"When he skated towards the roses at the roller rink
The judges held a note that said that, “Stan, you stink.
You’re so bad we’ve got to give you a sub-zero score.”
It added up to negative twenty-four"
— Square One TV, Less Than Zero
The Book Dumb Bob just turned in his essay. It wasn't just regular bad; it was the Plan 9 from Outer Space of high school essays. It was so bad (How bad was it?) that it somehow broke literature. Obviously, the regular grading scale is not extreme enough for Bob's horrifying essay, so Bob's teacher pegs his work with a grade completely off the scale: an F Minus Minus.
In the United States and some of Western Europe, an F is the lowest grade possible. There are no additions to it, not a plus or minus. F simply means failure, no matter how bad. However, this is not always the case in the world of fiction. Sometimes, the only way to really say "stupid" is to slap a minus on the F and let the rest take care of itself. This also means that the trope name indicates a performance so bad, that not even the nonexistent grade of F minus is bad enough for it.
This trope is for negative grades that go off the scale, from a simple F- all the way down to Z-. Or if grades are percentage-based, the percentage will be negative, meaning that the character got more answers wrong than actually existed. A staple of school comedies that don't take themselves particularly seriously. An inversion of Rank Inflation. Contrast The B Grade. When it's a reviewer doing this, it's Broke the Rating Scale.
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Happens to Billy Madison when he answers a question about the industrial revolution with a rambling, incoherent Metaphorgotten about a lost puppy. The principal grades him thusly:
Principal: Mr. Madison, what you have just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.
In Animal House, Dean Wormer, prior to expelling the entire Delta fraternity, reads them their grade point averages, which—apart from Daniel Simpson Day, who has no GPA ("All courses incomplete")—range from a plausible, if poor, 1.6 (Hoover) to 0.0 (Bluto).
There is an joke about a student complaining to his university lecturer about his grade.
Student: I don't think this paper deserves an F.
Lecturer: Neither do I, but it is the lowest grade the university will allow me to award.
In Captain Underpants and the Wrath of the Wicked Wedgie Woman, Ms. Ribble tells George and Harold she's lowering their grades to Fs and Gs.
George: Oh, NO! Not Fs and Gs! ...Hey, what's a G? Ms. Ribble: It's the only grade lower than an F! Harold: There's no such grade as a G. Ms. Ribble: There is now, bub!
In Red Dwarf: Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers, Rimmer usually gets F for Fail on the officer exam, but on two occasions he got X for Unclassifiable; the first time he just collapsed from amphetamine usage, but the second time sheer panic led to him denying his own existence so he wrote "I am a fish" five hundred times. The exam we see involves him leaving an inky handprint on the paper and then fainting, but no-one ever gets a chance to grade it.
At the end of the picture book Bronto Eats Meat, by Peter Maloney and Felicia Zekauskas, the protagonist of the story writes a school report about Bronto and is given an F- because his report is said to be not realistic.
In Interesting Times, one of the faculty members mentions that Rincewind is so inept at magic he once achieved negative marks in Basic Firestarting. When Rincewind dies, the average spellcasting ability of the entire human race will increase.
A bully in Tough Magic tries to insult the main character by suggesting that he got double 'F's.
Zack Perlman, a rich slacker they're trying to recruit in "Economics of Marine Biology", has an SAT score of 0. The lowest possible SAT score is 200 (for some reason), and even that is only possible by getting every single question wrong on a multiple choice test.
On Smart Guy, TJ tutors a basketball player. After taking the test, the student claims he got a G, which he says is worse than an F, but it turns out it was actually a C-.
The exact same thing happens on Sister Sister, the series about TJ's actors' older twin sisters.
In one episode of That's So Raven, Eddie raps at a bully, "Your grades are so low, you get straight Zs!"
Boy Meets World's Mr. Feeny once threatened to give a student a G for turning in a paper late.
In one episode of Saved by the Bell, Kelly gets an F from a teacher and asks him if she really deserved that. His response is "No, but they don't allow us to give you an N."
