Key Concepts for Grading in Canvas

Key Concepts for Grading in Canvas

Key Concepts for Grading in Canvas

Table of Contents

This guide provides an overview of how grading works in Canvas. Specific how -to information on the sections below may be found in the Canvas Instructor Guide.

The Grades function within Canvas allows you to maintain all of your grades online. It provides a robust tool for tasks typically done in a spreadsheet application, making it possible to keep all grading online.

Steps to organize your Gradebook

To enter your grade book, click on the Grades link on your course menu (left of your screen). A list of your students appears on the left side, once you enroll your students, with columns to the right for any leaning activity you have set-up to be assessed within Canvas.

Note: The only column created by default in your Gradebook is the Total column. It serves the purpose of calculating the total value of graded assignments in your course. The Total column can be weighted based on the way your graded assignments are grouped. The Total column can be used with the course’s letter grade scheme in order to calculate student final letter grades in your course.

Tip: In Canvas, you can only create Gradebook Columns by creating an assignment.
Assignment groups help organize assignments into categories/groups that can be weighted to calculate final grades in the Gradebook. In Table 1, there are four assignment groups: Reflections, Online Discussions, Projects, and Quizzes. Each group of assignments can be controlled by grading rules to indicate which assignments contribute to that particular group’s weight. Read through the add an assignment group in a course guide. Assignment groups
Tip: To retain a margin for instructor discretion, we encourage instructors to create an Assignment Group and associated Assignment that will not be graded until the end of the semester. Many instructors have used a Participation Assignment worth around 10% of the grade for this.

In Canvas, you create a grading scheme instead of typing letters into your Gradebook or the SpeedGrader. The grading scheme correlates percentage ranges or scores to specific letter grades. You can enable the default grading Canvas scheme or create your own grading scheme in your Canvas course, then enable your custom grading scheme.

Use the following:

Create assignment groups with grading rules to drop lowest or highest scores. Check the “Weight the final score” box to set up weighting by assignment groups. For example, in Table 1, there are two assignment groups (Reflections and Projects) that drop the lowest score.

View the weight final course grade based on the assignment groups guide.

Assignment groups

The gradebook in Canvas is a blank slate until you create the assignments (see the difference between assignments and learning in Canvas).

You add columns to the gradebook by adding assignments. The easiest way to remember is that Assignments = Gradebook Columns. Once you create an Assignment, Canvas automatically includes it in the Gradebook, Calendar, Assignments, and Syllabus pages.

Assignments can be:

  • Both graded (published assignments, graded discussions, graded quizzes, and surveys) and ungraded assignments (practice quizzes, ungraded surveys, and not graded assignments).
  • As simple as just a name, due date, and point score; or, it can include instructions, open and close dates.

Submissions for assignments can be:

  • online (through Canvas),
  • on-paper (in-person),
  • or no-submission (to create extra columns in the Gradebook, or when you want to create an assignment that involves multiple scores).

Tip: No Submission and On Paper assignments still appear to students on their Assignments page. To avoid confusion, you should note it in the assignment description, so students will know whether a submission is required and how they are supposed to submit it.

All assignments must eventually have a grade. In Canvas, an assignment is graded when it is given a point value. It is a good practice to be consistent throughout your course and assign a point value or percentage to your graded assignments. To enter the percentage, simply record “100” for points. If the assignment is ungraded, no grade column will appear in the Gradebook. By default, Canvas only uses Assignments in the grading calculation IF there is a grade for that assignment.

Students with missed assignments should have a 0; otherwise, their total grade will be higher than it should be. This allows students to have the most accurate representation of their current grades. However, if a student made a zero for an assignment, you’ll need to either record a zero for the student in the Gradebook or use the “Set Default Grade” functionality in the Gradebook and enter zero for the whole assignment.

Tip: Use the “Set Default Grade” option on the gradebook columns after graded an assignment to set Unsubmitted grades to “0”. View the set default grade for an assignment guide.

However, if a student doesn’t have a grade for an assignment (excused absence), then it’s better not to default the grade to zero and put in the grades manually.

