Political Science/JSIS/LSJ Writing Center
Tools for TAs and Instructors
Grading Written Assignments
Tools for Instruction o Writing Center
The stack of papers on your desk seems bottomless, and mid-way through the
paper you are reading, you cannot remember what the student is arguing.
Now you have to go back and re-read the paper. On top of this, you are
not even sure what constitutes a good and bad paper anymore.
We have all been overwhelmed by the grading process. Though many
of the tips below may appear to be time-consuming, they can in fact lead
to a reduction in grading time and more importantly, a more productive,
fruitful use of that time.
Invest Your Time Earlier in the Process
- Clearly explain the criteria you will use
when evaluating student papers. Writing out your criteria insures
consistency and provides a useful point of discussion in student
- If possible, provide a model to students, by
photocopying an A paper from a previous assignment, for example. Explain
why the paper is successful.
- Discuss the assignment: go over it sentence
by sentence; clarify important terms; reword; illustrate with examples or
ask students to do this.
- Include informal writing about the assignment
before the final paper is due (see "In-class Writing Activities" for
- Conference with students: If time, see each
student individually to help them develop and revise their paper. Make
your key contribution here; put a grade and only minimal comments on the
- Use peer review (see "Using Peer Review")
Working Through the Pile
- Review criteria before grading : Know exactly what you expect
of an A paper, and how you will differentiate among A, B, C, D, and F
papers (see below for suggestions).
- Locate range finders: Set aside one or two representative As,
Bs, Cs, Ds which can act as touchstones if you lose focus.
- Read through the writing once without commenting:
Respond-as-you-go is a tough habit to break, but it can interrupt the flow
of your reading, creating frustration and comprehension problems.
- Separate problem papers: Agonizing over problem papers may
disrupt your reading; set them aside and go back to them.
- Take breaks : Don't read an entire batch of papers in one
Holistic grading involves looking at the paper as an entire document
instead of distinguishing content from form. It might help to write out a
description of what constitutes an A, B, and C paper. The following
paragraphs are illustrative:
- A. This paper is insightful. It addresses the assignment in
a way that indicates your comprehension of and control over the assignment
itself as well as an understanding of the underlying issues. The message
is communicated clearly, concisely, and directly. There is a confidence
in this writing.
- B. The paper meets, and at times, exceeds the basic
requirements of the assignment. The paper indicates that you are
beginning, at times, to think through and deal with major ideas in the
assignment. The message is communicated with generally effective clarity,
directness, and conciseness.
- C. While the paper offers little insight into the greater
issues of the assignment, it meets the basic requirements. The message,
for the most part, is reasonably clear, concise, and direct, although
there are some problems with your writing.
Grading With Checklists
Evaluation sheets or checklists permit:
However, some graders find segmenting the paper into specific items
counter to their holistic understanding of writing. Others dislike using
points that may add up to more or less than the grade the paper seems to
- Students to edit their papers using the checklist guidelines
- Teachers to grade efficiently and consistently
Addresses the topic or
assigned authors' viewpoints
Provides sufficient textual
evidence to support the argument
Is present in the
Includes a clearly stated
Indicates how the paper is
Contains a complete
Includes a topic sentence
Develops one main idea
Has a transition sentence
it to the next paragraph
Recaps the thesis statement
and the essay's main points
Presents a closing
of the writer's position
| Organization and Development
The entire composition
Is logically organized
Has a solid argument with
Are relevant to the thesis
Are discussed without too
Is concise and precise
Is free of misspellings
Is free of grammatical
Lacks incomplete sentences
Uses correct punctuation
Uses pronouns correctly
Is free of jargon and
Cites references correctly
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