Similarly, in Leave It to Beaver, Lumpy is surprised to be told he has an F after he has been schmoozing with the teacher's daughter in an effort to gain favor.
Lumpy: An F, sir?
Teacher: An F. It's the lowest they allow me to give.
Dinosaurs: Earl once became in charge of deciding which shows a network would show. His choices made the population so dumb that his son Robbie once brought home a report cards with several Fs and an M. (The teacher forgot the alphabet while grading)
A Different World: When Dwayne and Whitley begin dating, Dwayne's grades slip and he gets a C on an assignment. When he complains about this to Ron, his response is, "If your're making C's, Whitley has got to be making Q's!"
Subverted in an episode of Growing Pains when Mike is telling his parents what grade he got on a test. He begins with "I..." and Ben blurts out, "An 'I'?! That's worse than an F!" (it turns out it was a more typical grade (a C or a D).)
In Good Times, J.J. is telling a friend that his late father once offered him a reward if he could bring his grade average UP to an F. He then quipped that his report card had contained two M's and a K minus.
In the Tenacious D skit, "Friendship Test", Jack Black tells Kyle that he passed the titular test only barely, granting him the grade of F+.
In a non-grade example, Marty Raybon then of the band Shenandoah made this quip during a backstage rehearsal, when a guitar string broke, making a dissonant low-pitched twang. "What note was that? Sounded like L to me." Musical notes run from A to G.
In Linkara's review of Newmen #1, he references an F Triple Minus.
In one Peanuts strip, Sally shows her school report to Charlie Brown and asks him what grade he thinks it'll get. His response: "Do they give out Zs?"
It appears that "Z" grades do exist in the world of Peanuts since Peppermint Patty once expressed that she has a straight-Z average in school.
There is also a strip where Patty runs up to Marcie, crowing, "I got an 'N' on my English test! That's the highest grade I've ever gotten!", only for Marcie to tell her she's holding the paper sideways.
Another time Patty gets a Z minus and complains to her teacher, who raises it to a Z.
In Snoopy! The Musical, Lucy was given a Z by her teacher which she refutes as sarcasm.
In one Squirt strip, Squirt's homework was so bad that his teacher extended the alphabet 15 letters past Z in order to aware him an accurate grade.
From German comic Haiopeis:
Fish university clerk: You got 2 of 2158 points in your last entry test.
Shark: Great, that's the highest I've ever gotten! When can I start to stupidy?
Fish clerk: Why study? That was our entry test for the cleaning staff.
In one Calvin and Hobbes comic, Susie is happy with the smiley face sticker she got on her test. Calvin however is less than thrilled. When she asks what he got, he refused to tell her, leading her to accuse him of getting a frowny face sticker. Calvin promptly denies it, then comments to himself that he never knew they even made barfing face stickers.
In Luigi's Mansion, the lowest grade is H (meaning the mansion is replaced with a little tent), although you have to try to do that badly. There are even a few Let's Plays of the game with the goal of finishing with an H.
The same is true of the first generation of 5-key beatmania games.
In Zork: Grand Inquisitor, if you read the grade report on the bulletin board in G.U.E. Tech, you'll see that the titular Grand Inquisitor got a Z- in magic due to his Magic Deficit Disorder. A few others on this page got Z's, but not one got a Z minus!
In Confidential Mission, shooting civilians and using continues subtract from your score. As shown in the Attract Mode tutorial, it is possible to have a negative score; if achieved, your score turns red.
In the flash game N, your score for each episode of 5 levels is how much time you had left at the end. You start at 90 seconds and can gain more time by collecting gold. The game also records your best individual level scores, which are the times you'd have left at the end of them if you'd started at 90 seconds - and allows you to play back your best runs. So if you have more than 90 seconds to start a level, you can get a negative score for the level. If this happens, your score shows up as "---.---" and you won't be able to replay yourself completing that level. (You still can for the whole episode.)
In the Fallout: New Vegas DLC pack Old World Blues, this is what Richie Marcus's (Dr. Borous' High School bully) grades are listed as in the replica high school.
