Is the passing grade 'exceeds expectation' measured in the degree of how well a student in a particular class has performed, or is it simply the idea of a student's performance in class literally exceeding the teacher's expectations?

In many of Harry's classes with Snape, before Half-Blood Prince, he has been looked down upon and treated roughly, to the extent where he has received Dreadfuls (D) and the mark 0 from practical potions concocting and theoretical examinations. So why has Harry received Exceeds Expectations from Snape in the O.W.Ls?

Is it a caliber of excellence or an instance of a student merely exceeding a teacher's expectation in the literal sense?

  • 1
    it could be a bit of a cultural thing - when I was university in the UK we were told that a higher class degree would only be awarded to those who exceeded expectations (ie, demonstrated ability and/or knowledge beyond the basic class material)
    – HorusKol
    Jan 2, 2013 at 0:54
  • In the US on the other hand, the grades "B" and "A" were supposed to mean "exceeds expectations" and "outstanding", with "C" being "average" and "D" being "passing, barely". Nowadays teachers hand out higher grades than they should be, so there isn't a parallel to "exceeds expectations" anymore - you're supposed to get "A"s...
    – Izkata
    Sep 6, 2014 at 17:39

3 Answers 3


I think that you're forgetting that O.W.L.s were administered and scored by the Ministry of Magic, not the Hogwarts professor.

As such, the definition must have some expected norm, as an unbiased Ministry official wouldn't have any personal expectations for any individual student.

  • ... unless they were expecting a corporeal Patronus from a particular student. Unbiased-like. :) Jan 1, 2013 at 11:09
  • @DVK -- The Patronus was totally off the record :)) They just wanted to see Harry produce one for kicks. Hannah Abbott accidentally produced a flock of flamingos that filled the Great Hall ... that was ... Patronus-like, in that animals were involved ... ;) Jan 1, 2013 at 16:11
  • 3
    The OWL system is almost certainly based on the old GCE Ordinary Level system, post-1975, which was in place when Rowling herself was in school.
    – Compro01
    Jan 2, 2013 at 15:36

There was a W.O.M.B.A.T. test on JKR's old website.

The test itself was based on a variety of multiple choice questions about the Potter books. At the end of the test you received a grade (ranging from T-Troll to O-Outstanding) based on your score, along with a certificate which you can see below.

enter image description here

Since the OWLs (etc) are externally-administered (by the Ministry of Magic), it's not that you've exceeded the expectations of your tutor, it's that you've exceeded the expectations of someone at your current educational level.


This quote from Fred and George in the Order of the Phoenix seems to suggest that the E grade does not indicate that the student passed the expectations of their teachers:

'So top grade's "O" for "Outstanding",' she was saying, 'and then there's "A" –' No, "E",' George corrected her [Hermione], '"E" for "Exceeds Expectations". And I've always though Fred and I should've got "E" in everything, because we exceeded expectations just by turning up for the exams.' (OP15)- hp-lexicon.org

Although it might also suggest that The teachers had higher expectations of the boys than they purported to have of themselves.

  • That sounds more like typical F&G punning... Sep 8, 2014 at 9:13

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