# Understanding the Effect of Bonus Items

Here’s a sample grade chart and grading scale for a course for the examples below. (It is shown as a weighted grade option, but for a points-based grade chart out of a 1000 points, the percentages and effect would match.)

## Example Grade Chart

### Percent of Grade

Discussions30%
Argument Papers20%
Quizzes15%
Final Project20%
Group Contribution10%
Reflections5%
Total100%

## Example Grade Scale

GradeScoreGradeScore
A94–100C74–76
A-90–93C-70–73
B+87–89D+67–69
B84–86D64–66
B-80–83D-60–63
C+77–79F0–59

## Bonus Item Options & Sample Effects

Assuming each student below completes the Bonus Item and gets full points for it, the charts below help demonstrate how the grade of each student is affected based upon where the Bonus Item is placed in the Grades tool. This is especially noticeable when using a +/- grading scale, but if using whole-letter grades, ignore the +/- in the charts below.

The Bonus Item for these charts was worth 5%. When placed outside of a category, this means the Bonus Item is equivalent to 5% of the overall grade. But when placed inside a category (such as here in the Discussion category, which is worth 30% of the overall grade) the Bonus Item is only with 5% (Bonus) of 30% (Discussion), which is equivalent to 1.5% of the overall grade.

So instructors should consider how much the category’s weight will affect the Bonus Item added to it. For example, if the Bonus Item 5% had instead been added to the Quizzes category in this course, which is worth 15% of the overall, then the effect would be less because students would only be increasing 5% (Bonus) of 15% (Quizzes).

## Adding Bonus Items Outside of a Category

If a Bonus Item is added at the overall grade level (not inside a category), then the weight given to the Bonus Item will tend to affect their final calculated grade in larger way. Learn how to create a Bonus Item that is Applied to the Overall Final Grade Calculation.

## Bonus Items Outside of a Category

Example Students Final grade before any bonus items are added Final grade with a 5% bonus item added to overall grade Overall % increase in final grade
Student 1 89.04% B+ 94.04% A 5%
Student 2 72.43% C- 77.43% C+ 5%
Student 3 85.06% B 90.06% A- 5%
Student 4 84.66% B 89.66% B+ 5%
Student 5 89.84% B+ 94.84% A 5%

Notice when a Bonus Item is weighted at 5% and added to the overall grade (not in a category), it shifts each student’s grade up by 5%. This can have some potentially large consequences and grade inflation if the Bonus Item is not accurately representing a challenging learning opportunity that demonstrates skill acquisition.

Example 1: Student 1 moves from having a B+ to an A. Student 2 goes from barely passing with a C- to a C+, which technically means the student is just above average in course skills. Student 3 also jumps from a B to an A- and Student 5 from a B+ to an A.

Example 2: However, because Student 4’s grade was in the middle of a grade break with a solid 84.66%, this student only goes up one grade level to a B+.

## Adding Bonus Items to a Category

Learn how to create a Bonus Item That is Only Applied Within a Grade Category.

### Grade Category Can Exceed Category Weight

When adding a Bonus Item to a specific grade category, an instructor can go back to edit the Category to “Allow category to exceed category weight” (see image below). This means that if a student gets above 100% within that category (such as through a Bonus Item) it will apply the effect of those points beyond the percent of the category. In the image below, it shows the weight of the category (Discussions here) is worth 30% of the overall grade, but with this box checked a student could earn more than the 100% for the category, which would the further increase the overall grade.

Example: See Student 5 where allowing the category grade to exceed category weight moves the student’s grade up.

## Bonus Items with Grade Category Can Exceed Category Weight Enabled

Final grade before any bonus items are added Student's Discussion grade before bonus Student's Discussion grade after 5% bonus Final grade with 5% bonus item in category with “can exceed” grade weight checked Overall % increase in final grade
Student 1 89.04% B+ 96% 101% 90.54% A- 1.5%
Student 2 72.43% C- 72% 77% 73.93% C 1.5%
Student 3 85.06% B 92% 97% 86.56% B 1.5%
Student 4 84.66% B 96% 101% 86.16% B 1.5%
Student 5 89.84% B+ 100% 105% 91.34 A- 1.5%

### Grade Category Cannot Exceed Category Weight

When adding a Bonus Item to a specific grade category, the instructor can leave the default as not exceeding weight (see image below). This means that if a student gets above 100% within that category (such as through a Bonus Item) it will prevent the effect of those points beyond the percent of the category. In the image below, it shows the weight of the category (Discussions here) is worth 30% of the overall grade, but with this box unchecked, even if a student earned more than 100% of the category (through perfect Discussion posts and then the Bonus Item points), the student would only get 100% for their Discussion grade (see chart and explanation in Considerations for Bonus Items in Grade Categories below).

Example: See how Student 5’s grade does not change, even with the Bonus Item because the category is capped by not exceeding category weight.

