How American universities calculate the GPA

Posted 30 July 2015
Grading system in the USA

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US universities use a grading scale to calculate a student's GPA. Students earn their grades through their overall performance during the entire academic year. Read on to see how the grading scale is used to calculate a GPA.

When studying in the USA, acronyms become a very important part of your life. An acronym is a word typically formed from the first letters in a set phrase or group of words. For example, OPEC is an acronym for Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries; it is much easier to say (and spell) “OPEC” than what the o, p, e, and c represent. Many of the acronyms you will hear or read will be specific to your university (like COB for College of Business), but one acronym is understood wherever you study: GPA.

GPA is an acronym for Grade Point Average. This is a number calculated from the grades you earn when studying at a US university. When you study at a US university, GPA is on a scale from 0.0 to 4.0, with 4.0 being the highest your GPA can be. GPA is very important in US universities. Students must keep a certain level of GPA to continue studying in the university; some scholarships require a certain level of GPA to be maintained; and some majors require a minimum GPA before a student continues studying in that program.

This chart shows you how much each letter grade is worth in number of points to GPA:

A = 90-100%

4

B = 80-89%

3

C = 70-79%

2

D = 60-69%

1

F = < 60%

0

To calculate a GPA, let’s say that a student is enrolled in five classes during one semester. Four of those classes are 3-hour classes and one class is a 4-hour class. (The term hour is sometimes used for credit; the number of hours or credits determines how much a class is worth.) This means the student is taking 16 hours for the semester (four 3-hr classes + one 4-hr class). At the end of the semester, this imaginary student earns the following grades:

Class 1: 3 hrs

A

Class 2: 3 hrs

B

Class 3: 3 hrs

B

Class 4: 3 hrs

C

Class 5: 4 hrs

A

In order to determine the student’s GPA, the number of hours/credits each class counts for (3 hrs or 4 hrs), in this case are multiplied by the points earned from the class (A=4, etc.).

Class 1: 3 hrs

A (4)

12

Class 2: 3 hrs

B (3)

 9

Class 3: 3 hrs

B (3)

9

Class 4: 3 hrs

C (2)

6

Class 5: 4 hrs

B (3)

12

Once the number of points per class is calculated (3x4, etc.), they are added together. The student earned a total of 48 points (12+9+9+6+12) for the semester. Remember, the student took 16 hours, so this results in the student’s GPA being 3.0 for the semester (48/16=3.0).

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