Administering and Interpreting Course Evaluations

Administering and Interpreting Course Evaluations

How to Administer Course Evaluations

Most departments and schools employ standardized procedures for obtaining student ratings of instruction (commonly called course evaluations) in each course. Here are some guidelines for administering student ratings questionnaires in your course:

  • Ask someone else to distribute and collect the questionnaires. You should not be present during the process.
  • Have students complete the questionnaires in the last week or two of the semester, but not during or after a final exam.
  • Don’t look at the results of the evaluations until after you’ve reported grades for the course.
  • Save the results of your course evaluations to include in dossiers for tenure or promotion.

How to Interpret the Numerical Results

Interpreting student ratings of instruction can be challenging, but the guidelines and suggestions below will help you extract useful information from your student ratings.

Make sure a sufficient number of students evaluate your course. The absolute number of students and the proportion responding are both important. If your course has fewer than 10 students, the ratings should be treated with caution. Similarly, if less than two-thirds of the students in your class complete ratings, the results may not accurately reflect the views of the entire class.

Take into account the average score for each item. In the IUB campus Multi-Op form, the scale ranges from 0 (Strongly Disagree) to 4 (Strongly Agree). Although the midpoint of that scale is 2.0, the campus mean for most items is around 3.0. So, any item mean that is between approximately 2.7 and 3.3 is solidly average. If you or your department use a different form, you should note the average score for each item on that form.

Don’t over-interpret the data. Rating forms typically use a 5-point scale. Due to measurement error, item means that differ by 0.3 or less may not really be different.

About percentile ranks. The campus Multi-Op report includes percentile ranks for each item, comparing the score to the overall campus mean for that item and to a specific reference group. The reference groups correspond to the professional schools and, in the College, to one of four disciplinary groups: Physical Sciences and Mathematics, Natural Sciences, Social Sciences, and Humanities.

Interpret percentile ranks with caution. Because item means for the Multi-Op form tend to cluster around 3.0, changes in means around that value tend to result in large changes in percentile rank. Changes in means that are further from the average for that item will result in smaller changes in percentile rank. For example, the difference between means of 3.1 and 3.3 for a particular item might be 15 percentile rank points, while the difference between means of 2.1 and 2.3 (an identical numerical range) for the same item might result in a percentile rank difference of only 5 points.

For more information on interpreting and responding to student evaluations, refer to Using Course Evaluations and Factors Affecting Evaluations in our Teaching Handbook.


Perry, J. D. (2002). Course Evaluation Practices at IU Bloomington. Office of the Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculties.

For More Help or Information

Contact us for advice about interpreting student ratings and improving instruction.