This is a prescriptive handout: for more on grades in general, consult
the webpage at
It is extremely difficult to learn without getting feedback.
Hence we have a feedback cycle that works like this:
By going through this cycle repeatedly, you gradually learn how to do
performances well, and eventually master whatever it is you are trying to
You put what you learn into a compact performance, like the answer to an
You present this performance to a professional evaluator, who tells you
how you did.
Note that the grade is not an evaluation of you as
a person, nor is it a reward that you earn: it is merely an evaluation of
one of your performances.
It is very difficult to look at a grade objectively, but that is what you
have to do: look at a grade as niether success nor failure, but only as
By looking at the evaluation, you can see what you do understand, and how
well and at what level you understand it.
There are several problems with grades.
Since there is little standardization, it may not be that clear how you
But in the long run, grades do tell you what you are good at and not good at;
where you are doing well and where you need improvement.
In large classes, it is very good to be well above the median (the median
is the score such that half the class got below the median and half above),
while it is not good to be well below the median: in large classes, it
helps to know what the median is.
If your professor doesn't tell you, ask.
In small classes, the median doesn't tell you much.
So it helps to ask the professor.
It never (hardly ever) hurts to see professors anyway: it shows them that
you care about your performance.
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