Prof. Byron Nichols, Union College
Memo to students
Subject: Understanding my grades

To students in all my courses who are writing analytic essays:

In response to a student inquiry, let me provide you the following description
of what the grades usually mean that I give on essays:

The grade of "F" that indicates that the author put no apparent work into the topic; there is no indication of any familiarity with course readings, basic concepts or ideas, or the issues posed by the assignment.

The grade of "D" indicates that, in my estimation, the author made a minimal effort and has only basic awareness of course readings. Most frequently, a "D" essay indicates a minimal familiarity with key issues or concepts but virtually no utilization of course readings in any explicit fashion and virtually no awareness at all of what the analytic issues of the assignment involve. The Registrar describes a "D" paper as "Poor".

A "C" paper most frequently is an essay that contains lots of evidence from the readings but is a summary of the books rather than an argument about the topic. The author demonstrates a comprehension of the readings and draws on them clearly and explicitly. In a few cases, a "C" paper can also be one which has explicitly directed itself towards an argument about the topic but in which there are serious and persistent problems in comprehension, clarity, logic and/or evidence. According to the Registrar, a "C" means "fair."

A "B" essay is usually one that explicitly and clearly draws on the readings, demonstrating a solid grasp of the material on its own terms, AND has achieved partial success in making an argument about the topic. There are usually some problems in logical reasoning, and/or relevant evidence, and/or clarity that keep the paper from being excellent. But a "B" paper is, indeed, what the Registrar's description says: It is "good"

An "A" paper is one which clearly draws on the full extent of the readings in an extensive and explicit way, demonstrating clearly both competency and comprehension of factual information and key concepts; it also responds with an effective argument about the topic, with explicit logic and relevant evidence, and is clearly written A "straight A" paper has no mistakes whatsoever. An "A-" paper usually contains just one or two flaws in evidence, logic, or clarity. According to the Registrar, an “A” means “excellent.”

I hope this helps some of you understand what lies underneath the letter grades given.