Realizing the bottleneck in our examination system, a lot of thinking along with deliberate efforts to bring about examination reform has been the feature of post-independence Indian education. During this period many thoughtful endeavors were initiated in the areas of paper setting, making marking system more systematic and objective, and for transforming marking system into grading system. Many education commissions and committees emphasized the need for a systemic change in examination system in our country. Council of Boards of Secondary Education (CBSE) constituted a committee on scaling and grading in 1981. This committee recommended five points grading system. National Policy of Education (1986) and Programme of Action (1992) also recommended the use of grades in place of marks while declaring the results. National Curriculum Framework for School Education published by NCERT (2005) also reiterated the need for declaring results in term of grades in place of marks. In recent years the most widely debate aspect of our innovation in evaluation is the grading system.

Concept of grading

Evaluation is a powerful and potential process to know the direction in which the children are developing. Evaluation is, therefore, considered to be one of the most important components of education process that helps in assessing the performance of children in a teaching learning context. The usual practice of assessment in school is though conducting examinations. One of the major drawbacks of our examination system is reporting students’ performance in terms of marks. In order to minimize the limitation of present day examinations system, a major reform concerns transforming the marking system into a grading system.

Grading is a process of classifying student based on their performance into groups with the help of predetermined standards, expressed in a symbolic form i.e. letter of the English alphabet. As these grades and corresponding symbols are pre-determined and well defined, all the stakeholders would understand them uniformly and consistently. While developing the grading system, it is of utmost significance that the meaning of each grading symbol be clearly spelt out. In spite of strict adherence to the pre-determined stipulation, there may be inter-examination and intra-examination variation. Pre-determination is only in terms of standards of categorization and to give a common meaning to the letter symbols that signify grades. Hence strict adherence of examiners to the pre-defined meaning of the grade symbol would not curtail their freedom in expressing the students’ performance.

Sometimes the grades awarded may be compared within and between groups. In this type of comparison not only the grades awarded by a particular teacher but also the grades awarded by different teachers would be compared. This helps in ascertaining the position of students with reference to a group. Comparing grades awarded by a single teacher (intra-group) and by different teachers (inter-group) with reference to a larger group awarded by different teachers and institutions. Thus, the grades may be used for communicating the students’ performance with reference to specified criteria and also the relative position of students with reference to their peer group.

Limitation of the present system of numerical marking

It would be more appropriate to place students into ability bands that represent ranges of scores instead of a 101-points scale. Major limitations of marking system are as follows:-

  1. The range of 101-scale is very wide and atomistic it is spread from 0 to 100.
  2. Zero is not absolute. We cannot attribute zero to any student on any measures, as it is ridiculous to accept the absence of a trait or learning.
  3. Since learning is continuous process, so it is not justified to say that a child attained complete mastery or perfection, as there is always scope for further perfection. Numerical expression of 100 on this scale is not absolute.
  4. The marking scheme creates a cutthroat among the student due to highly sensitive interval scale.
  5. Different examiners evaluate the same student differently in same subject leading to inter-examiner variability. Same examiner assesses the performance of the student on the same test differently at different times leading to intra-examiner variability. This decrease the reliability of the score.
  6. Marks awarded to the student do not represent the true marks because of inherent errors in measurement.
  7. The negative effect of pass or fail system takes a heavy toll. For example, a child who fails once in an examination is labeled as ‘failed’ though out life.
  8. The system of pass or fail encourages commercialization of education.
  9. In the pass or fail system there is colossal wastage of human resources at the national level.
  10. Over-emphasis on marks has made the present evaluation system insensitive to human beings.

Merits of grading

Due to over-emphasis on examination, both teaching and learning have become examination-centered. Teachers teach for examination and students learn for examinations. Award of marks   of results has become the main purpose of schooling. Actually, examinations are meant to examine the progress of learning. They help teachers to locate learning variation among children. If it is found that a child has not attained the desired learning outcome, then teacher can help that child attain the expected levels of learning.

Examination also aims at helping children estimate their learning performance and accordingly improve their proficiencies. But these idealistic purposes of examinations have taken a back seat. Securing marks rather than improving the levels of that attainment has become the main objective of students. Teaching is a deliberate process of achieving instructional objectives and evaluation is a means of estimating the extent to their accomplishment. But due to the prevalence of marks consciousness, attainment of marks rather than assessment of instructional objectives have become all important. Students vary in achieving instructional objectives, because of their individual differences.

As grading involves grouping the students according to their attainment levels, it helps in categorizing the student as per their attainment of instructional objectives also. One of the significant argument in favors of the grading system is that it creates favorable conditions for classification of students performance on a more convincing and justified scale.

The present system of awarding numerical marks is on interval scale. This results in variations in the spread of scores in different subjects. Due to this, it is not possible to compare scores from one test to another and from one subject to another. The shortcoming of marking system can be avoided if the students are placed in an ability band that represents a range of scores. These ability bands may vary according to the number of categories one wishes to employ for the classification of students. Each ability range may be designated with a letter, which is called grade symbol. This system of awarding grades would provide a more realistic picture of students’ ability than the prevalent marking system.

