This is a hectic time of year for most teachers. They are closing up 1st semester gradebooks, reflecting on the past semester, and planning for the next. That’s where I am at least. I’m thinking about how to tweak my ‘game’ to make it better; more engaging for students, aligning activities to ensure the skills learned are those I intended, and improving the workflow. One of the steps in this planning is resetting the XP grading system. For those interested, this post will walk through the basic steps I take to develop my scoring system.

Step 1: determine the minimum ‘score’ (XP aka. experience points) needed to achieve a 100% grade.

This may be a bit controversial – some teachers in ed reform would like to remove grading from consideration when planning. I agree with the principle that grades don’t always accurately reflect the learning that is accomplished; however, there are a few reasons – some practical and some theoretical – that make this is unpractical. First grades are institutional requirements. Students grades determine money for college and honorifics. If we ignore this there is potential harm to the student. This leads to the second reason which is that grades are a sort of income for students. I love teaching, but if I did not receive a livable income I would be unable to continue. Students would like a fair compensation for their time and effort. For some students (in player type models the ‘players’ & ‘achievers’ especially) the rewards and points are the key motivating factor (in school or ‘the game’) we want all students to be internally motivated but we can’t ignore the basic secure income that a grade can represent.

For the upcoming semester I plan on 10,000XP as the minimum points to achieve 100%.

  • sidenote: 100% does not mean the student has earned all of the possible points. Rather they have met the minimum requirements to demonstrate mastery in each standard. I am a firm believer in “multiple paths to victory” and when I plan units there are many ways to “win”. Students that are very good at testing can score well but will need to do some extra. Students that are poor testers can “farm” or store extra XP in the areas they are strong at (as long as it is demonstrating different skills). More on this some other time…

Step 2: Determine a number of ‘levels’ you would like in the grading period.

Leveling up is a motivator, especially when combined with celebrations and ranking systems. The balancing act in this step is calculating how often leveling up should occur. Too frequent and the leveling up becomes meaningless-there needs to be some struggle. Too infrequent and the student doesn’t get the rush of gaining a level. I’ve found that setting the total number of levels at about half of the total class meetings. This will allow a level jump every 2-3 classes with a big level jump after a ‘boss’ (major assessment) is defeated.

In my class I will meet with students about 60 times before the end of the semester so I have 35 levels. This is a matter of preference though. The important thing is publishing an XP –> level –> grade chart so that students can plan a strategy and all stakeholders know how the grading will occur. It is possible to adjust the overall XP needed for a 100% if not all of the activities or assignments are not available in a semester. For example, if students take longer than expected on the first major project and a second won’t be offered, adjust the XP downward to reflect that a second ‘boss’ will not be fought. If that 2nd boss would have been worth 1,000XP I would adjust my scale down from 10,000XP to 9,000XP.

Step 3: Use Excel or Google Sheets to write a formula to set the number of XP per level and the level to grade scale.

This is another one of those pragmatic compromises between gamification theory and institutional requirements. If 100% can be achieved at 35 levels and 10,000 XP each level is 10,000/35=287Xp per level.

  • sidenote: In most RPGs it is easier to ‘level up’ earlier in the game and it is more difficult as the avatar reaches higher levels. I haven’t found a fair way to do this yet with grades. I’m sure there is a way and would love to see it.

level-chartMy state also has a 10 point uniform grading scale which sets an A at 90%, B at 80%, and so on. With an excel formula I can set how many levels equals each grading percentage. The formula is on the left here. I’m not sure if a simple formula like this is copyright protected, but hat tip to Alice Keeler (@akeeler) since this is a modified version of a formula she included in a beta gradebook that I since adapted for my game.

Step 4: Determine Assignment Category Types

Determine the assignment and activity types that you expect to accomplish during the grading period.

Now that the space between levels is determined you can start thinking about the types of activities and assignments you will expect students to complete through the semester. For example, I know the in 1 semester I will be teaching 4 units based on 4 standards. The district I work for mandates that each standard end with a common assessment as a “major” assessment. I also know that I want students to complete my “QWIQR” Flipped Notes, skills based projects, quiz checks, and review games. So I go into second semester knowing that I have some generic categories for each unit.

Step 5: Determine base values for each assignment type.

This is another one of those theoretic and pragmatic compromises. In theory the assignments can be worth whatever XP you choose to make them. The amount of work, the difficulty level of the mastered skill, or the anticipated time needed could all play a factor. The pragmatic element is that each district has different requirements for assignment weighs. In my district I am required to have weighted categories of 50% major assignments, 30% mid-level assignments, and 20% practice. What these numbers mean is not really clear. But this is how I broke down the first semester:


  • I feel the need to justify some of this. First, the common assessments are district mandated tests – they are my “boss fights”. The Notes are in my QWIQR style and are the flipped element of my class. Read about my QWIQR here (Corwin-Connect) to see that these are intended to be a higher order thinking note taking. The “Underground Missions” are my skills based projects and the students do a minimum of one per unit. In the Practice section I put the Quizzes and Reflections. The students do not get a “grade” that matches their quiz score. Instead they earn “credits” which are part of an alternative economy in my classroom. The students do earn XP for successfully participating in the reflection activities based on their quiz scores. This is simple data collection and reflection.

These are generic XP weights that I can then plug assignments into. This also allows for the assignment weights to be adjusted as the semester progresses based on the difficulty level or some other need. In this coming semester I will be adding “choose your own adventure” style assignments modeled on Project Based Learning and students and I will negotiate the XP value and the conditions that must be met to achieve the awarded points.

You may have also noticed that the generic categories also allow for the “multiple pathes to victory” and a high level of student choice. When building the units I typically offer 5-10 skills based assignments that meet the minimum “Underground Mission” requirement. This way students that are not good test takers can do “extra credit” before the exam in order to stock up on XP before the test. A positive side effect of this is that they are interacting with the content more which increases their test taking ability.

Check out my class website The History Underground to see the different assignment options and the amount of choices that I provide the students. Click around on the “Public History” assignments and you’ll notice that 1) the products vary based on student interest and 2) some have different extra XP opportunities.

Step 6: Start building.

Ok, this is a bit of a cop out. The hard work of the XP grading system is maintaining the system, communicating the benefits (see An XP Grading conversation), and providing students with enough opportunities to earn XP. The other hard part – the first few times using it – is trusting that the outcomes will get to where you need them. Students in XP grade systems start the semester with a zero and are always moving up into their grade. It is a little scary for a teacher to know that A, B, and, C grades won’t start being secured until the  3/4s of the way through the grading period.

  • Sidenote: My district also requires an 80% classwork – 20% final exam/project grade split. To achieve this the XP/Level grade counts for 80% the students grade and the final exam counts for 20%. Students can earn more than the “100% completed” level (for example level 35 is a 100% but some students might make it to level 42) but I don’t allow students to get more than a 100% on the level grade, otherwise the 20% final is not worth 20%.

I’m always interested in hearing from my readers. Please leave a comment below to help me either improve my steps or get some clarification. There are several issues that I didn’t get into in this post, like ‘fairness’ or ‘mastery-based learning’. As a whole though, Level Up grading is awesome once it gets going.