Why do Some Students Think an a Minus is a Bad Grade?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Some students think an A minus is a bad grade, while others are pleased with it. Just why a near perfect grade could disturb certain students has a number of potential answers. Some have to do with the way that grade point averages (GPAs) are calculated, which can in turn be tied to ability to gain scholarships in competitive fields, and others view it as a near miss on an otherwise perfect performance. There can also be a certain amount of subjectivity in an A minus, which, when unexplained by an instructor, may cause personal annoyance or downright angst. This is not always the case; in classes based on point or percentage only systems, a student either does or does not earn a grade based on things like objective testing.

Some students view an a minus grade as a near miss from a perfect score.
Some students view an a minus grade as a near miss from a perfect score.

The way GPAs are calculated can seem unfair to some people. Schools may deduct points from grade point averages for an A-, but not give additional points for A plus grades. In a system where a top score is rated as a 4.0, the top grade is an A.

The way GPAs are calculated can seem unfair to some people.
The way GPAs are calculated can seem unfair to some people.

In some schools, though this is not always the case, an A minus lowers the overall grade point value of a grade, making it count for less than four points. Many teachers also give A pluses, however, and chances are a student worried about getting an A- has also demonstrated extremely superior performance elsewhere, receiving an A+ or two along the way that might balance out the slightly lower grade. From a numbers perspective, this doesn’t increase points above 4.0 awarded for a grade, so it means that students can never fully achieve a 4.0 average. There is no balance between better than perfect grades and those slightly less than perfect, so some schools merely score grades as As or Bs, and they omit minus or plus signs completely.

Students who put more effort into their studies may believe they deserve a higher grade.
Students who put more effort into their studies may believe they deserve a higher grade.

A grading system where students can’t redeem a less than perfect grade may be difficult for some students because of high competition for merit-based scholarships. If scholarships are difficult to get and go to the highest grades in the class, or if maintenance of a current scholarship depends upon keeping a 4.0 grade average, an A minus can be perceived as very negative, potentially affecting a student’s ability to continue funding their education. Alternately, when high school students receive this grade, they may not make a sufficient argument that they belong at some of the more competitive colleges, who will often look to straight A students only during the evaluation and admissions process.

Practical considerations aside, when grades are subjective, based on instructor evaluation of things like creative material, this grade can rankle some students who have worked extremely hard and feel like they have earned a top grade. Many high school and college instructors have the experience of students tearfully appearing at their offices, begging for a grade change or questioning the wisdom of a grade. These students are often top performers, used to getting excellent grades, and they may be basing some of their self-esteem on GPA and individual grades. It is sometimes possible to convince an instructor to change his or her mind about a grade, particularly if the instructor can’t give specific evidence why a grade deserves less than an A.

When grading depends more on objective grading methods, such as taking multiple choice tests to determine grade, students are unlikely to get a grade change from an instructor. When someone has earned a less than perfect grade based on his or her test scores, there isn’t much to do with it but accept that this was the grade earned. It may still be hard especially in a system that won’t allow A plus grades to boost GPA, but it’s an indication that the student may need to improve his or her study methods to earn better grades in the future.

When scholarships or funding are not on the line, in may be best for a student to look at a less than perfect grade as the best he or she could do at the time, and still representative of an extremely good grade. A student who wants the grade justified by an instructor should schedule an appointment to discuss the situation, ask for guidance on how to get better grades in the future, or ask why the performance did not justify a full A grade.

Teachers may grade a student's paper lower if they have done better work in the past.
Teachers may grade a student's paper lower if they have done better work in the past.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


I'm appalled by all of your responses. PhD. or not, you all endured the brutality of studying for an A. So, how can any of you profess that an A- is statistically less valuable than an A? The difference between an A and an A- is .01% at times. You may have guessed correctly on 1 more exam question throughout the entire semester than an A- student. Hardly consider that to be a separation of "well-educated [sic] from others." To those who have the privilege of grading students...it's not supposed to be a power trip. Thank God for student professor reviews and choices. If you know there are students on scholarship taking your class, pull them aside in the beginning and advise them of your expectations and policies, to avoid "the talk" post final exam. A PhD. requires no common sense.


I think an A- is a good grade, although they like to tarnish your GPA and are just annoying to look at for students like me.


