Grades, GPAs, Class Standing, and Honors

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9.1  Introduction

This section addresses how University of Wisconsin Law School students are graded and what they can and should know about GPAs and class standing. It also provides information about honors. For a treatment of all official rules and guidelines pertaining to grading, see Chapter 2 of the Law School Rules. The official rules on graduation honors and the Dean’s List can be found in Chapter 8 of the Law School Rules.

Grades may be accessed on your MyUW web portal. As grades are submitted at the end of each semester they are noted on the "Grades Reported" page of the Current Students webpage. A demo on how to view grades is available on the UW Registrar's Demos & Tutorials webpage.

9.2  Explanation of Grading System: Letter Grades

Law School courses are typically graded on a letter-graded scale from F to A+. Expressed numerically, this is a 4.3 scale (rather than the more-common 4.0 scale) with the relative values of the letters being as follows:

A+
4.3
A
4.0
A-
3.7
B+
3.3
B
3.0
B-
2.7
C+
2.3
C
2.0
C-
1.7
D+
1.3
D
1.0
D-
0.7
F
0

The Law School’s guidelines for faculty to use in assigning grades provides that for all first-year courses, and for advanced classes with an enrollment exceeding 30, the mean grade (i.e., the class average) should fall between 2.85 and 3.1 on the 4.3 scale. For advanced classes with an enrollment of 30 or less, the mean grade should fall between 2.7 and 3.3 on the 4.3 scale.

All of the First-Year Program courses are letter-graded, and there is no pass/fail (that is, “satisfactory/ unsatisfactory”) option available. Generally, the second- and third-year courses are also letter-graded; however, some courses might be graded on a mandatory (as opposed to optional) Pass-Fail basis (see section 9.3, below). Clinical programs, Trial Advocacy, directed reading and directed research projects, the law journals, moot court, and the main Lawyering Skills course are graded on a mandatory pass/fail basis. For a fuller discussion of pass/fail grading, see section 9.3, below and Law School Rule 2.03.

9.2.1  Non-Law School (University) Letter Grades

Law Students who take courses elsewhere in the University --whether or not the associated credits are applicable to the J.D. degree (see section 2.5)-- should NOT factor the letter grades earned in non-Law courses into their Law School 4.3-scale GPA. University letter grades are based on a 4.0 scale and are not amenable to translation on the Law School’s 4.3-scale.

Important Note for Law students pursuing a Dual Degree:  In certain instances, a Law student engaged in a dual degree course of study might be formally assigned a non-Law status for a particular semester by the University Registrar.  In such a case, the student needs to be aware of the following: (1) all Law credits earned in that particular semester WILL count toward the 90 credits required for the JD degree; but (2) any letter-grades earned in Law courses during that particular semester as a "non-Law" student are NOT factored into the student’s Law GPA. (This is because the student will, in these courses, not be assigned 4.3-scale Law letter grades in that term, nor be subject to Law School grade curve rules.  Rather, the student is assigned 4.0-scale University letter grades and is not subject to any grade curve.)

9.3    Explanation of Grading System: Pass/Fail Grades

Participation in clinical programs, moot court, the law journals, Trial Advocacy, Directed Reading, Directed Research, and the main Lawyering Skills course is automatically graded on a pass/fail basis (also sometimes called “Mandatory Pass-Fail”). Per Law School Rule 2.01(3), instructors may determine that other courses will be offered on a mandatory pass-fail basis.

Additionally, every semester some faculty may elect to make their courses available for students to take pass/fail on an optional basis. Pursuant to Law School Rule 2.03(1), only students who have completed 25 credits are eligible to elect to take such courses on a pass/fail basis. Lists of the courses for which taking a pass/fail grade is an option will be published to students, who will have until the last day of classes each semester to choose a course or courses to take pass/fail, should they wish (this is called exercising the “Pass-Fail option”).

The Pass-Fail option may be exercised in no more than two courses in one’s Law School career. A student may exercise the option twice in the same semester. “Mandatory Pass-Fail” courses do not count against the limit on the number of exercise Pass-Fail options. Finally, once a student requests to take a course Pass-Fail (by submitting the Pass-Fail selection form at the end of term) the request cannot be withdrawn once the submission deadline has passed.

