The Grading System

The Registrar is authorized to obtain from instructors reports on the performance of students in the form of the grades established by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Online grade entry forms are available to instructors and must be submitted by the indicated due dates. (See the Due Dates charts for fall and spring later in this chapter.) The Faculty of Arts and Sciences uses the following system of letter and non-letter grades to evaluate undergraduate student work:

Letter Grades: Undergraduate Students

  • A, A- Earned by work whose excellent quality indicates a full mastery of the subject and, in the case of the grade of A, is of extraordinary distinction.
  • B+, B, B- Earned by work that indicates a good comprehension of the course material, a good command of the skills needed to work with the course material, and the student’s full engagement with the course requirements and activities.
  • C+, C, C- Earned by work that indicates an adequate and satisfactory comprehension of the course material and the skills needed to work with the course material and that indicates the student has met the basic requirements for completing assigned work and participating in class activities.
  • D+, D, D- Earned by work that is unsatisfactory but that indicates some minimal command of the course materials and some minimal participation in class activities that is worthy of course credit toward the degree.
  • E Earned by work which is unsatisfactory and unworthy of course credit towards the degree.

Non-letter Grades: Undergraduate Students

Incomplete (INC) cannot under any circumstances be given to undergraduates.

  • ABS Students who miss a regularly-scheduled final examination scheduled by the Office of the Registrar during the Final Examination Period are given a failing grade of Absent (ABS) which will be changed only if the student is granted and takes a makeup examination. Unexcused absences are counted as failures. (See Final Examinations.) No other grade can be accepted. Final assessments not scheduled by the Registrar's Office, including take-home examinations and special final projects, are not "regularly-scheduled" examinations; therefore, ABS cannot be used in these cases. If, after an absence from a regularly scheduled final examination, a student is granted a makeup examination by the Administrative Board, the appropriate grade is then submitted after completion of the examination.
  • EXLD A notation of Excluded (EXLD) indicates that the student was not permitted to continue in the course by vote of the Administrative Board of the College and received no credit. Exclusion from a course is equivalent in all respects to failing it and in and of itself makes the student’s record for the term unsatisfactory.
  • EXT Instructors may allow students extensions of time to complete course work up to the last day of the Examination Period. After that date, only the Administrative Board may grant extensions of time for undergraduates to complete course work. (See Late Work and Extension of Time for Course Work.) Until the date of extension set by the Board, a final grade should not be reported by the instructor; instead, the designation EXT (Extension) should be reported on the grade sheet. EXT is only a temporary notation. When the allowed time for late work has passed, or if additional time is not granted by the Administrative Board of the College, the instructor should officially inform the Registrar of the final grade. Students who miss a regularly scheduled final examination scheduled by the Office of the Registrar must be given an ABS (Absent), not an EXT.
  • PA/FL The grade of Pass represents letter grades of A to D-; the grade of Fail represents the letter grade of E only. Students admitted to a course on a PA/FL basis are so identified on the grade sheet. For such students, only a grade of Pass or Fail can be accepted by the Registrar. Independent Study is always graded PA/FL.
  • SAT/UNS The grade of Satisfactory includes letter grades from A to C-; the grade of Unsatisfactory represents work below C- and is considered a failing grade. No students enrolled in courses graded SAT/UNS may receive letter grades in those courses.

The following junior and senior tutorials must be graded SAT/UNS:

African and African American Studies 99
Applied Mathematics 99r
Chemistry 91r, 98r, and 99r
English 99r
Folklore and Mythology 99
French 99
German 99
Government 99r
History 99
History and Literature 99
History of Art and Architecture 99
History of Science 99a and 99b
Italian 99
Latin American Studies 99
Linguistics 99a, 99b
Literature 98a, 98b, 99a, and 99b
Mathematics 60r
Philosophy 99
Portuguese 99
Psychology 985, 990, 992, and 993
Religion 99
Romance Studies 99
Scandinavian 99
Slavic 99a, 99b
Social Studies 99
Sociology 99
South Asian Studies 99
Spanish 99
Special Concentrations 99
Studies of Women, Gender, Sexuality 99a, 99b

All Freshman Seminars are graded SAT/UNS.

Certain House Seminars may also be graded SAT/UNS, provided instructors inform the Standing Committee on Freshman Seminars of their intentions at the time the House Seminar proposals are submitted, and all students in a particular seminar are graded on the same scale.

In addition, SAT/UNS may be reported as a midyear grade in any full year tutorial or half-course extending throughout the year which does not give a midyear examination. In this case only, Unsatisfactory may be used to indicate passing-but-unsatisfactory work. Assigning an unsatisfactory midyear grade will make the student’s record for the term unsatisfactory and subject to review by the Administrative Board.

