and you need to be especially diligent because others will realize this and make a big effort too. But this does not mean an A0 or A+, or any grade at all is guaranteed in a small class.  An A0 or A+ is ALWAYS earned through difficult strain and labour.
  • This does not mean I must give 30% of the class an A-range grade, or 40% of the class a B-range grade, or that nobody will get a D or an F! These ratios are the maximums, not a quota:
    • If everyone in a class of 50 people sleeps half the time, everyone in the class will get a nice big F.
    • In some classes, only a few students earn an A0. Sometimes, nobody earns an A+.
    • In other classes, 50% of people deserve an A+ and only 30% of people can have one. Life is unfair, and this is just one more instance of it.
  • This does not mean I don’t like or respect you. I’ve given several students whom I think of as “A+” students a B+ grade simply because of the “grading curve,” or because they didn’t quite earn an A-level grade in a particular class in a particular semester.
  • This does mean that changing grades in a big class is very difficult. Every tiny change affects other people, and often in a negative way.

Believe me, I dislike the “grading curve” system even more than you do. But since I want to keep my job, I have to follow it, and since you’re a student, you need to find a way to use the system to your advantage. That’s part of your education too, I suppose. There are some hints about, but here’s one more hint: next time, make sure you’re memorable. I remember students who go out of their way to learn, lead, contribute to class, help others, or pursue subjects further. There are many ways to make sure I know who you are, and each of them will help your participation grade, which often makes all the difference in a large class situation.


Now, if you still have a question about your grade, and you’re quite sure I made a mistake, proceed to this page for advice on how to send a polite email to your professors. I will not be in my office, but I will be checking my email regularly, and I will be in Korea for most of the holiday.