One of Azure Blade 49's videos, a playthrough of N-JAMM, includes Azura directly quoting the trope's name out of disappointment that one of the Switch Palaces was unchanged.
Killing Floor: Female characters can taunt the zeds with an "F-".
The Trope Namer is the Homestar Runner sbemail "for kids", in which Strong Bad assigns the children in his studio audience the eponymous grade.
He also gets a score of -45/150 on Peasant's Quest before checking the email.
In "hygiene", Strong Bad as Gene gets a G-, but it is apparently okay because he's "soooo attractive".
Played with in the Flash animation Final Fantasy A+. Adventuring students fight a boss of some sort for their final exams, with grades awarded by how many Hitpoints they had left at the end (all students have a maximum of 100). By the final boss fight, the hero is down to zero hitpoints, but keeps going. As he continues to take damage his grade drops from "F" to "FF". Though by the time he finally wins it's revealed that it actually stands for "Final Fighter A+".
In the Dave the Barbarian episode "Rite of Pillage", Dave receives grades of F and F- on first two tests, Battle Cry and LayingWaste respectively. After failing his third test, Plundering, his examiner becomes furious at his performance.
Pillage Master: Oh there must be something lower than F-. (furiously scribbles "Z" over and over again on Dave's report card) Z!!! Z!!! Z! Z! Z! Z! Z!...
Wernstrom: I give your invention the worst grade imaginable: an A-minus-minus!
The Fairly OddParents: Timmy Turner has a history of getting these, while Crocker gives F as one of his catchphrase. In fact, Crocker is shown to have a super huge "F" stamp reserved especially for Timmy, which he has referred to as "Super F" more than once.
In an Arthur episode, Buster worried about get an "F" on an assignment he did wrong and Arthur quipped that he could even get a "G" or an "H."
The episode "Team Trouble" inverts this a bit. Arthur, Buster, and Francine, upon realizing their group assignment on Ancient Rome has several kinks to work out, all have an imagine spot: Arthur imagines an F, Buster imagines multiple Fs, and Francine imagines an F+.
Which is a Brick Joke from earlier in the episode, when Arthur and Buster imagined getting A's, and Francine an A+.
The Powerpuff Girls: When Mojo Jojo starts teaching a linguistics class, he hears everyone and tells everyone that based on what he's already heard he would give them an F, then he goes in a rant where he says he would give them all a Z if the scale when down that low (he also asks why they skip E).
Beetlejuice gets a G, Q, and Z when he's forced to go back to school.
Otto of Rocket Power gets in trouble with his dad for earning a "check minus minus" in Classroom Citizenship.
On The Jetsons, Elroy gets his report card switched with a student who gets an H.
In Moville Mysteries, the school jock always gets the same grade: X, so awful it can't be graduated. His parents always praise the grade as it was an A because he's such a good athlete that talent hunters always are chasing after him with million-dollar contracts.
On an episode of Muppet Babies where the characters were pretending to go to school, Piggy ends up giving Gonzo a "W" on his report card. Although it more than likely stood for "weird" and Gonzo was very pleased with his marks.
In an episode of Codename: Kids Next Door, Numbuh One recieves a Double F Minus for a report. In a later episode, Numbuh Five gets a Double F Minus for claiming a dog ate her homework (which actually happened), and then warned by the teacher that it is possible to get a Triple F Minus in her class.
In Whatever Happened to... Robot Jones?, most people in the class got an F, some getting an F-, one getting an F+, and the title character—the only passing person in the class—getting a C-, and proceeding to go out of his way to negotiate with the scantron to get a better grade because it was "below average".
Johnny Test has the episode Extra Credit Johnny where Johnny fails so much that he gets Z-, and then goes further, getting ZZ-.
A very early episode of South Park has the boys turning in a report on the Vietnam War based on an incredibly inaccuracte depiction given to them by Stan's Uncle Jimbo. Mr. Garrison gives them an F-, and Stan openly wonders if he can do that.
