Ask a Professor: How Can You Boost Your Participation Grade?

Many classes include a participation grade in your final grade. A professor goes over the best tips and strategies for raising your participation grade.

portrait of Genevieve Carlton, Ph.D.
by Genevieve Carlton, Ph.D.

Published April 7, 2022

Edited by Hannah Muniz
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Ask a Professor: How Can You Boost Your Participation Grade?


Many college classes include participation in the grading rubric. But what is a participation grade exactly? And how can you raise your participation grade?

When I was a history professor, class participation made up at least 10% of the final grade in my classes. Every course I taught — from large lectures to graduate seminars — included primary source analysis, reading discussions, and other elements that required participation.

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On the first day of class, I told my students that participation is more than just raising your hand to answer a question.

So what makes up a participation grade, and what are the best ways to boost your grade?

What Is a Participation Grade?

A participation grade evaluates a student's contribution to the class, primarily during in-class discussions.

What counts as participation depends on the class and the professor. Many professors award participation for engaging during class, attending office hours, posting on discussion boards, and participating in group projects.

Some classes are more likely to include participation in the final grade than others. Many art, humanities, social science, and natural science classes require participation.

In art and writing workshops, for example, you're expected to discuss one another's work and give feedback. In sociology and economics classes, you'll debate theories. And in STEM classes, you'll discuss how you solved problem sets.

How Do Professors Grade Participation?

How a professor grades participation can vary.

Some instructors use a rubric that scores how often students contribute and the quality of their contributions. Others make notes about which students engaged the most during a discussion. Some may assign points or letter grades for your overall participation in every class session.

Professors hand back midterms, papers, and assignments with a grade at the top. But they often do not hand out participation grades. If your grade breakdown isn't available online, you can ask your professor about your participation grade.

It's a good idea to check in with your instructor around the middle of the term when you still have time to improve. A quick email asking your professor for your current participation grade can help raise your final grade in the course.

7 Tips to Help Boost Your Participation Grade in College

Participation might look like a small fraction of your final grade — in many classes, it's worth just 5-15% of your grade. But participation can be the difference between an A- and a C+. If you're lagging in participation, these tips will help you raise your participation grade.

1. Go to Class Regularly

You can't participate if you aren't in class, so make regular attendance part of your participation strategy.

Some days, participation is as easy as raising your hand during an in-class poll, commenting on an image, or telling the class your answer to question 12. You'll miss out on these easy participation points if you skip class.

2. Prepare Before Each Class

Preparing before class is key to boosting your participation grade. In history classes, our discussions focused on a specific reading assignment every day. Students who did not read the material had a harder time participating in discussions.

Depending on the class, preparing might mean doing the reading, completing problem sets, or answering questions in advance. It also means engaging with the material and coming to class with questions, thoughts, or comments about what you worked on.

If you struggle to speak up in class, write down a few responses to the day's assignments that you can bring up during the discussion.

3. Ask Questions

Too many students assume that participation means a well-formed, essay-like response to an in-class question. And many students have a hard time discussing material on the spot. But here's a key trick: Asking questions also counts as participation.

If you're confused about the material, come to class with questions. Try to raise questions that make connections between the reading and the lecture.

Make sure your questions demonstrate thoughtfulness and engagement with the material — professors can see through off-topic questions students ask just to earn participation credit.

4. Engage in Discussions

Participation means more than just talking in class. It also means engaging in discussions through active listening, taking notes, and responding to classmates.

In my classes, some days I'd put up an image and ask students what stood out to them about it. Those low-stakes discussions often encouraged quieter students to speak up. And often once you start participating, it's much easier to continue participating.

By coming to class prepared, you'll find it less challenging to engage during discussions.

5. Attend Office Hours

Attending office hours, which professors hold to meet with students outside class, can be a great way to boost your participation grade. During office hours, you can ask questions about the material and discuss assignments.

Most professors award participation credit for coming to office hours, emailing a question or thought about the material, or other forms of engagement outside class. I even encouraged my most shy students to send me a brief email with a few thoughts on the reading so they could receive participation credit.

6. Post on the Discussion Board

If your class uses an online discussion board, posting can boost your participation grade. For many online classes, the discussion board is the best way to participate. Professors might ask you to post regularly or respond to at least one post per week.

With a discussion board, you have time to think out your response and demonstrate in-depth engagement. If you're discussing the reading, try to use direct quotes. When responding to another student's points, use a professional voice and engage with their ideas.

7. Talk to Your Professor

Your professor assigns the participation grade. They also decide what counts toward participation. If you're confused about what qualifies as participation or concerned about your participation grade, talk to your professor.

Ask your professor what factors affect the participation grade. Are there ways you can gain credit besides speaking in class? Also, ask how you can boost your participation, particularly if you're having a hard time talking in class.


Feature Image: SDI Productions / E+ / Getty Images

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