About grades

Your final grade for this course is computed through an arcane process of fiddling around with weights and algorithms until I get results that I (not necessarily you) feel are fair and reasonably generous.


Your exam grades are normalized to a z-score. The z-score is:

(your_grade - average_grade)/(standard_deviation)

This compensates for different means and standard deviations on the exams. The mean is the class average and the standard deviation measures how wide the grade distribution spreads out. A z-score of 0 means you're at the exact class average. A z-score of 1 means you are one standard deviation above the class average; that's about the 84% percentile. A z-score of -1 means you are one standard deviation below the class average; that's about the 16th percentile. See here to read up more about standard scoring if you're curious. From the z-score, a continuous-scale GPA is computed. All exams carry the same weight and the lowest exam grade (based on the z-score) is dropped.

For example, suppose a student gets a 58 on exam 2, where the mean grade is 48.8 and the standard deviation is 18.5. Her z-score is (58-48.8)/18.5 = 0.497. This is equivalent to a grade of 81.5 on exam 1, where the mean grade was 74 and the standard deviation was 15.1. Hence, if the same student got a score of 75 on exam 1, the 75 would be the lower of the two grades.

To get an idea of how your grade measures up, compute your z-score and add 3.1 to it to get a GPA for that exam grade (disclaimer: I may change this factor). Using the above example, the grade of 58 for exam 2 corresponds to a GPA of approximately 3.6.

Here are the mean grades and standard deviations for the exams:

  Exam 1 Exam 2 Exam 3
Average 73.7 67.6  
Std. dev. 13.5 14.8  


Homework assignments are not normalized to mean grades but stand on their own. They are normalized only to the maximum number of points allotted for that assignment. For example, a grade of 8 where the maximum score is 10 is identical to a grade of 80 where the maximum score is 100. Programming assignments count for substantially more than written assignments.


Quiz grades are also not normalized. The lowest quiz grade (e.g., a missing quiz) will be dropped. Others will be averaged together.

Final grade

Two sets of scrores are computed from the exam, quiz, and assignment grades: one allots a greater weight for exams and the other places a greater weight on the assignments. Of these two scores, the greater one is picked for your grade.

Two factors may override your final grade:

If you are caught cheating in any way, I will assign you a grade of F. Your actions will also be reported to the department and to your dean.
Not doing programming assignments:
If you do not turn in programming assignments or turn in truly pathetic submissions (that do not come close to working) you will not get a grade exceeding a D.