Shifting from marking to grading system may not be sufficient to rectify the defects of our examination and evaluation practices. However grading is a far more satisfactory method than the numerical marking system. The justification for the superiority of grading system over marking system is that it signifies individual learner’s performance in the form of a certain level of achievement in relation to the whole group. This grouping ensures the natural classification in qualitative rather than quantitative terms and thus expresses a range to which the student belongs. Because of this reason several committees and commission in the past, ever prior to NPE (1986) and National Curriculum Framework for School Education of NCERT (2005) have recommended the use of grades in place of marks. In all our school curriculum initiatives, grading is recognized as an important strategy to bring about examination reforms.

Types of grading

On the basis of the reference point of awarding grades, grades are classified as direct and indirect; or absolute and relative. The reference point in former point in former classification is an ‘approach’ and in the latter, a ‘standard of judgment’. Absolute and relative grading come under indirect grading.

Direct grading

The process of assessing students’ performance qualitatively and expressing it in terms of letter grades directly is called ‘direct grading’. This type of grading can be used for assessment of students’ performance in both scholastic and co-scholastic areas. However direct grading is mostly preferred in the assessment of co-scholastic learning outcomes. While evaluating co-scholastic learning outcomes the important factors are listed first and then a student’s performance is expressed in a letter grade. This type of grading minimized inter-examiner variability and is easy to use when compared to indirect grading. Direct grading has a limitation that it does not have transparency and diagnostic value and does not encourage competition to the extent required.


Indirect grading

In indirect grading, student performance is first assessed in terms of marks and then they are transformed into letter grades. Different modes may be followed while transforming the marks into grades. On the basis of the mode of transformation of marks into grades, there are two types of grading, viz. absolute grading and relative grading. The meaning and relevance of these two types of indirect grading are explained below.


Absolute versus relative grading

Absolute grading is carried out on the basis of a pre-determined standard. This standard is considered as reference point for assessment for student performance. Irrespective of the distribution of the marks in a given subject, the marks are directly converted into grades. This is just a classification of student into different groups. Marks can be divided into pre-determined number of categories resulting in classification of student of definite numbers of groups. The range of marks for different categories may or may not be of equal size.

Relative grading is known as ‘grading on a curve’. Here the curve refers to the normal distribution curve. This type of grading is with references to a specific group of students. As this grading involves classification of student with reference to a group, this is also known as norm-referenced grading. In relative grading the percentage of the students to be directly included in a particular category of grades in determined in advance. The marks obtained through the test when plotted on graph would yield a distribution graph. The curve is called obtained curve. In relative grading the obtained curve is transformed into a normal curve. This transformation of obtained curve in to normal curve is based on the assumption that there is always the difference between the true level of achievement and the perceived level of achievement. The distribution of true level of achievement may be normally distributed. If we transform obtained curve into a normal curve, then we can categorize the obtained scores into any desired numbers of grade in a scientific way. However, in both absolute as well as relative grading, there are advantages and also limitation.

Table 1.1:-The merits and demerits of absolute grading and relative grading are provided in following table:-


Absolute grading


Relative grading


Ø Negative effects of pass/fails eliminated.

Ø No grade signifies failure of students.

Ø Simple and straightforward.

Ø Meaning of each grade is distinctively understandable.

Ø Students have the freedom to strive for highest possible grade.

Ø No competitions.

Ø Easy for teachers to award grades as per pre-determined range of marks.


Ø Negative effects of pass/fails eliminated.

Ø No grade signifies failure of students.

Ø Grade shows the relative position of the students.

Ø Comparability even across curricular areas.

Ø Grades may be used for recording growth and development of individual students.

Ø Grades can be added without distorting the scale of measurement to arrive at grade point average (GPA).

Ø Undue significance attached to marks is considerably reduced.

Ø Difficulty of the test does not affect the distribution of grades.


Ø Grades may not be comparable.

Ø Distribution of marks varies from one subject to another and from one year to another.

Ø Distribution of marks is taken on its face value.

Ø Numbers of students placed in different categories will differ from subject to subject and year to year.

Ø Errors in measurement due to subjectivity are ignored.

Ø Different categories are arbitrarily decided.


Ø The procedure of awarding grades is complicated.

Ø Percentage of students receiving different grades is pre-determined.

Ø Award of grades to students is not determined by their individual performance but by the performance of the group.

Ø Difficult to use for teachers.

Methodology of assigning grades

Grading is the procedure of categorizing student into different groups on the basis of their performance irrespective whether the grading is direct of indirect, or absolute or relative. Students can be classified into any number of groups, for example, 3, 5, 7, or even 9. Normally either three-point scale is used in direct grading in co-scholastic areas. IN scholastic areas either five points or nine points is used for both absolute and relative grading. Selection of the scale for grading has to be determining on the basis of nature and quality of the attribute being evaluated.