Gawayn: When Elspeth has to go to magic school to get her diploma, the Duke sabotages her exams; causing her to get an F, then an F minus, then an F minus minus.
In the Canadian animated series Yvon of the Yukon, one episode saw the titular character do so badly in an exam that he gets a G. He's so haunted by it that he becomes determined to get an F...except he starts doing so well in everything that he only gets A grades.
Inverted in an episode of Uncle Grandpa, where a boy did so well on his homework with Uncle Grandpa's help that he got an A plus plus plus plus plus minus plus.
In England and Wales, in addition to the normal set of grades, it's possible to receive a 'U' (unclassified) at both GCSE and A-level. This can mean you didn't score highly enough to be offered a certificate. While GCSEs have eight grades in total, they are actually a subversion — you can only actually attain five of the grades, depending on which paper you choose to sit. The 'higher' paper allows you to get grades A* to D, while the 'foundation' paper covers grades C to G note an 'F' doesn't actually exist, possible grades being A*, A, B, C, D, E, G, N, U in that order. Many students do get U's, and it is still possible to remain a "straight-A" student because of CATs and resits. If you don't do well enough to get the minimum grade attainable on either paper, you get an 'N'. Lower still is 'U'. If you don't even bother to sit through the exam, then you get an X.
The effort grade (or whatever it's really called) has an effect on the predicted grades sent to universities along with your AS grades. They go from 1 down to 5, 1 being above and beyond doing extra work and 4 being doesn't show up to class. What's 5, then? (This troper's friend just didn't come into school for a term or two and still got 3s and 4s.)
In Ireland, you can also be "awarded" an NG, which stands for Natural Genius No Grade, meaning that you performed so badly that you don't even deserve an F.
Most US universities allow a grade of "I", meaning "incomplete." However, this is usually just a temporary placeholder, indicating the student has a certain amount of time to make up for missed work. If that is not done then the grade converts to an F.
If you really screw up badly before or after midterms, some professors will encourage you to withdraw from the class since you stand no chance of getting enough high grades to make the final grade of the class a passing grade. A W is always better than having an F, since a W usually has no effect on the GPA.
"X" meant "No Basis for Grade". This happened when the professor forgot the reason a student registered for a class and awarded this grade, requiring intervention from the campus omsbuds.
Most standardized tests with a grading system will have some kind of "ungraded" designation, like the "hyphen" on the AP exams, which is what you get if, for instance, you leave the multiple-choice section blank and draw a rocket ship on the essay paper.
At the University of Waterloo, it was once possible (before 2001) to get a literal "F-minus" grade for anything 34% and below. Now they just use percentage grades for everything.
In post-USSR Russia, grades are in numbers, with 5 being the highest, and 2 being the lowest. Getting a 1 requires something beyond just not attempting to read whatever is being tested. In Tsarist Russia, however, it was officially used, and some very miffed teachers even used 0, but that required something above and beyond the call of stupidity.
There's also Not Graded grade, which is commonly used to give the students a Last-Second Chance.
In some NYC colleges, students can get a WU. Unofficial Withdrawal. This only happens if you get excessive amounts of absent marks in a class without any excuse. This is worse than an F since an F shows you at least attended your classes somewhat while a WU can screw you over in registration for classes and is a pain in the ass to take care of.
While "F" is often the lowest final grade an individual can receive for a course, for individual assignments where letter grades are equivalent to points that ultimately lead to the final grades many teachers are known for going below the standard "F" which usually is around 60 or 65 points out of 100. On something like a multiple choice test, going by the proportion correct makes sense, but on (for example) papers, there may be a conversion table for non-F letter grades, while F covers a broad range from "bad paper" to "turned in a blank paper, or obscene drawings, or..."