Pass/fail grades are reported on the official University transcript as “satisfactory” (“S”) or “unsatisfactory” (“U”) as appropriate. However, should a student exercising the Pass-Fail option in a course receive a B+, A-, A, or A+, the particular letter grade earned will be recorded (instead of an “S”); the option will still be deemed to have been exercised. Should a student exercising the Pass-Fail option in a course receive a C, C+, B-, or B, the grade will be recorded as an S. If a student exercising the Pass-Fail option in a course receives an F, D-, D, D+, or C- the particular letter grade earned will be recorded; the option will nevertheless be deemed to have been exercised. As with the reported grades of B+, A-, A, or A+, the reported grades F, D-, D, D+, or C- are factored in to one’s GPA.

Grades other than “S” earned in courses wherein the student has exercised the Pass Fail option (that is, B+, A-, A, or A+, as well as F, D-, D, D+, or C) do factor into the student’s GPA.

Students exercising the Pass-Fail option who earn an “S” and desire to learn the nature of the underlying grade may seek the information from the course instructor (Law School Rule 2.03(3)).

NOTE: Students with a high grade-point average whose GPA might actually be negatively impacted by the recording of a grade of B+, A-, etc., should consider carefully before taking a course under the pass-fail option discussed above. Law School Rule 2.03 does NOT allow for the lowering of a duly reported grade in order to facilitate the recording of a grade of S. 

9.4   Incompletes

If a student, by the end of the term, has not completed the required work (e.g., has not submitted a final paper), the faculty member may, if the faculty member feels it is appropriate, report a grade of "INCOMPLETE" and grant the student a first extension of one full semester. If, by the end of the next term, the student still has not completed the work required, a second extension of an additional semester may be granted by the faculty member "only if the student justifies the need for an extension based on illness or other serious change of circumstances." (See Law School Rule 6.01(4)(a)).

Note: (1) first and second extensions are NOT automatic; (2) faculty will remain in contact with their students who are carrying "incompletes." Also: faculty granting any extensions (either for individual students or an entire class) beyond the normal grade submission deadlines for the course will notify the Dean's Office. (See Law School Rule 6.01(4)(b)). NO extensions beyond the first and second extensions discussed above will be given without the express consent of the Dean's office. (See Law School Rule 6.01(4)(c)).

Note that a grade of INCOMPLETE is different from a grade of No Report (NR). No Report means that an exam, or paper, was expected from a student and was not completed. (In some cases, the student may have been given permission to take the examination late, because of a health emergency. In other cases, the student may have dropped the course, and the administrative records do not reflect that.)

9.5  GPA Computation & Class Rank

University of Wisconsin Law School students receive letter grades for most law school courses. The grading scale ranges from A+ to F. For purposes of calculating student grade point averages, letter grades are converted to numerical equivalents according to the following conversion table:

A+ equals 4.3; A equals 4.0; A- equals 3.7; B+ equals 3.3; B equals 3.0; B- equals 2.7; C+ equals 2.3; C equals 2.0; C- equals 1.7; D+ equals 1.3; D equals 1.0; D- equals 0.7; and F equals 0.

Grades that are not classified as LAW will not factor into the law GPA.  This includes cross-listed classes with ELPA and Business.  Exchange program credits will not factor into law GPA except the Giessen summer program. 

Since the Law School does not conform to the UW-Madison grade point scale, your student record/transcript will not show your grade points or grade point average. You will need to calculate your own GPA. If you would like confirmation that your calculation is correct, email your calculated GPA to registrar@law.wisc.edu and request verification.

To calculate your GPA, disregard any courses in which you received a grade of S or U. Those courses do NOT factor into your cumulative grade point average. Also, disregard the letter grades earned in any non-Law courses (that is, those offered by a different department in the University --these are graded on the University’s 4.0 scale, not the Law School’s 4.3 scale). Next, multiply the numerical equivalent of the letter grade you received in each Law course you have completed, times the number of credits that you earned in the course. (For example, if you received a B in Property, which is a 4 credit course, you would multiply 3.0 times 4, and the result is 12.0 GPA “points”). After you have multiplied the number of credits times the numerical equivalent for the grade you received in each course, then add all your GPA “points” together and divide it by the total number of credits represented by your letter-graded courses. The resulting quotient is your GPA. It should be rounded to the second decimal place, using conventional rounding methods; e.g., a 3.2489 becomes a 3.25; whereas a 3.24489 becomes a 3.24.

