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  Cornell University

The University Faculty

Office of the Dean

Grading Policies

In May 1965, the University Faculty adopted the Cornell University Grading System , a letter system of grading with shadings of pluses, minuses, and variations in gradepoint values, as well as a system of symbols to be used in lieu of grades.

Letter Grades

The official University grading system is composed of letter grades with pluses and minuses. Passing grades range from A+ to D–; F is failing. INC denotes a grade of incomplete, NG denotes a non-graded course, NGR signifies no grade reported, and R is the grade given a for an in-progress multi-semester course. The grades of INC, NG, NGR and R do not have quality-point equivalents attached. The quality-point equivalents are below:

A+ =4.3 B+ =3.3 C+ =2.3 D+ =1.3
A   =4.0 B   =3.0 C   =2.0 D   =1.0
A– =3.7 B– =2.7 C– =1.7 D– =0.7
F   =0.0

Letter grade values are combined with course credit hours to produce an average based on a 4.3 scale. Grade point average is calculated by multiplying the credit hour and quality point equivalent for each course and then dividing by the total number of credits taken.  The cumulative average is the sum of the products of all the grades at Cornell divided by the total number of credits taken.

S/U Grades

Alongside the  letter grade system stands an SU System, in which S means satisfactory, as defined by performance that would be graded C- or higher, and U means unsatisfactory, as defined by performance that would be graded below C-. Grades of S and U are not given gradepoint values or taken into account in computing gradepoint averages.

The  purpose  of  the  S‐U  System  is  to  encourage  students to venture into courses outside their main areas of familiarity without great risk to their  academic  record.    The  border  between  S  and  U  is  not  the  same,  however,  as  that  between  pass  and  fail  in  the  letter grade  system.

Credits toward the fulfillment of graduation requirements are  earned for courses evaluated S but not for those graded U. The various schools and colleges differ in the restrictions they place on the election of S/U grading over letter grading.

But  in  those  courses  where  college  rules  and  course procedures allow it, the election is a student option that must be exercised within the  first seven weeks of the beginning of the term.  Students may not defer the decision in  the hope of first seeing the letter grade they are likely to earn.


The symbol of Incomplete is only appropriate when two basic conditions are  met:  (1)  The student has substantial equity at a passing level in the course with respect  to work completed; and (2) the student has been prevented by circumstances beyond  his/her control, such as illness or family emergency, from completing all of the course  requirements on time.

An Incomplete may not be given merely because a student fails to complete all course  requirements on time.  Such a practice would be open to abuse; by deferring completion  of some major course requirement, a student could gain advantage over his or her  classmates by obtaining additional time to do a superior job.  This is not an option that  may be elected at the students own discretion.

While it is the students responsibility to initiate a request for an Incomplete, reasons for  requesting an Incomplete must be acceptable to the instructor, who establishes specific  makeup requirements.  An Incomplete allows a specified amount of time determined  by the students college of registry, for completing course work.  The instructor has  the option of setting a shorter time limit than that allowed by the students college.

Several colleges require that a statement signed by the instructor be on file indicating  the reason for the Incomplete and the restriction, if any.    The consequences of failure to complete all course work within the time permitted will  depend upon the policy of the students college of registry.  Some colleges convert the  Incomplete symbol to a grade of F; others let the Incomplete stand on the students  transcript.  In either case, the option to make up the work is lost.

It is the responsibility of the student to see that all Incompletes are made up within the  deadline and that the grade change has been properly recorded with the students  college registrar.

Faculty under no circumstances should give an Incomplete due to pressure to meet  the deadline for reporting grades.  The symbol Incomplete becomes a permanent part of  the students transcript, even when a grade is later submitted.

Late Grades

Late grades should be avoided.  They often result in unwarranted academic  actions or even in students not being able to graduate on time.  Furthermore, late grades  must be posted by hand at considerable expense and do not appear on grade slips and  may prevent students from receiving recognition for academic achievement.

Posting  of  Grades

Posting  of  student  grades  by  name  or  a  personally  identifiable  number is prohibited under the terms of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act  of 1974 (FERPA).  However, a student waiver authorizing disclosure of educational  records by means of a personally identifiable number (e.g. a student ID number) is  acceptable provided that such consent is in writing, dated and signed by the student.

[NOTE:  A name or social security number must never be used for this purpose.]  If  instructors use this method, the waiver must be for a specific course; must be for a  specified period of time (semester, academic year, etc.); must specify the records to be  disclosed; and must be retained by the instructor of the course for a period of one year  after its expiration.  Students should not be coerced into signing a waiver, as the law  requires that it be voluntarily given.  Instructors may post grades for students who do  not want their student ID number used by establishing a unique identifier known  only to that student and the instructor.

Last Updated: June 4, 2019 at 10:34 am