Set default grade

Important Notes:

  • An assignment is only calculated into the grade after it is graded, so you should grade it or input a 0. (if the instructor does not input a 0, then the final grade will not reflect how poorly the student is doing).
  • Treat Ungraded as 0s” will NOT affect the grade for the student. It is only a display change for the gradebook.

The most common color you will notice is pink, which denotes late assignment submissions. Icons appearing in the gradebook indicate both that the submission has been made by the student, as well as what the submission type is. For an explanation of the icons and colors in the Gradebook, view the How do I use the icons and colors in the Gradebook? web guide.

There are several easy ways to offer extra credit: Create a no-submission assignment with 0 total points and add points to it, add extra points to an existing assignment, as well as the following:

For additional assistance, read through the How to give an extra credit in a course? web guide.

In order for the Total column to calculate student final grades in your course using the example above, perform the following steps:

  1. Use the Assignment Groups
  2. Use Weighting Grades
  3. Use Grading Rules
  4. Enable the Grading Scheme (Table 2), read through the following web guides:

For a course that gives pass/fail grades, you can modify the scheme to reflect those letters and range (Table 3).

Example grading schema

Pass or Fail


For your customized grade calculations outside of canvas, you can download the gradebook calculate the grades and upload your calculated grades back into the Canvas gradebook. To use this out-of-Canvas system, do the following steps

  1. Create at least two assignment groups and check the option to weight the final grade by assignment group.
  2. Set the weight for one group at 0% and the other at 100%
  3. Place all of your assignments in the group that is weighted at 0%
  4. Create a no-submission assignment for the custom final grade in the group weighted at 100%
  5. Download the gradebook as a CSV file and use Excel to calculate your own unique grading scenario with the final grade appearing in a column that will match with the custom final grade column you created in Canvas.
  6. Import the spreadsheet into Canvas to populate the custom column.

Note: For steps 5 and 6 you can also use some other method to calculate grades and either import a spreadsheet or type the grades in by hand. Either way, because the custom final grade column is all by itself in an assignment group weighted at 100% of the grade, Canvas’s final score column will pull its score directly from it as an exact match. All you need to do now is customize your grading scheme in your course settings to reflect your own letter-grade breakdown, and you have successfully posted grades calculated by your own algorithm.

As you finish a semester, we recommend downloading the Gradebook for your own safekeeping. Then, upload the file to your CyBox, visit the Save your Grade Center for Record Retention web guide.

Learner-Centered gradebook practices

By default, students can see results in their Grades tab as soon as their submission is graded. If you want all students to see grades at the same time, rather than live as you enter them, use the three dots on individual assignments in the gradebook to alter the Grade Posting Policy and then select to Manually release grades. After all the grading for that assignment is done, return to the three-dot menu and select Post Grades. View the following web guides:

select grade posting policy select a manual grade posting policy

The Total column is visible to students by default. You can hide the Total column if you’re not ready to display grades. Hiding the Total column is recommended if you are not using Canvas to calculate final grades, since students may be seeing a Total grade that is inaccurate. View the How do I hide totals in my students’ grade summaries? web guide.

If needed, a student may be excused from assignments, discussions, or quizzes. Excused items are not calculated as part of the student’s total grade. To use this feature in the gradebook, find the cell for the appropriate student and assignment, type “EX” in that cell, and then press the Enter key. Read through this via the How do I excuse an assignment for a student in the Gradebook? web guide.

You can use the notes column to keep track of information in your course that is important to student assessment or growth such as student effort, student challenges, SIS (Student Information Service) IDs, or any other general notes. Students are not able to see notes column. You may toggle between the show/hide notes column link without losing your notes. View the How do I use the Notes column in the Gradebook? web guide.

Tip: Students can view their grades based on “What-If” scores so that they know how grades will be affected by upcoming or resubmitted assignments. They can test scores for an assignment that already includes a score, or an assignment that has yet to be graded. To learn more about this feature, visit How do I approximate my assignment scores using the What-If Grades feature? Web guide.

Self-Paced Canvas Videos

To become more acquainted with the Gradebook:

To learn more about Assignments:

Canvas-led Training Workshop at Iowa State:

In September 2017, CELT hosted Erin Wasson, Canvas Trainer, to facilitate key workshop topics; view the Canvas-lead Grading and Assignments training video (1h 14m).