In February and July of each year, the Office of Career and Professional Development will post a copy of the unofficial transcript in Symplicity for any student who has signed the transcript release form.  The unofficial transcript includes the semester and cumulative GPA. 

A re-written course grade (see section 7.4 above), capped at a "C," will control for GPA purposes.  The first grade for the course will no longer be considered in GPA, except as noted in section 7.4, although it will continue to appear on the transcript.

9.5.1  Class Rank

Students have a legitimate interest in knowing how their own academic performance stacks up against the work of others, either to better enable them to compete for jobs, or to better assess the effectiveness of their study strategies, or perhaps to help make decisions about their curriculum. Law school rules generally prohibit computing and releasing class rank, based on a belief that the ranking process can exaggerate the significance of relatively small variations in student grades. Instead, we provide tables relating grade averages to approximate position in the class, and a statement explaining the table. In 2003 we changed the way in which we compile these tables in order to deal with two problems.

The problems were, first, that we could not perform the necessary calculations until all of the grades had been submitted and processed; in fact this meant that sometimes the tables were not available as soon as students needed them to complete job applications. We are, compared to many other law schools, on a "late" academic calendar; our students receive their fall semester grades comparatively later in January than their counterparts at other law schools that begin classes in August and finish finals in early or mid-December. This problem was exacerbated when one or more faculty, often due to a health problem or family emergency, failed to get all the grades turned in by the deadline.

Second, and equally problematic, the tables were not designed to address the situation in which a student was proceeding through law school at a faster, or slower, pace than most students. At first thought, it seems that each person’s “class” is unambiguous; in fact, not so. Does your “class” consist of the people who started law school with you? Or who will finish law school with you? Enough variation exists in the speed with which students accumulate credits to make the determination of the make-up of “a class” an uncertain process. We concluded that the comparison which is most relevant consists of comparing a student’s performance with the performance of others who, recently, have been at the same relative point in completing their law school studies. The tables which we calculate are based on that conclusion.

A review of the distribution of cumulative GPAs over time revealed that the distribution of student grade averages was very consistent over time. The break point for the top 25%, for example, was very much the same from one year to the next to the next. We realized that we could take advantage of this stability to provide a table of the grade averages of students over the last three years, and that this would be an accurate representation of a student’s comparative position in his or her class, and that this could be done so that it would always be available for use by students. Therefore, we adopted a system of publishing tables which are cumulative summaries of the average grades for the previous three academic years. These tables are re-calculated twice a year, in early July and early February. They are available on the Law School website at: http://www.law.wisc.edu/career/new_grading_system.html#class_standing.

We also created a short description of how to interpret the tables which can (and probably should) be shared with potential employers. Although the tables don’t contain data drawn from the most recent semester until they are recalculated, we believe that this doesn’t significantly erode their validity, and any disadvantage is outweighed by the benefits of the new system. The numbers in the tables have been rounded to two decimal places, using conventional rounding rules (e.g., 3.2489 becomes 3.25, whereas 3.24499 becomes 3.24).

The Law School, though it does not provide individual class rank information (see above), does provide individual GPAs. GPAs may be confirmed by checking the unofficial transcript posted in Symplicity or, if you have computed your own GPA, you can contact the Law School Registrar to see if your computation of your GPA matches that of the Law School.

The grade tables are issued in 5% increments (except for the top 10%, which is provided in 1% increments; this is done to make our students more competitive for judicial clerkships). Even if your GPA falls, numerically, in between the GPAs that are the cutoffs for two different percentiles (for example, if the top 30% GPA is 3.30, and the top 35% GPA is 3.25, and your GPA is a 3.28), you should not split the difference and claim to be in the "top 32.5%" of the class. In that situation, however, you could state your class standing as an estimate or an approximation, using language such as "Approximately top one-third.”

