There are many different ways that students are assessed on the information that they learn in a particular class. In some classes, you may receive a pass or fail, while in other classes there is no grading at all.
However, most high school and college classes are evaluated in terms of a letter grade, often from A to F.
Each letter grade can be converted to a numeric value and when averaged together make up what is referred to as a Grade Point Average, or GPA.
Because it’s helpful to understand how GPA works as you progress in your academic career, this post explores the different ways GPA is calculated: Weighted vs. Unweighted GPA, and Cumulative GPA.
What Is Unweighted GPA?
The simplest type of GPA to consider is your unweighted GPA. Your unweighted GPA only takes into account the actual grades that you receive in each class. You then convert each letter grade into a numeric value.
Typically an A is worth 4 points, a B is worth 3 points, and so on, with plus and minus grades receiving a slightly higher or lower score. From there, multiply each numeric grade value by the total number of credits to get your unweighted GPA.
Here’s an example of a sample college semester that will hopefully make calculating your weighted GPA easier to understand:
With 53.1 GPS points and 16 total credits taken, this student’s GPA for the semester is 3.32. It’s also important to note that even with an unweighted GPA, you still weight the grades that you receive by the total number of credits that each class is worth. It is considered unweighted because you do not adjust the numeric GPA points that you receive for the difficulty of the class.
What Is Weighted GPA?
While unweighted GPAs are common in college and other higher education schools, many high schools choose a weighted GPA. This is because there are many different levels of courses in most high schools, and the workload can be significantly different. Most high schools have decided that students should not be punished for taking a more difficult class (and possibly getting a lower grade than they would have in a more basic version of the class)
While each school can calculate weighted GPA in whatever manner they choose, one common system is to add 1.0 point to the numeric value that you earn if you’re taking an Advanced Placement (AP) class and 0.5 points if you’re taking an Honors class. If you take a standard high school class, your numeric grade is not changed.
Here’s an example of a sample high school student’s semester grade, using a weighted GPA and a 1.0 / 0.5 adjustment for AP and Honors classes.
In this example, has 23.0 GPA points and 5.5 credits, for a GPA of 4.18. It is usually via Honors and AP classes that you might see students with GPAs above 4.0. Typically unweighted GPAs can not be higher than 4.0.
What Is Cumulative GPA?
Another GPA term is cumulative GPA. Your cumulative GPA represents your total GPA over the series of several different terms or semesters, and can be weighted or unweighted. To calculate your cumulative GPA, you simply add up all of the GPA points that you’ve accumulated while attending this particular school, and divide it by the total number of credits that you’ve earned.
It’s also important to note that you can’t just take the average of each of your semester GPAs. Because you may have a different amount of credits earned each semester, taking a simple average of the GPAs from individual semesters will not produce an accurate cumulative GPA. Instead, you need to add up the total number of GPA points you’ve earned and divide that by your total number of credits earned.
As you can see, most schools calculate your grade point average (GPA) as a way of evaluating your performance in the classes that you take, but there are several different forms of GPA. An unweighted GPA doesn’t take into account the difficulty of the class, while a weighted GPA may give additional credit for taking advanced classes.
Last but not least, there’s the cumulative GPA, which represents your performance-to-date across multiple different semesters or terms. Regardless of the type of GPA calculation that’s used, doing your best in all of your classes will help to keep your GPA high.