Grading of Courses

Grade Descriptors for the Assessment of Key Learning Outcomes

To maintain a balance between evaluating undergraduate student achievement of learning outcomes and maintaining academic standards, the University has agreed on grade-descriptors setting out broad standards of achievement of learning outcomes for the key course-grade bands (A, B, C, and D). These grade descriptors are designed so that both students and faculty can share an understanding of what is necessary to achieve the grade.

The development of grade descriptors reflects the move from norm-referencing, where students are graded with reference to their peers, to criterion-referencing, where student performance is evaluated against the achievement of learning outcomes.

Guideline Course Grade Bands and Avoiding Grade Inflation

Guidelines for Use of Undergraduate Course Grade Distribution Bands outline the University’s experience with course grading and criterion-referenced assessment since adopting outcome-based education in 2008.

The grade descriptors and guideline course grade distribution bands are intended to:

  • Indicate the standards students are expected to achieve;
  • Provide existing distributions of grades as a benchmark for departments as they review course grades;
  • Provide a basis for discussion of course grades in cases of disagreement;
  • Encourage uniformity of practice to ensure fairness of treatment of students;
  • Discourage grade inflation over time;
  • Assist in maintaining the relationship between students’ achievement in courses and the distribution of the classification of final awards.
Grade Moderation

To safeguard academic standards and prevent grade inflation over time, it is good practice for faculty to review grade distributions annually in regard to historical distributions for their courses, to determine whether the assessments were sufficiently challenging to allow differentiation of student performance, and to monitor the standards of marking. To this end, each term Course Instructors and Heads of Department/Division are provided with the grade distributions of their courses for the three previous years, for reference.

Before finalizing course grades, faculty and Heads of Department/Division should refer to the University’s experience with course grade distribution which, for undergraduate courses, indicates that grades will normally fall within the following guideline bands:

A 10-25%
B 25-40%
C 25-40%
D 5-10%
F 0-5%


The Guidelines for Use of Undergraduate Course Grade Distribution Bands acknowledge that there are justifiable variations in grade distributions among Schools and between introductory courses (levels 1000 or 2000) and advanced courses (levels 3000 or 4000); and that there is no intention to use a rigid rule to artificially force course grades to a preset distribution, which would go against the spirit of academic freedom and criterion referencing.

However, where undergraduate course grades fall outside the above guideline bands, faculty and instructors assigning grades should consider moderating their marking/grades, where appropriate, to assure themselves that the grades are academically justified, and should be ready to explain their grading decisions.