9.5.2  Providing Information to Employers

You are not required to include information about your GPA or class standing on your résumé. If, however, you do decide to include it, be sure it is correct. Employers routinely call the Law School Registrar's Office asking for confirmation that a law student's GPA or class standing as represented on the student's résumé is accurate. The Registrar is not free to release information about your GPA or class standing to a third party, but does either "confirm" or "not confirm" any information the student has provided to the employer. It is critical, therefore, that you not make mistakes in calculating your GPA, since an employer might assume that your mistake was a deliberate misrepresentation. If you want to be certain that your GPA is correct, you may confirm your GPA by checking the unofficial transcript posted in Symplicity, or you may email the Registrar at registrar@law.wisc.edu to verify your computations.

9.6  Obtaining an Official or Unofficial Transcript

Official transcripts are available from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Office of the Registrar online at http://ordertranscript.wisc.edu.  There is a charge of $10.00 per official transcript. 

You can have a copy of your Student Record emailed to you from your "My UW" account. A demonstration video on the university Registrar's website shows how to do this: http://registrar.wisc.edu/isis_helpdocs/studentrecords_demos/RequestMyStudentRecord/RequestMyStudentRecord.htm

Unofficial transcripts are posted in Symplicity in February and July of each year for any student who has signed the transcript release form.

Students who have previously attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison have the option of requesting from the Law School Registrar a Law School-produced course history report. Such a report will contain information with respect to courses, credits, and grades from a student’s current matriculation period (i.e., Law School courses), but will not contain information from a previous matriculation (e.g., when the law student was an undergraduate). Email the Law School Registrar (registrar@law.wisc.edu) for details.

9.6.1  Grades: Studying Abroad and Visiting Students

This section addresses briefly grading issues important for (1) UW Law students studying abroad or visiting at another US law school, as well as (2) law students visiting at UW Law School from other law schools.

(1) UW Law students studying abroad or visiting at another US law school:
UW Law students should keep in mind that the Law School cannot award credit for work either done abroad or at another US law school until appropriate documentation has been forwarded to the UW Law School by the other institution. If the other institution is late processing or providing official documentation of completed work, this is generally beyond the control of the UW Law School. It is in the UW Law student’s interest to ensure that the other institution knows where and when to send official documentation (to the UW Law School Registrar). Electronic and paper transcripts are accepted.  Studying abroad or visiting at another US law school in the final semester of law study might mean, in the event that the institution is late reporting documentation to the UW Law School, that your degree will be conferred in August, not May (or, for would-be December grads, in May and not December). Moreover, the possible inability of UW Law School to certify the completion of JD requirements may mean that one will not be eligible, for example, to sit for a bar exam in July.

UW Law School students are strongly cautioned that studying abroad or visiting at another US law school in the final semester of law studies can lead to difficulties: sometimes the status of the J.D. degree course work and certification of Diploma Privilege eligibility can be put in doubt as a result of the student’s absence. All students are strongly urged to meet with the Law School Registrar prior to studying abroad or visiting at another law school.

If you believe that courses you are taking at another law school may meet either UW Law School J.D. degree or Wisconsin Diploma Privilege requirements, you should contact the Law School Registrar; be prepared to provide relevant course information, such as a detailed course description and/or syllabus. (Be aware, for instance, that at many American law schools, the course “Civil Procedure II” actually is much closer to the UW Law School’s Civil Procedure I course than our Civil Procedure II.)

Finally, remember that to receive credit for study abroad or work at another law school, you must receive at least a “C” in the course(s); any grades earned are not factored into one’s UW Law School GPA.

(2) Law students visiting at UW Law School from other law schools:
Law students visiting at UW Law School often need to provide grade information to their home schools in advance of the UW Law School deadline for submission of grades. This is especially true for students who are visiting at UW in their final semester of law studies. Consequently, please note that it is the visiting student’s responsibility to inform his/her instructors and the UW Law School Registrar of any need to have grades reported early to his/her home school. Instructors should be informed of this need well in advance of any final exam, paper, etc.

Students should also remind the instructors of the need at the end of the semester, and also give appropriate notation of the need on any final exam, paper, etc. Be advised that your home school may wish to have final grades well in advance of the UW Law School’s ability to produce them; in the past other law schools have requested final grades even before UW Law final exams commence. Please know that the UW Law School will make every effort to respond to your needs, providing the home school’s deadline is reasonable and you have provided sufficient notice to all necessary parties.

