May the grading for discrete math be discrete.

There is no such concept as points in this class.

Measuring your success with points implies items with the same “point value” equally represent your success and are ultimately interchangeable in the “final equation”. In the context of this class, we do not believe two half-correct math proofs are worth the same as one completely correct math proof. Many of our learning goals, such as mathematical communication, are not quantifiable by points.

Instead, the grading mechanism in this class is discrete at a micro-level and milestone-like at a macro-level. We did not invent this grading mechanism. Similar grading mechanisms are regularly used at U of Washington CS, UCSD CSE, UNC Charlotte Software and Information Systems, and many other disciplines. It is also used at a smaller scale (only for exams) in CS216: Everything Data in our own department. Those students all thrived, and you will, too.

Here is a summary of our grading mechanism; finer-grained details are provided in Canvas for each module.

Discrete (ESNU) at Micro-level

  • For every item (e.g., a question in an assignment that requires you to write a proof), you receive an outcome (along with concrete technical feedback) that looks like one of the following:
    • E (Excellent or Exemplary): your work satisfies everything that we ask for and displays full mastery. There is no place where we feel an improvement is necessary. As the name suggests, your work can be directly shown to others. (We might actually do so with your consent.)
    • S (Satisfactory but can use minor revisions): your work displays mastery and meets the learning goals, but there is room for improvement. For example:
      • there is one logical step in your proof that is technically correct but needs further elaboration
      • there is a minor arithmetic error in your work that does not impact your showcase of mastery
      • the concision in your mathematical writing needs some improvement
      • your proof is technically correct but contains bad practice
    • N (Not yet and need major revisions): your work does not display full mastery or does not satisfy the minimal requirement. For example:
      • your proof is technically incorrect
      • your proof relies on more assumptions than warranted
      • you gave a correct proof for a slightly different question due to misinterpretation
    • U (Unassessable): your work is incomplete or does not provide enough information for the course staff to give concrete feedback. This is often rare, mostly only given to completely blank work.
    • For those who have taken CS216 and experienced the ESNU system in that class, note that our levels stay discrete and never map to points.
  • There are also some questions in our prepare quizzes/PrairieLearn autograded assignments that are multiple choice or only require a numeric answer. The only two outcomes for these questions, obviously, are Satisfactory/Correct and Not yet/Incorrect.

Milestone-like at Macro-level

  • Your performance of the entire assignment is then an aggregate of the individual items.
    • For example, for a hand-graded assignment with three questions:
      • Mastered: all questions got an S or above, and at least two of the three questions got an E
      • Satisfactory: all questions got an S or above (but there are fewer than two Es)
      • Not Yet: at least one question got an N or a U
    • For a prepare quiz in Canvas with nine questions, this can be as simple as:
      • Mastered: all 9 questions are correct
      • Satisfactory: 7-8 of the questions are correct
      • Not Yet: fewer than 7 of the questions are correct
      • Here we accept that all nine questions in that quiz are equally important, and quiz questions (multiple choices, select all that apply, etc.) are graded as either correct or incorrect without partials to further complicate things
  • Your completion/performance of a module is then determined by your completion/performance of the components of the module. For a typical CM, this can be as simple as:
    • Completed: Earned a Satisfactory or above in every component of the module;
    • Incomplete: At least one component is a Not Yet/Unsatisfactory.

and finally…

  • Letter grades in this class are earned by meeting a set of predefined requirements. The following is an example for preview purposes assuming 8 CMs and 6 EMs (see Canvas for the complete scales released by the first class meeting):
    • An A can be earned by:
      • All exams being Satisfactory or above, with at least 1 being Exceptional
      • All 8 CMs Completed
      • Completed at least 4 of the 6 EMs
      • Completed all misc requirements (e.g., filling out the mid-semester survey)
    • whereas a B can be earned by:
      • All exams being Satisfactory or above
      • All 8 CMs Completed
      • Completed at least 2 of the 6 EMs
      • Completed all misc requirements (e.g., filling out the mid-semester survey)
    • whereas a D can be earned by:
      • At least one exam being Satisfactory or above
      • 7/8 CMs Completed 
      • No requirements for EMs
      • Completed all misc requirements (e.g., filling out the mid-semester survey)
    • Note that everything including the exams has more than one attempts (see the exams section below), and the highest scale of completion/performance is counted for each item.

The most important bits of information about this grading mechanism is:

Everyone starts with an F. From there, as you complete/attempt more things, your final letter grade can never decrease.

You know, in advance, what you need to accomplish for each letter grade. This is a contract between you and us.

Your success does not come in expense of others’ success, and vice versa.

We will NEVER “curve the class” on any individual item or the final letter grade based on how the class performs as a whole.


Regrade requests are different than revision of your work. They are for circumstances where you believe the teaching staff did not give you correct/sufficient feedback.

  • There is no point asking for a regrade between a Not Yet and a Satisfactory if you already plan to revise the work to an Exemplary level.
  • There is usually no point asking for a regrade between a Satisfactory and a Excellent because that often has no impact at all on module completion.

When asking for a regrade, you are asking for a blanket re-evaluation of the entire item, most of the time by a more experienced member in the teaching team, which may result in your grade going up or down.

If your regrade request reveals that the teaching team indeed did not give you correct/sufficient feedback, you will get an automatic extended revision window of one full week starting the day we respond to the regrade request.