The instructor must obtain permission from the Office of Undergraduate Education (for courses below the 200- or 2000-level) or Dean of the Graduate School (for courses at the 200- or 2000-level) before grading SAT/UNS for any course not listed above.

Satisfactory and Unsatisfactory Undergraduate Studies

Grades of C- or higher, as well as the grades of PA and SAT, are passing and satisfactory grades. Grades of D+ through D- are passing but unsatisfactory grades. Grades of E, ABS (Absent), FL (Fail), UNS (Unsatisfactory), and EXLD (Excluded) are failing grades. All undergraduate student records with any unsatisfactory or failing grade are reviewed at the end of the term by the Administrative Board, which responds to such records in the manner described in the appropriate sections of the Handbook for Students and in the Administrative Board Guide for Students. Responses may include a period of academic probation or a requirement to withdraw from the College for a year.

Letter Grades—Graduate Students

The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences uses the following letter grades: A, A-, B+, B, B-, C+, C, C-, D+, D, D-, E. A grade of E is a failing grade.

The minimum standard for satisfactory work in the Graduate School is a “B” average in each academic year. A grade of “C” or “INC” is offset by a grade of “A” and a “D” by two “A’s”; no account is taken of plus or minus. Grades of “E” or an unexcused “ABS” are failing. A grade of “UNS” is unsatisfactory. A course in which a student receives an “E” or permanent “INC” or “ABS” may be retaken for credit at a later time, in which case both grades will appear on the student’s transcript. In many departments, students are expected to maintain an average well above the GSAS minimum.

Letter grades are to be used in every case except as follows:

Non-letter Grades—Graduate Students

Graduate students are not allowed to take courses on a Pass/Fail (PA/FL) basis.

  • ABS The designation ABS (Absent) is used in the case of a student who is absent from a regularly scheduled final examination scheduled by the Office of the Registrar during the Final Examination Period. No other grade can be accepted. Final assessments not administered by the Registrar’s Office, including take-home examinations and special final projects are not “regularly scheduled” examinations; therefore, ABS cannot be used in courses with take-home final exams. If, after an absence from a regularly scheduled final examination, a student is subsequently granted a makeup examination by the Associate Registrar, the appropriate grade is then submitted after completion of the examination. A special grade sheet is provided for this purpose.
  • EXC Graduate students may be excused from a final examination or other course assignments by their division, department, or committee Chairs on the basis of having passed departmental examinations or other requirements. At the written request of a Chair, the Associate Registrar of Records and Requirements records the grade of EXC (Excused). If students elect to take the final examination and complete the course, they receive a letter grade.
  • INC For graduate students only The instructor has the prerogative of approving an extension of time for completion of course work beyond the end of the term. The appropriate grade in this situation is INC (Incomplete), not EXT (Extension). In order to have the grade of INC changed to a letter or appropriate non-letter grade, the graduate student must complete the work of the course before the end of the next regular term. An INC which has not been completed by that time will become a permanent grade, unless the student successfully petitions for an extension of time. This petition requires the approval of the Director of Graduate Studies and of the Dean of the Graduate School. When a student has made up an INC within the allowable time period, the instructor should immediately inform the Registrar of the grade in writing. If the instructor reports the grade after the deadline for completing the work has passed, the instructor must include the date on which the student submitted the work to the instructor. Failure to affirm to the Registrar that the student completed the work on time will render the grade unacceptable.
  • SAT/UNS For graduate students, Satisfactory indicates that the course was passed with distinction (B- or above). Graduate courses of Reading and Research (300-level courses) must be graded Satisfactory or Unsatisfactory. No other courses may be graded on a SAT/UNS basis with the exception of designated foreign language courses. Graduate students must petition to obtain permission from the instructor to take a language course on a SAT/UNS basis. Graduate students admitted to a course on a SAT/UNS basis are so identified on the grade sheet.

Student Request for Review of an Assigned Grade

Both undergraduate and graduate students may request that an instructor review a grade that has been received and may also ask to consult with the Chair of the department or committee offering the course. However, final authority for the assignment of grades rests with the course head.

Once a grade has been reported to the Registrar, it can be changed by submitting a request of the instructor to the Registrar, acting on behalf of the Dean of Harvard College (or the Dean of the Graduate School in the case of 200- or 300-level courses). The Registrar must be satisfied that all students in the course will have been treated equitably before authorizing any grade change. Grade changes may be submitted electronically.