Absolute Grading

Let us now examine the methodology of awarding grades in the terms of absolute standards. As has been pointed out earlier, absolute grading is based on a pre-determined standard that become the reference point for the students’ performance. In absolute grading, the marks are directly converted into grades on the basis of pre-determined standards. Absolute grading can be on a three points, five points, or nine points scale for primary, upper primary and secondary stages respectively.


Table 1.2:- Three tier classification and their meaning

Range of marks Grades Description
60% and above A Above average
Less than 60% to 30% B Average
Below 30% C Below average



Table 1.3:-Five tier classification

Range of marks Grades             Description
75% and above A Distinction/Excellent
75% to 60% B First division/Good
60% to 45% C Second division/Average
45% to 33% D Third division/Below average
Below 33% E Unsatisfactory/Poor

Table 1.4:- Nine point classification

S. No. Range of marks Grades                         Description
1 90% and above A Outstanding
2 90% to 80% B Excellent
3 80% to 70% C Very good
4 70% to 60% D Good
5 60% to 50% E Above average
6 50% to 40% F Average
7 40% to 30% G Below average
8 30% to 20% H Marginal
9 Below 20% I Unsatisfactory

Relative Grading

As mentioned earlier, relative grading is the proses of transforming obtained curve into normal curve. In relative grading also we can classify students into three, five, seven or nine groups using three, five, seven or nine point scale resp. Normally in relative grading, we group the student into nine or five subgroups. Unlike absolute grading, in relative grading the range of each group is of equal size in terms of sigma value. If we want to divide the entire measurement scale into five equal parts, then the grade value will range from 1 to 5 with a mean of 3 and a standard deviation of approx.1 unit. The distribution of grade wise cases in a five point scale is given below

Table 1.5:-

S. No Interval (sigma) Grades No. of cases Grade value
1 1.5 to ∞ A 7% 5
2 0.5 to 1.5 B 24% 4
3 -0.5 to 0.5 C 38% 3
4 -1.5 to -0.5 D 24% 2
5 -∞ to -1.5 E 7% 1

If we want to divide the entire measurement scale into nine equal parts, then the grade value will range from 1 to 9 with a mean of 5 and a standard deviation of approx. 2 units. The distribution of grade wise cases on a nine point scale is given

Table 1.6:-

S. No Interval (sigma) Grades No. of cases Grade value
1 1.75 to ∞ A 4% 9
2 1.25 to 1.75 B 7% 8
3 0.75 to 1.25 C 12% 7
4 0.25 to 0.75 D 17% 6
5 -0.25 to 0.25 E 20% 5
6 -0.75 to -0.25 F 17% 4
7 -1.25 to -0.75 G 12% 3
8 -1.75 to -0.125 H 7% 2
9 -∞ to -1.75 I 4% 1

These grades would indicate the relative position of students in their group. For example, if a student gets ‘A’ grade he can understand that he belongs to top 4% in the group and a student wit ‘I’ grade belongs to bottom 4 % in the group. This nine point relative grading has been proposed by NCERT. CBSE has slightly modification to this. Rather than using A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H and I they use A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, C2, D1, D2 and E. in CBSE model C2 has been declared the qualifying grade.

Limitation of grading system

Although grading is considered as the most viable and systematic to assess the outcomes of teaching-learning process, it is not free from criticism due to several reasons which are listed below:-

  • There is a possibility of different examiners interpreting differentially resulting in inter-examiner variability. This variation may be more in the case of direct grading where students performance is assessed and expressed directly through a grade on the basis of the range of characteristics or behavioral o an attribute.
  • Grading stipulates strict adherence to pre-defined criteria. Since judgments of examiners vary in assessing the criteria of an attribute or desired learning outcome in the case of direct grading, elimination the subjectivity is difficult as direct grading involve qualitative assessment.
  • In absolute grading, the students are put into different categories on the basis of pre-determined range of scores. The distribution of scores is taken on its face value and as a result it ignores the measurement errors due to subjectivity in assessment.
  • Relative grading, though scientific, is considered somewhat complicated for teachers, especially when they are not equipped to implement it in their classes.
  • The percentage of students belonging to different grades is pre-determined and the grades are not awarded on the basis of individual students’ performance but are decided on the basis of performance of students in a larger group. As the number of students to be categorized into different grades is pre-determined, there is little scope for improvement of teaching and learning.
  • Grades are often awarded without employing both multiple criteria and multiple scores of information.
  • Lack of uniform policy on grading across different state boards of education creates a problem of compatibility of grades awarded on different criteria in different board examination.

Despite all these limitations, grading remains the only feasible procedure for evaluating students’ potential realistically. Moreover, all arguments against it can be countered by laying adequate emphasis on improving the ways and mean of awarding the grades so as to make them more reliable and valid


Author: geekyshivam

trainee teacher and always a learner


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s