GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY
Department of History
H. R. Spendelow
grading system summary *
  28 Feb 2013

A = outstanding
There's nothing here warranting serious criticism and, in some cases, not even major editorial suggestions; I perhaps even learned something in reading it.

A- = excellent
You show a good mastery of the data and have presented a clear argument, but could use some polishing on the finer points.

B+ = very good
exams:
  1. You're on top of the material and haven't made any glaring errors, but your answer lacks the brilliance, clarity, and/or thoroughness needed for an "A/A-". 
  2. Or, a number of minor errors/problems knocked you down from the A level.
papers:
  1. You may have stretched your argument beyond the support of your evidence, or
  2. There may be minor problems in syntax and/or annotation, or
  3. You seem to be on top of your material but have not presented it in a reader-friendly manner.
B = good
exams:
'so far, so good -- dig deeper'
  1. Your argument's on solid ground but could use a more explicit focus and/or further support or development.  That is, your facts are reasonably complete/accurate, but analysis, while moving in a fruitful direction, could use more substantiation and/or elaboration;
  2. You've presented the relevant data but have not made the significance clear; e.g., your narration is solid -- now explain why you've included this particular narrative here;
  3. You've included a lot of material that's "true", but irrelevant to the question asked;
  4. The question elicits a discussion of several explanatory factors; you're OK on one/some, but have missed others;
  5. There are enough ambiguities,  errors, or lacunæ in your data/presentation to be  unsettling;
  6. You've solidly presented your argument but haven't refuted any counter-arguments; 
  7. The chronology may be muddled.

primary source reports or quotation IDs:
Needs (more) supporting evidence from the text itself.

papers:
  1. Confusing, ambiguous, or vague syntax and/or the lack of a coherent narrative have muddied the clarity of your argument.
  2. May have more noticeable annotation problems.  Even if your content is of "A" quality, errors in annotation can knock you down to this level.
B- = pretty good
exams: (mostly) true, but vague...with one or more of the following problems:
  1. Your answer, while defensible in its own right, misses the specific focus of the question asked (for example, in quotation IDs, you get the overall context but ignore the specific content of the quotation; term IDs seem to have been memorized from some Wikipedia-like reference);
  2. You're more or less on target, but your argument needs even more expansion/support;
  3. There are serious ambiguities,  errors, or lacunæ in your data and/or your exposition needs more clarity.
  4. You've invoked the appropriate terms/vocabulary without explaining them, or have  not mentioned them at all.
  5. Irregularities in syntax and/or sentence structure cloud the clarity of your argument.
papers:  May have:
  1. Lack of clarity or focus in your opening thesis statement;
  2. Overly broad scope; 
  3. An intellectual approach more appropriate for a discipline such as public policy, philosophy, sociology, etc., rather than for history;
  4. Annotation problems that are fairly significant in terms of seriousness and/or frequency;
  5. Over-reliance on academic jargon which obscures rather than illuminates your analysis.
  6. Over-reliance on quoted secondary material which would better have been paraphrased (but still cited).
C+ = OK
exams: It's obvious that you've done the readings and listened to the lectures, but you need to reflect more deeply on the material.  This could involve clearing up a number of errors and/or striking a better balance between generalizations and detail:  i.e., approaching the subject from a less narrative, more analytical perspective, or providing more specific data to illustrate your general theme.  You may have invoked the appropriate terms/vocabulary, but seem confused about their underlying meaning.  There may be serious inconsistencies or vagueness in chronology.

papers: Inadequate/inaccurate annotation (e.g., noting only direct quotations), or not distinguishing between paraphrases and direct quotations

C = acceptable, but ...
exams:
  1. You seem to have grasped the basic idea, but while your data is reasonably accurate and comes from the same universe as the question, you've completely missed the main focal point(s) required by the question;
  2. Omissions or disturbing errors in fact,logic, or chronology have undermined your argument;
  3. While your argument is basically correct, you've presented virtually no supporting evidence;
  4. Identification error:  the question asked about "X"; you mistook "X" for "Y" -- but, if the question had been about "Y", this would have earned an A.
papers:  Major problems undermine your credibility.  These problems might involve:
  1. more serious annotation issues (inadequate/improper);
  2. lack of clear chronological context;
  3. structural weaknesses (e.g., unfocused paragraphs, confusing syntax);
  4. ineffective transitions;
  5. illogical connections;
  6. writing at a level of high generality, which may reflect over-reliance on problematic sources, or sole reliance on tertiary sources (encyclopedias, textbooks, non-peer-reviewed websites, class notes, etc.).
C- = still acceptable, but ...
            a greater number of problems and/or a fewer number of good points than needed to get a "C".

exams: seriously confusing, vague, or contradictory syntax
papers: passable/plausible as a narrative/description, but devoid of serious analytical effort non-peer-reviewed websites, etc.).

D+ = barely acceptable
There are serious errors, omissions, or inconcsistencies heere, or perhaps your argument got lost in a miasma of vagueness, but the light of understanding somehow, occasionally, flickers through.

D = just barely OK
The light flickers more dimly at this level.  Or, while there's nothing obviously wrong, your treatment is so vague or shallow that it's hard to say that there's anything right.

D- = passing
exams:   Be grateful that you attend a "Jesuit and Catholic University" where the qualities of mercy and charity are much prized.

papers:  No matter how brilliant, insightful, or entertaining the content of your paper may be, it fails to meet the minimum acceptable standards for source annotation.  See the "Stylesheet for Term Papers" and its related links to the GU Honor Council.

F = not even close—no cigar for you...
There's not even enough here to be charitable about, but at least you get some credit for your effort  -- far better than the zero you would have gotten had you left a blank.

* While many friends and colleagues contributed to, even inspired, parts of this guide, it remains my own work, applicable only to those classes I teach.  In no way does it represent a consensus or policy of Georgetown University's Department of History.