Quick Facts 2 - Exams & More


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Quick Facts 2 - Exams & More


Learn about US exams & tests here. What is a final or midterm? What is a Scantron? What does curve grading or grading on a curve mean? What is a cheat sheet? Throughout the years we have been asked many questions by international students about test-taking in the USA, and we are now sharing these questions and answers with you.


Taking university tests or exams in the USA and calculating your grades are likely to be a bit different from what you are used to in your home country. This section is especially helpful for first-year international students and covers seven common areas as it relates to exams and test-taking at university level in the USA.


Continue reading for answers to some of the more common questions related to exams and grades that fellow international students have asked about.


When you are done with this section, make sure to click or tap the links for more quick facts relating to classes, higher education overview, campus, employment, admission etc.




What is a Transfer Credit?


It is a credit/unit taken at one institution that is transferrable to another university/college. In other words, it is the credits/units from a class that you took somewhere else that your new university/college accepts, which consequently means that you do not have to retake the class at your new university/college. You are very likely to earn transfer credits if you transfer from a university/college to another or from a community college to a four-year university/college.


Transfer means shifting from one university/college to another. You can do this after any semester and in some cases even during a semester.


What is the US grading scale?


In the USA, a letter grade system is used based on a scale ranging from A to F, where A is the highest grade and F the lowest. The letter grade has a grade point (a value) attached to it, used to calculate the grade point average (GPA).


Grade Point is the weight of each letter grade. The grade points generally follow the below scale:


A = 4.00 grade points

A- = 3.70 grade points

B+ = 3.33 grade points

B = 3.00 grade points

B- = 2.70 grade points

C+ = 2.30 grade points

C = 2.00 grade points

C- = 1.70 grade points

D+ = 1.30 grade points

D = 1.00 grade points

D- = 0.70 grade points

WF/F/incompletes/withdrawals = 0 grade points


GPA (Grade Point Average) is the average grade calculated from all the grades you received in all your classes for a particular semester. A variety of methods are used to determine the GPA, and you are recommended to ask your university/college for information specific to the institution. However, a widely used method is to divide the total amount of grade points earned by the total number of credit hours attempted. For instance, let’s say you have taken four classes totaling 12 credit hours (3 credit hours per class) and you received the grades: A, B+, C, and D. The grade points for each letter grade is A= 4.0, B+= 3.33, C= 2.0, and D= 1.0. Since each class was 3 credit hours, the calculation will look like: 3(4.0) + 3(3.33) + 3(2.0) + 3(1.0) = 12 + 9.99 + 6 + 3 = 30.99. Now divide this number with the number of credit hours (12) and you will get 2.582, which is your GPA. After your second semester you will also have a cumulative GPA which is your total GPA calculated on grades from all your semesters.


What does Curve Grading mean?


Instructors might use something called Curve Grading (also called grading-on-a-curve or curving) when grading tests and exams. It is a statistical method used to assign grades that takes into consideration the performance of all students in the class, and makes adjustments to the grade assignment. Simply put, if the top grade (A) for a test is 100 but the highest any student get is 89, then 89 will become the new “100” (top grade) and all other students grades will be recalculated based on this. You can ask an instructor, “Do you grade on a curve?” and they will let you know.


What is a Final and Midterm?


The term Final is short for final examination and is a course-based test given to students at the end of each semester for each course taken. The finals (tests) are administered during the so called “finals week.”


Technically, a Midterm (also called midterm exam) is an exam taken after half the semester has progressed, and covers material that has been taught up until that point. However, the term “midterm” is also widely used to refer to any exam given during a semester. This is because some classes/courses do not have a specific exam half-way through a semester but instead has approximately three exams equally spread apart throughout the semester. Each of these exams is commonly referred to as a “midterm.” For the sake of simplicity, you can consider the term “midterm” to mean test.


What is a Multiple-Choice Test?


A Multiple-Choice Test is a test/exam given to students where each question has several (multiple) answer options listed on the actual test, of which one is correct. You will have both the question and the potential answers (normally five choices) given to you on the test/exam. You simply circle the answer you believe is correct on your test paper or mark the appropriate box on the scantron. However, some questions have more than one correct answer so you will have to circle or mark all the correct answers in order to get the question correct (it will be clearly stated on the test if more than one answer is correct).


What is a Scantron and how is it used?


Scantron is the paper form (answer sheet) used for multiple-choice test. Although there are many form types, generally the form has a column with each question numbered (between 50-100) and rows with the answer options (the letters A, B, C, D, and E). There is also a section for students to enter their full name and student id. Students will mark their answers on the scantron form for each test question and then hand it in to the instructor/professor together with the paper test once the test is completed, or the time limit has expired. The instructor/professor will later insert the Scantron into a scanner which will automatically mark the incorrect answers. Scantron is actually the company producing the form, but the name has now become to mean the physical form.


What is a Cheat Sheet and can I use it?


A Cheat Sheet (also written as cheatsheet) is one page of concise notes that students are sometimes allowed to bring when taking a test. You are allowed to consult your notes during the test. This is not cheating even if the name applies it is. You will become creative when writing your cheat sheet. Although you will be given a size restriction (how big the physical sheet can be), you are free to include anything you want in your notes. It is common for students to write in very small font and include entire equations, definitions, or formulas.


Although cheat sheets are common practice and you are likely to use them, be aware that far from all classes allow students to bring cheat sheets to a test. You instructor will inform you in advance if you are allowed to bring a cheat sheet.


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