Computing A GPA-Yikes!
October reminds us that we are heading down the homestretch of 2009.
It’s a time to rejoice in the glorious shades of reds, browns, and
golds that are visible in pumpkins, chrysanthemums, and corn stalks;
the smell of fall air and apple cider; and the fun of jumping into
those piles of leaves. Speaking of October, here is a riddle for you.
Excluding leap years, October always starts on the same day of the
week as what other month? Read to the end of the newsletter to find
the answer! :)
Along with these sights and smells of fall, this time of year also
brings thoughts of college visits to plan, college application
deadlines for seniors, transcripts....
And that brings us to this month’s topic of calculating grade point
averages (GPA). We regularly receive questions from parents asking:
What is a GPA? How is it computed? We want to address these questions
as well as give you additional information that you may not have even
considered yet, but may need to know.
|Both of HSLDA’s high school consultants homeschooled their children from kindergarten through the 12th grade. Learn more >>
The Wiktionary definition of grade point average is "a method of
computing a numerical value for letter grades received in school by
assigning each a numeric value and averaging the numbers." You will
notice from some of the transcript templates listed on our high school
website, that there are often
two sets of GPAs shown--yearly and cumulative. Each of these is
calculated a bit differently so we’ll take a look at how to compute
The first step to computing the yearly GPA is to convert each letter
grade to points. For example, an A equals 4 points, a B equals 3
points, a C equals 2 points, and so forth. The grade points are then
multiplied by the number of credits a course earned resulting in what
is known as quality points. An example will clarify this operation.
Let’s say that a student received a letter grade of an "A" in Algebra
I. The first step is to convert the letter grade of an A to 4 points
and multiply by 1 credit for a total of 4 quality points. In addition,
if a student takes a one semester health course earning one-half
credit and receives a "B," then calculate the quality points as
follows: multiply .5 credits by 3 grade points for a total of 1.5
quality points. Continue this operation for each course your teen
takes in a given school year.
The next step of the computation will be to total the quality points
for all courses and divide by the total number of credits earned in a
given year, rounding the answer to two decimal places. This results in
the yearly GPA. You may find it helpful to review these steps on the
GPA computation example we have listed in our transcript section of
When calculating the yearly GPA, there are some factors to take into
consideration. (Isn’t it always the case that as soon as you think
something is cut and dry, someone throws you a curve?!) Well, here is
one of those situations. If you give pass/fail grades for any of your
courses, the credits for these courses will be included in the sum of
credits shown on the high school transcript, but they will not be used
in computing the GPA. When calculating the GPA, you will need to
subtract the pass/fail credits out of the total number of credits for
that year before dividing by the total number of quality points. An
illustration may help.
Total credits for one year: 6.5 (including .5 credit for a course
Total quality points: 21.5
Compute GPA: 21.5 divided by 6 (6.5 minus .5) equals 3.58
Another curve--if you plan to attach +’s and -’s to your letter
grades, then your grade points will need to reflect that. For
instance, an A+ will compute to 4.3 points rather than the usual 4
points. An A-, however, will be 3.7 points; a B+ (3.3 points); B- (2.7
points); and so on.
With this information in hand, you are now ready to calculate the GPA
for each individual year of high school.
Next let’s turn our attention to computing the cumulative GPA over the
course of all four years.
Since you want to show an overall average of your child’s high school
work and not an average of the averages, you should not simply add up
all the yearly GPAs and divide by 4 (the number of years). Instead, to
calculate a cumulative GPA, it will be necessary to add all the
quality points from 9th through 12th grades and divide by the sum of
all four years of credits (first subtracting out any pass/fail
If you wish to include a running cumulative GPA for each year of high
school, then you will need to do the above operation in steps.
Obviously, the yearly and cumulative GPAs for the 9th grade will be
the same. For 10th grade, you will add the quality points from both
9th and 10th and divide that sum by the total number of credits (minus
any pass/fail credits) for both those years. Then in the 11th grade,
you will again go back to 9th grade and add all the quality points
through the 11th grade and divide by the sum of the credits for those
three years. The 12th grade computations will be completed in the same
fashion and the resulting GPA will be both the cumulative GPA for 12th
grade as well as the grand cumulative GPA for all four years of high
General Tips and Suggestions
In addition to the GPA, some transcript formats include a grading
scale or table. Showing such a scale is optional. If you taught all
the courses included on the child’s transcript, then a grading scale
can be informative to the reader. On the other hand, if your child
took some courses from other instructors, they may have used a
different scale from yours. In this case, it would be wise not to
include the scale on your transcript.
A question you may encounter when submitting your teen’s GPA is
whether it is weighted or un-weighted. The GPA will be considered
weighted if the student took Advanced Placement,
and/or honors courses. These
types of courses change the grade points attached to the letter
grades. An Advanced Placement course grade will receive one point
higher than a traditional grade. For example, an A will be worth 5
points rather than 4 points. An honors course grade will generate a
half point increase--an A will receive 4.5 points rather than 4. If
your student did not take such courses, then the GPA will be
Advanced Placement courses and honors courses designate that the work
involved in the course is more substantial than the standard high
school course. Beginning in 2008, in order to label a course
"Advanced Placement" or "AP" on a high school transcript, the syllabus
for a particular course must be reviewed and audited by the AP Central
Department of the College Board. You may read more about this
auditing procedure here:
Designating a course "Honors" on a transcript is subjective and falls
to your discretion as a parent. An honors designation implies that not
only a greater quantity of work was required, but also a higher
quality of work than what is normally expected in a high school
course. You should document for your personal records the curriculum
and other materials used in an honors course and note specific
information as to why a particular course was deemed honors such as
making note of the number and length of papers assigned, supplemental
books added to the reading list, extra experiments completed (over and
above those indicated in the curriculum), etc. If any questions
regarding the course content are ever raised by anyone reviewing the
transcript (such as a college admission officer), then the requested
information will be readily available.
In our personal opinion (other authors and newsletter readers may
disagree with us), homeschooled students will receive greater
recognition for taking a community college course or an AP course than
an honors course, simply because the AP or community college course
has an aspect of "objectivity" associated with it.
The Finished Product
GPA calculations are not difficult once you become familiar with terms
such as yearly and cumulative GPAs as well as weighted and un-weighted
GPAs. We hope this explanation will remove one more fear of
homeschooling high school. One last word of advice--it’s a good idea
for you to have someone verify the GPA because it is easy to make a
mistake when calculating. We’re sure your teen may even volunteer for
this job! If you are a member of HSLDA, please know that you may call
us any time with questions regarding GPA calculations and we’ll be
happy to walk you through the process.
Our November newsletter will provide ideas for improving and honing
your teens’ study skills. Until then, we are...
Calculating how fast time is flying,
Becky Cooke and Diane Kummer
HSLDA High School Consultants