Grading Fairly and Efficiently

Published: Tues., February 21, 2017

Graduate Teaching Assistants are often involved in grading students’ work. At this point in the semester, you may find yourself with many essays, assignments, projects, or tests to grade. Planning your grading process will help prevent you from becoming overwhelmed by the amount of grading to be done. Additionally, grading fairly and consistently will help you both provide useful feedback to your students and will help minimize student grading complaints.

Fair and Consistent Grading

Effective grading provides accurate information to students about their performance and also help them understand what they can improve on. In addition to providing information on their performance, grading should be fair and consistent. This means that all work should be assessed based on defined criteria and that students should be treated equally regardless of whether you looked at their work first, last, or after a long day.

Using Grading Rubrics

Grading rubrics are basically grids which identify the criteria students' work will be assessed on and the relative weight of each criterion, but also describe levels of performance or success. Rubrics will, therefore, vary based on the assignment or class. Rubrics are beneficial because they provide students clear information about their performance and how they were assessed. They also allow you to more easily comment on student work because you can mark or describe a performance by selecting a category, rather than writing a lengthy comment. If you have to create your own rubrics, ask other TAs or faculty members if they have sample rubrics you could use as a model. More information on developing your own grading rubrics is available here, including a sample rubric.

Grade Anonymously

One easy way to grade fairly is to grade student work anonymously. If students turn work in with a title page, flip that page to the back so you only see the essay itself. Alternatively, you could also ask students to use their student ID number rather than their name. This will prevent you from allowing any opinions you may already have about that student, whether positive or negative, from influencing your assessment of their work. It may not always be possible grade all work anonymously, but it can be useful, especially for major assignments.

Grade in Multiple Sessions

When you have a lot of grading to do, it can often help to grade in multiple sessions rather than all at once. This may seem counter-intuitive if you are trying to grade work quickly, but breaking up your grading will help you make use of smaller amounts of available time and will also prevent you from grading some assignments more easily or more harshly because you are tired after grading all day. If you are using a standardized rubric, it should not matter whether you grade all those assignment at one time. After spending a long time grading, you can easily find yourself becoming more frustrated with later assignments when they make the same mistakes the assignments you graded earlier did.

Efficient Grading

Grading well can take time. When you have a large number of papers or tests to grade, learning how to grade efficiently is critical. Even when trying to grade more efficiently, try to do so in a way that will not significantly sacrifice the quality or usefulness of the feedback students receive on their work.

Focus on a Few Major Corrections

You may not need to provide feedback on all aspects of their work. Students may be more likely to respond to feedback or comments if their assignments are not covered with feedback and red ink, but instead their feedback focuses on a few major issues they should work on to improve their work. If you are only providing a few major comments, make sure that you give specific and concrete feedback. Noting that a sentence is "confusing" is not particularly helpful. A more useful piece of feedback might be to say "This sentence is unclear--it would help if you defined behaviorism first".

Bank Comments

If you grade electronically, you can keep a bank of common comments or feedback. For instance, if you find that you commonly tell students that they are not citing their research correctly or that they make certain grammatical mistakes, it may be worth keeping a copy of comments for those issues so that you can more easily provide that feedback on their work. You do not need to write out the same comment every single time. If you grade electronically, you can easily copy and paste comments onto the digital draft of their work.

Correct common mistakes once

Sometimes when grading papers or essays you may find that students make the same mistake repeatedly. For example, if a student misuses punctuation repeatedly in their work, don’t worry about correcting every instance in the paper. Consider correcting it once, possibly circling a few other instances, and providing a comment explaining the issue and what they should do to improve their work.

Make use of Canvas resources

Canvas, the learning management system used at UNL, has a number of functions that might help expedite your grading. In particular, Canvas’ SpeedGrader function will help you respond to and annotate student work and compute grades quicker. This function allows you to use your own rubric and and provide comments on the submitted work as you review it.

Other Grading Tips

Explain Your Grading Process Beforehand

Share your rubrics or grading process with students before they complete the assignment. If students know how they will be assessed before they complete the assignment, they are less likely to dispute the result even if they dislike their grade. Having well-established criteria will also provide support for their grade should your students wish to speak with you about it after you return their work.

Return Graded Assignments in a Timely Manner

It can be frustrating to wait too long to receive feedback or to know your grade. For that reason, aim to return graded work within a reasonable amount of time. For simple homework assignments, this may mean within a few days or by the next class session. For longer papers or tests, it may take a week or two to fully grade, depending on the length of the assignment. Be honest with students and try to return work as quickly as possible, especially if their performance on that assignment might affect future assignments.

Maintain Accurate Records

Always keep accurate and complete grade records. If students dispute grades, if will be useful to have your own records to refer to. Conversely, if a student asks for a recommendation, their prior grades might help you figure out how to describe their performance.