Grading Honors Courses

Faculty often contact the Honors Program Office to ask about grading Honors coursework. Just as there is great flexibility in designing Honors assignments, sections, and classes, instructors are free to select grading options and rubrics that reflect and reward the more challenging nature of Honors courses. In all cases, faculty are encouraged to clearly articulate their grading policy in their syllabi and explain it at the beginning of the semester, including how grading might be different for Honors versus non-Honors students in the course. Honors courses and projects are not supposed to be “harder” as much as they are designed to be more engaging and enriching. All grading of Honors projects and classes, as affirmed by the Faculty Honors Committee, should be guided by the principle that no students should be disadvantaged through having untertaken (or attempted) an Honors project, compared with non-Honors-level work or non-Honors students.

Honors Optional (%) Courses

It is the position of the Faculty Honors Committee that students attempting an optional Honors component in a course should not see their grade in the course suffer if they are unsuccessful. For this reason, we encourage faculty to consider Honors Optional (%) components of a course on a “successfully completed” or “not successfully completed” basis, or in a way that allows those who perform well in the Honors component of the course to receive extra credit. If you choose to use the “successfully completed”/ “not successfully completed” approach, please clearly articulate what a successfully completed Honors project will look like. Should a student not successfully complete the project, please ask them to withdraw from the Honors component of the course rather than lowering their regular course grade.

Honors-Only Discussion Sections

Faculty-led, Honors-only discussion sections frequently have different assignments and different grading rubrics than the other sections in the course. Honors students may, for instance, complete a group project, a speech, or some other assignment instead of (or in addition to) a standard writing assignment or test. Different assignments are acceptable and welcome as long as either type of section provides a path towards earning positive grades to the students enrolled.

B or Better Rule

Honors students must earn a B or better in any Honors course in order for the course to count towards an Honors requirement (this is true both in Honors in the Liberal Arts and Honors in the Major). DARS enforces this minimum standard. The “H” designation, representing that the student took the course for Honors, remains on the student’s transcript regardless of the grade earned in the course signifying that the student attempted/engaged in Honors-level work. If the student earns less than a B in the course, the faculty member is not responsible for removing the H designation from the course: DARS will automatically make sure the course is not counted for Honors.


We encourage faculty thesis mentors to clearly articulate to students what will be expected of them to earn an A, or any other grade, on their Honors thesis project. When a student has completed the first term of their thesis (681), the faculty mentor should post a P grade, signifying “progress”, if progress has, in fact, been made. When the 682 grade is posted, an automated process will assign the 682 grade also to the 681 course. It is not possible to earn different grades for the unique thesis courses (681 and 682). The project must earn and be granted a single grade.

In case, as happens occasionally, an Honors student does not manage to complete their thesis work satisfactorily, please consult with the L&S Honors Program. There are options, such as converting 681 to 699, that we may encourage you to consider rather than awarding a poor grade for an unfinished paper/thesis project.

Q Grades

At UW-Madison, the Q grade is a place-holder when a grade is in question. This is the appropriate grade to post when a student is enrolled for the Honors component of a course but does not satisfactorily complete the Honors assignment(s) or in the opposite situation, when a student is not enrolled for the Honors component of the course but submits the Honors coursework. The Honors program will work with students to amend their enrollment to conform to actual performance and will notify you when the earned letter grade can be posted. If an Honors student does not complete the Honors component of the course successfully, and the grader submits a letter grade, the students will inappropriately earn Honors credit. Please contact the L&S Honors Program Associate Director for Academic Services with questions about the appropriate use of the Q grade.