## Bonus Items with Grade Category Cannot Exceed Category Weight Enabled

Final grade before any bonus points are added Student’s Discussion grade before bonus Student’s Discussion grade after 5% bonus Final grade with 5% bonus in category without “can exceed” grade weight Overall % increase in final grade
Student 1 89.04% B+ 96% 101% * 90.24% A- 1.2%
Student 2 72.43% C- 72% 77% 73.93% C 1.5%
Student 3 85.06% B 92% 97% 86.56% B 1.5%
Student 4 84.66% B 96% 101% * 85.86% B 1.2%
Student 5 89.84% B+ 100% 105% * 89.84% B+ 0%

* Because the category weight is capped at 100%, students who score above 100% with the Bonus Item in the category (examples, Students 1, 4 & 5), do not receive the full increase from the Bonus Item (in this example 5% (Bonus) of 30% (Discussions), which is 1.5% of the overall grade). These students would only receive up to 100%, meaning that the effect upon their final grade will be less.

## Considerations for Bonus Items in Grade Categories

There are valid reasons for choosing to allow a grade category to exceed or not exceed the established weight. When this is related to Bonus Items, here are some examples of when it would or would not make a difference.

## Comparison of Allowing Grade Categories to Exceed or Not Exceed Weight

Final grade before any bonus points are added Student’s Discussion grade before bonus Student’s Discussion grade after 5% bonus Final grade with 5% bonus in category with “can exceed” grade weight Final grade with 5% bonus in category without “can exceed” grade weight
Student 1 89.04% B+ 96% 101% 90.54% A- 90.24% A-
Student 2 72.43% C- 72% 77% 73.93% C 73.93% C
Student 3 85.06% B 92% 97% 86.56% B 86.56% B
Student 4 84.66% B 96% 101% 86.16% B 85.86% B
Student 5 89.84% B+ 100% 105% 91.34 A- 89.84% B+

For students who do not have the maximum points in a category or will not max out when the bonus points are added (Students 2 & 3 above), the option to “not exceed” does not affect their final score any differently than choosing “can exceed” (see chart above).

Example 1: See how Student 2 only had a 72% in the Discussion grade? Once Student 2 earns the 5%, Student 2 has a 77% for Discussions, but it only ends up raising Student 2’s Final Grade to a 73.93% because Discussions is only worth 30% of the overall grade. Because the 5% Bonus does not push Student 2 over 100% in the Discussions category, “can exceed” doesn’t apply to them and Student 2’s score is same either way (73.93%). The same is true for Student 3.

However, for students who have high scores or are already maxed out for a category, the “can exceed” option does have an effect.

Example 2: Notice that Student 1 has a 96% in Discussions to start with. After Student 1 earns the 5% Bonus, Student 1 then has a Discussion score of 101%. With the “can exceed” option, Student 1 earns a 90.54%; but without this option only earns a 90.24%. While the difference is slight (0.3%), in some cases it can make the difference between letter grades. The same is true for Student 4.

Example 3: For Student 5, because the student’s grade was already maxed out at 100% for Discussions, choosing “can exceed” gives Student 5 a score of 105% out of 100% and moves the student’s overall grade even higher to a 91.34%. However, for Student 5 if the category cannot exceed, notice that the student does not get any bonus points and no grade change to the overall grade, giving the student an 89.94%. It is important that instructors let students know how their Bonus or extra credit policies work so that students can choose whether to invest their time completing additional tasks or assignments, which may or may not benefit their grades.

## Sample Side-by-Side Effects upon Student Grades

Here’s the side-by-side comparison of the different options.

## Side by Side Comparison of Bonus Options

Option 1: Bonus Item Outside a Category Option 2:
Bonus Item Inside a Category
worth 30% of the Overall Grade
with A & B choices
Final grade before any bonus points are added Final grade with a 5% bonus added to overall grade Student’s Discussion grade before bonus Student’s Discussion grade after 5% bonus Option 2 A:
Final grade with 5% bonus in category with “can exceed” grade weight checked
Option 2 B:
Final grade
with 5% bonus in category without “can exceed” grade weight
Student 1 89.04% B+ 94.04% A
(+ 5%)
96% 101% 90.54% A-
(+ 1.5%)
90.24% A-
(+ 1.2%)
Student 2 72.43% C- 77.43% C+
(+ 5%)
72% 77% 73.93% C
(+ 1.5%)
73.93% C
(+ 1.5%)
Student 3 85.06% B 90.06% A-
(+ 5%)
92% 97% 86.56% B
(+ 1.5%)
86.56% B
(+ 1.5%)
Student 4 84.66% B 89.66% B+
(+ 5%)
96% 101% 86.16% B
(+ 1.5%)
85.86% B
(+ 1.2%)
Student 5 89.84% B+ 94.84% A
(+ 5%)
100% 105% 91.34 A-
(+ 1.5%)
89.84% B+
(0%)

Whichever option instructors choose, it should be clearly articulate to students. Often this is found in the course syllabus grading policy with corresponding due dates for Bonus Item assignments and how the effect is added.

Because the impact of Bonus Items can be so dramatic, it is important to carefully consider the purpose for including them and what effect they will have on student learning and outcomes of the course. Review the resource Using Bonus Items (or Extra Credit) for Learning before making a Bonus Item option decision.