An A- hurts my cumulative GPA, and I have only received them in classes where instructors believe that no one has earned an "A". Maybe this would be worsened to a B if there was no A-, but I can't help but be mad. Is this unreasonable?


Students need to get over their inflated senses of themselves. There's nothing "wrong" with an A- if that's the grade you *earned*. Freshmen, especially, seem to have been trained to expect an A even for work that is only "adequate"--as if simply writing a coherent idea more or less in English for any given essay should earn an A. That's not how it works. Earn your grades. In my class, you have to earn a C, you have to earn a B, and you sure have to *earn* an A. And you know what my evaluations say at the end of the semester? Not "I can't believe you gave me a B," but "I really learned a lot in this class. You really pushed me to think and work hard." That's what I want to do, and no amount of entitled whining is going to change that.

I *will*, however, be pleased as punch to write glowing, detailed recommendations for any of my students. These mean far more to any institution or workplace that's worth a flip than a "perfect" GPA.


Luckily, my school gives extra GPA points for A+ just like they take off points for A-. I really do not like getting A minuses so I try to always get the A and get some A+ as insurance.

However, I haven't been able to completely avoid them. I know I am capable of the A but sometimes I mess up here and there and end up just a bit off, which is frustrating.


In most colleges A+ does not count for extra GPA points, which I feel is silly because they do not balance out A minuses. And by the way, 87-89 is a B+ not an A minus.


The only problem with an +- system is that there is no A+.

So although I got a 94 in one class, a 98 in another, and a 92 in the last, because the system only works against me, instead of A, A+, A- respectively. Its just A,A, A-. Which prevents me from a 4.0 gpa even if I get an A in every following class.


Why complain about an A minus? Wouldn't it be a "B" under a non plus/minus system? My understanding is that a raw score of 87%-89% yields an A minus. Without the "minus" you'd have B and 3.0 instead of A minus and 3.7! The plus/minus system only helps you.


Harvard Law School is a postgraduate institution, and law degrees do not have minors.


anon58549: i am a student in college and it's teachers like you who really want to make me drop your course. you need to be sympathetic to some students.

I am a 4.0 student and i become furious if i receive an A- or below on anything. I have not received an A- or below yet but when I do, if i feel I deserved higher I will ask the teacher and if he/she doesn't help me I will go to the Headmaster! and I don't care if you have a Phd. in mathematics education. that doesn't mean you can crush someone's hope for being the best they can be.

Oh, and by the way: i go to Harvard law and the only reason i have come across this page is because I'm studying this topic in for my minor in psychology. Signed, a 4.0 harvard law student


anon-58549: Most mathematics courses have the advantage of being quite clear in their results. Unless you are grading on smiles or the sharpness of pencils, generally grade analysis is done by evaluating numbers to determine total point value. Answers are pretty much right or wrong.

Not all courses have the benefit of fully objective means of analysis. The A minus on an English or history paper might be an A in someone else's class. There is good reason, particularly if scholarships are on the line, to dispute more subjective grading.

As for your response to students, I still find it a little callous. You're truly asking the second best students in your class to pack up and go home? These are students who worked hard and made near the top grades in your class. Even if you cannot change their grades, a little sympathy for their situation could be useful, particularly when students have worked very hard.

These are freshman--- 18 year olds, perhaps away from home for the first time. You may not be able to give them an A, but I'm not sure you have to give them complete stick with no carrot either. They have probably already discovered that college is hard work-- perhaps an empathetic teacher might allow them to discover the supportive environment it can be too-- to encourage continued effort and a lifetime love of learning.


My A- students often complain, asking me to raise their grade to an A, stating they worked hard, went to class, asked questions, went to tutors, need an A to keep their scholarships, just want an A, and so forth.

However, when they receive an A- from me, it's because they earned an A-, not an A. There is no A for effort in my book: it's the result of the effort that counts in a course grade. I usually get such complaints from college freshman.

Well, to college freshmen, let me say, "Pack your marbles back in your bag and go home. This is not high school. This is university. You worked hard. So? You're expected to. You need an A to keep your scholarship. So? I don't give grades based on what you need, but on what you earn. This separates the well educated from others. Harsh? Perhaps. But that's life." Signed, a Phd. in mathematics education.

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