9.7  Honors and Awards

9.7.1  Graduation Honors: Cum Laude, Magna Cum Laude, and Summa Cum Laude

A cumulative GPA of 3.35 or better on reported 4.3-scale letter-grades qualifies a student at graduation for cum laude honors. A GPA of 3.65 or better qualifies a graduate for magna cum laude honors and a GPA of 3.85 or better qualifies a student for summa cum laude honors. Grades earned in courses that the student elected to take on a pass/fail basis and for which a grade of “S” (or “satisfactory”) was reported, are not included in the GPA. (Note: grades earned in any semester following the semester in which the 90th credit is completed are not counted for graduation honors eligibility purposes).  For graduation honors, when a course has been re-written (see section 7.4 above), the original grade is used to determine GPA unless the Petitions Committee has given permission for a grade higher than a "C," in which case the re-write grade will control.   

Students who receive cum laude, magna cum laude, or summa cum laude honors will receive a Law School certificate that recognizes their honors status.  The certificates will be mailed during the summer, so be sure to update your Student Center with a post-graduation [permanent] address.  Students who have re-taken a course should review the Law School Rules (Rule 6.09) for the impact on eligibility for honors.

9.7.2  Dean’s Honor List

Pursuant to Law School Rule 8.05, a student is eligible for the Dean’s Honor List (typically referred to as “Dean’s List”) if the following three requirements are satisfied:

  1. Registration for and completion of at least 12 new credits in the fall or spring semester;

  2. A GPA of at least 3.3 (on the 4.3 scale) on those credits, at least 8 of which must be graded on the 4.3 scale;

  3. Completion of the credits by the due date for turning in grades at the end of the semester in question.

Students with disabilities that preclude a credit load of at least 12 credits should consult with the Director of Student Life about appropriate accommodations. Students who have re-taken a course should review the Law School Rules (Rule 6.09) for the impact on eligibility for honors. (Note: Prior to the Fall 2014 Term, the Dean's Honor List requirements were 14 new credits and 10 graded credits.)

9.7.3  Dean's Academic Achievement Awards

Graduating students who have a cumulative GPA of 3.35 at the end of their penultimate semester receive the Dean's Academic Achievement Award which allows those graduates to wear an honors stole at the commencement ceremony. Students with incompletes ("I") for a grade on their law school record will not be eligible for the Dean's Academic Achievement Award until the incomplete is cleared from their record. Receiving the Dean's Academic Achievement Award is not to be confused with graduating 'with honors' (see above).

9.7.4  Order of the Coif

The Order of the Coif is an honorary group selected from those graduating law students with the highest grade points. It is limited to no more than ten percent of the class but is not necessarily the ten percent with the highest overall grade point averages. To be considered, one must have 68 “graded credits.” For the purpose of Coif eligibility, a “graded credit” is one for which a letter grade has been earned. However, graded credits do not include clinical courses or courses taken on a pass/fail basis. For a full explanation of the eligibility for Order of the Coif, see Appendix D of the Law School Rules. (Note: grades earned in any semester following the semester in which the degree requirements are met are not counted for Order of the Coif eligibility purposes).  Students who have re-taken a course should review the Law School Rules (Rule 6.09) for the impact on eligibility for honors.

9.7.5  Other Awards and Honors

Each year some students earn other awards and honors. In most cases, faculty and staff nominate students who meet the criteria for the individual awards or prizes. The awards range from those funded by the Wisconsin Law Alumni Association or bequests to the Law School to those offered by outside organizations. Traditionally, the school announces most of these awards in May. However, some organizations that recognize outstanding academic performance or community service by law students announce their winners during the academic year. Many awards include a cash stipend.

Examples of awards which include a cash stipend include the Leon Feingold Award for outstanding commitment to the Law School and greater community, the Leonard Loeb American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers award for dedication to Family Law and community service, the Gwynette Smalley Award for special contributions to the Wisconsin Law Review, the Mary Kelly Quackenbush Memorial Award for outstanding student articles in the Wisconsin International Law Journal, and the Mathys Memorial Award for Appellate Advocacy.


“Dignity does not consist in possessing honors, but in deserving them.” Aristotle

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