Talking about extra credit can create heated arguments among college instructors. However, regardless of where you stand, it’s worth a few minutes to review both sides of this sometimes touchy subject.
College instructors who favor extra credit tend to want to mitigate some of the potentially unfair subjectivity inherent in grading. Below are some of the rationales for adopting this policy.
- We are all imperfect graders, so allowing extra credit is only fair.
- Learning is a construct, and there is no perfect measure. Therefore, extra credit evens the playing field.
- Students’ performance can be affected by myriad circumstances or “contaminants” thwarting accurate grading (a severe headache, family problems, unclear instructions, distractions while taking an exam). When such issues are outside students’ control, their grade may not accurately reflect their grasp of the material, so allowing a do-over or extra credit makes sense.
- Extra credit can provide an opportunity to revise work, an excellent learning tool.
Nevertheless, instructors who do offer extra credit often attach strict constraints, such as the following:
- not offering extra credit at the end of a term
- accepting extra credit only if a student has completed all required work
- never using extra credit to save a student from failing a course
- agreeing to extra credit only in areas in which a student has demonstrated weakness
- requiring all revised work to include a mega-cognitive self-analysis of the previous work and where it went wrong
- refusing to accept late work and instead allowing students who have missed an assignment to complete another similar assignment that will earn some but not all of the credit from the missed assignment
Instructors who do not offer extra credit seem want to instill in students responsibility for their actions and performance while honoring the students who have done their work adequately. Some of their reasons for eschewing extra credit are listed below:
- Students who request extra credit often do so at the end of the semester after they realize their semester-long lackluster performance will lead to a poor final grade. Offering such extra credit does a disservice to those students who have played by the rules, making the policy unfair.
- Extra credit that replaces missing work reinforces poor work habits and will not benefit the student in the long term.
- Extra credit often turns out to be an alternative to an assignment a student simply did not want to complete, encouraging the “student-as-client” ideology.
- Teachers (especially writing teachers) are already burdened with grading and do not have the time to allow students to make up for earlier weak performances.
- Students in trouble should be encouraged to get help rather than ask to do more work.
Where do you fall on the extra credit question? Write us—we’d love to hear your thoughts!
Extra credit, when offered in my Business Communications course, is available to all students. To earn the extra credit, a score of 90%+ is required to demonstrate mastery of subject matter; any score < 90% earns no extra credit. In general, fewer than 25 percent of online students attempt extra credit while nearly 100 percent of my face-to-face students do. In large part, this difference may be due to most of the online students working full-time jobs during the day and completing required coursework at night and on weekends while school is the full-time job of nearly all of my face-to-face students.
Cecil, your 90%+ threshold is a terrific idea. I used a similar policy for revisions. If I allowed a rewrite/revision, it had to be nearly flawless to receive any additional credit. –Dana
As a Business Communications lecturer at Rutgers University-Camden since 2009 – and online only since 2019, extra credit is indeed a double-edged sword. My “bonus” assignment policy lies somewhere in between the pros and cons outlined in the post.
Stick to my guns: As with all assignments, I adhere to deadlines. A bonus assignment in a module has the same deadline as the required assignments. I never extend bonus assignments -only required assignments.
Just say “no:” With a full 35-student class, my philosophy is, “There’s one of me and 35 of you:” If I extend a bonus assignment for one, I have to do it for everyone. That also applies to the inevitable request: Since I have not done assignments throughout the semester, can I now save my final grade by doing bonus (or other) assignments now? No. I offer no apologies for this. I work to be as understanding and flexible as possible and will indeed extend required assignments – IF a student contacts me during the module in which the assignment is due.
The worst is when they ask can I create a bonus assignment so they can make up work they missed. NO – that means I have to create a new assignment; and expand my own work load. This typically means taking time away from all the other students who get their work in on time – bonus or not.
I offer enough bonus work to give students chances through most of the semester to earn extra points and hopefully, pick up additional skills or sharpen skills.
Brenda, thank you for your thought-provoking comments. I really like your policies. It’s a delicate balance between offering students additional options and not increasing one’s own workload–self-preservation really, in the light of having 35 students in a writing class. –Dana