In the Caribbean countries that are under the CARICOM (Caribbean Community), there are two major final exams for differing grade levels in secondary schools, namely the 11th grade and the 12th (or 13th) grade (known as sixth form). The examinations are officially named as the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) and the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) respectively. While the grade levels range from I-V, with I being the highest and V being the lowest, there is a U grade which stands for "ungraded", meaning that the examination was ungraded for a particular reason, usually due to the non-completion of the internal school-based assessment done within the final year, which is always a slight percentage of the final grade, ranging from 20% to 60%.
In Poland school grades range from 1 (the worst) to 6 (the best), but at least some institutions use 0 for "ungraded". In college it's from 2 to 5 (oddly, 1 is not an option) and while halves are allowed, you can't get a 2.5 (no pluses or minuses involved), so basically there are 6 possible grades anyway.
Academic dishonesty nets you two F's and an expulsion in most American colleges.
Some elementary schools use(d) this scale: E, S+, S, S- and N (Excellent, Satisfactory +, Satisfactory, Satisfactory -, Needs Improvement).
In Ontario, elementary schools (and recently even high schools) use E, G, S, N (Excellent, Good, Satisfactory, Needs Improvement) not for grades, but for a section called "Learning Skills".
In New Jersey, for elementary schools only, the scale went VG, G, S, M, U (for Very Good, Good, Satisfactory, Minimal, Unsatisfactory) at least during The Nineties. Middle school and higher uses the standard system, however.
There are other elementary school systems that don't use letter grades at all. A check mark indicates satisfactory performance, with a check-plus for excellent work, and a check-minus for not so hot.
In Mexico, the highest grade you can legally get is 10 (or 100% using percentiles instead) while a 5 (50%) is considered a reprobatory grade, but some schools can grade a student below five to one, and sometimes negative grades.
In Colombia the scale is from 1 to 5, the first one being the lowest possible; however (and this is depending on the teacher more than the system), a teacher can put a 0 if a student, let's say, cheat or threaten to lower decimal points of the grade; combine the two and you get a negative grade.
In France, the grades usually go from 1 to something (usually 10, 20 or 40), 1 being the lowest (or 0.5/0.25 if the teacher uses decimals), with special notes such as "ABS" or blank for absent (which means you can maybe try again if you have a solid motive and a proof, such as hospitalization or the death/funeral of a relative). You get 0 by either writing a truckload of nonsense/something utterly irrelevant, cheating, bothering other students/children during the exam or not respecting the conditions of the exam or the school rules. With 3 or 4 exams per subject per trimester, getting a 0 in a whole subject during a year means either you're Ralph Wiggum, trying to sabotage your year or need help (a pupil or student with suddenly dropping grades is an excellent sign that something doesn't add up...).
In France, some teachers, especially in primary school, can remove one grade for talin (because the pupil can whispered the righ answer , but the teacher can't prove that pupil is whispered the right answer ). IF your grade is zero originally, you can grade -1/10 or -1/20
The lowest grade in the Danish grading system is -3.
In New Zealand, grades under the NCEA system at high school are N, A, M, and E (Not Achieved, Achieved, Merit, Excellence), with N being the fail grade and the rest being passing grades. Universities and the old School Certificate system (which was replace by NCEA in 2002) use A through E, with A being the top mark and E being an utter fail.
In Germany, grades go from 1 to 6, optionally with + or - added. 6 is the worst, 6- doesn't exist but is sometimes mentioned in the sense of this trope.
In the last two years of the german Gymnasium the grades change: it goes from 15 (the 1+ so to speak) to 1 (grade 6). If you ever manage to get a zero, you fail the complete course and if I remember correctly, you have to redo the whole year. And yes, it is possible to score a 0 in the final exam.
Venezuelan grading on High School and most superior education institutions goes from 01 to 20 points, with "10" (or, technically, 9,5, since the grades round up) as the passing grade. Some teachers are not afraid to give full zeroes for the most spectacular failures. On one famous university, it was well known the anecdote of a Logic teacher infamous for his harsh grading who once handed a corrected exam without a grade, only some curve marks in the corners of the paper. When the student complained about his lack of grades and the strange marks, the teacher answered "oh, is that the zero you earned was so big it didn't fit on the paper."