Extra credit boosts grades without increasing learning

Shauna Perigo

Perhaps one of the most relatable high school horror stories is that of receiving an 89.4% as a final grade, just short of the 89.5% needed to round up to an A. To combat the possibility of this atrocity, many students readily take hold of any extra credit opportunities that arise to bring up borderline grades at the end of the semester.

While extra credit is beneficial to students in the short run, it does not conform with the fundamental concept of grading. The purpose of grading is to provide students, parents, and colleges with a fair representation of how much material a student understood and how well that student performed on class assignments and exams. When extra credit is added to the mix, usually only students with borderline grades will take advantage of the opportunity, skewing their grades and undermining process of comparing one student to another.

Grades should be based on performance and knowledge of a subject. When extra credit is given out, the grade no longer represents how much a student knows, but how well he or she can complete what is often busy work.


For example, many teachers will give extra credit out to students for completing meaningless assignments like word searches or crossword puzzles. This flawed system gives out free points to students for completing assignments we learned how to do in elementary school. While sometimes extra credit assignments are meaningful, students should put hard work into regular credit assignments instead if they wish to bring their grades up.

By handing out so many extra credit assignments, some teachers are holding students’ hands and making it almost impossible for them to fail. Students need to learn to be accountable for their own success, and they will only learn this if teachers get rid of extra credit assignments that artificially boost students’ grades.

It is possible for students to take advantage of extra credit to squeak by in a class without actually comprehending the material. In many classes, there are so many extra credit opportunities and other safety cushions in place for students that a student could earn a “B” or a “C” in a class without understanding virtually any of the material.

This tactic of “squeaking by” with extra credit is helpful for students in the short run when they apply to college. However, it will eventually hurt them if they are continuing on in a subject for which they did not understand the material.

Many high school classes are prerequisites for more advanced classes either later on in high school or in college. By using extra credit to obtain a passing grade without actually understanding the curriculum, students are setting themselves up for failure in their next level classes.

Not every use of extra credit is as drastic as the difference between a pass and a fail. Many students simply use extra credit to bring their grade up to that desired “A” or “B.” However, this use of extra credit blurs the lines between top students who were able to earn a high grade without extra credit and students who squeaked by with a 90% with the use of extra credit assignments.

Instead of handing out extra credit opportunities, teachers should provide ample help opportunities for students who are struggling by offering help times in which students could work with the teacher to understand the material. Students would then perform better on upcoming assignments, bringing up their grades while still reflecting solely their understanding of the material and performance on assignments and tests.

It is important to note that not every extra credit assignment is worthless. Some teachers give out extra credit as a reward for finishing work early or completing a meaningful research project. However, while these assignments are of value to students, we are too old to need an incentive like extra credit in order to motivate us to finish our work or become interested in a subject.

Back in elementary and middle school, extra credit may have been acceptable: it taught us to work hard. However, now that we are older, it is time to take those lessons about working hard and apply them to the work that is required of us. It is time to make the transition from hand-holding in the classroom to real-world demands.