3 ways to grade an essay

Table of contents:

3 ways to grade an essay
3 ways to grade an essay

Anyone can rate answers as good or bad, but only a good teacher can rate an essay in a way that encourages the student in need and lets good students know that they can do even better. As the great poet and teacher Taylor Mali put it: "I can make a C + feel like a congressional medal of honor and I can also make an A- feel like a slap in the face."


Method 1 of 3: Part 1: Review an Essay

Grade a Paper Step 1
Grade a Paper Step 1

Step 1. Learn the difference between major and minor mistakes

Sometimes called "major" and "minor" problems, it is important to prioritize major problems, such as content, creative thinking, and organization, over minor problems, such as grammar, correct use of words, and spelling.

Obviously, these designations depend on many things, such as the type of job, the level of school the student is in, and their personal concerns. If you're halfway through the unit on using the comma, it's perfectly permissible to call that a "major" problem. But in general, a written assignment should prioritize the major issues mentioned above

Grade a Paper Step 2
Grade a Paper Step 2

Step 2. Read the essay a first time without checking anything

When you have a stack of 50 or 100 tests to finish and a class to prepare, the thought of diving right in and starting to stamp Bs on all the essays may seem tempting, but you have to resist that temptation. Read each of the essays individually before marking something. First, find and order the major problems:

  • Does the student address the topic and complete the work effectively?
  • Does the student think creatively?
  • Does the student clearly state his arguments or his thesis?
  • Does the thesis develop throughout the work?
  • Does the author of the essay present support?
  • Does the essay show signs of being organized and having been revised? Or does it look like it's a first draft?
Grade a Paper Step 3
Grade a Paper Step 3

Step 3. Put the red pen on your desk

Returning work that looks as if someone has bled on it can be a source of great anxiety in a student's life. Some teachers argue that the color red reaffirms authority. This may be true, but there are other ways to assert your authority besides using the color red.

Marking essays in pencil may suggest that problems can be easily solved. This encourages the learner rather than just focusing on his or her success or failure. The pencil and the blue or black pen are totally appropriate

Grade a Paper Step 4
Grade a Paper Step 4

Step 4. Read the essay again with pencil in hand

Write comments, criticisms and questions in the margins in an orderly manner. Find the parts that the author needs to clarify and circle or underline them.

When asking questions, be as specific as necessary. "That?" not a particularly useful question to scrawl in the margin compared to "what do you mean by 'some societies'?"

Grade a Paper Step 5
Grade a Paper Step 5

Step 5. Review the correct use of words and other minor problems

After you've focused on the most important points in the essay (the content), feel free to check off the lower-grade problems, such as correct use of words, grammar, and punctuation. These aspects will be more or less important depending on the school level of the essays and the level of the skills of your students. For this you can resort to revision marks, the most common are the following:

  • ¶ = start a new paragraph;
  • three underscores under a letter = change the letter to lowercase or uppercase;
  • "sp" = misspelled word;
  • word crossed out with a little pig's tail on top = word to be deleted.
  • Some teachers use the first page as a general rule of thumb to mark other future problems. If there are sentence-level complications, mark them on the first page and then stop marking them throughout the essay, especially if the work needs further revision.

Method 2 of 3: Part 2: Write Effective Comments

Grade a Paper Step 6
Grade a Paper Step 6

Step 1. Write no more than one comment per paragraph or more than one endnote

Comments are intended to point out the strengths and weaknesses of the student's written work and offer concrete strategies to improve it. Crossing out an entire paragraph poorly done with the red pen does not meet any of these objectives.

  • Use the comments in the margin to point out specific areas or points that the student could improve on in the essay.
  • Use the final paragraph notes to summarize your comments and guide them to refinement.
  • Comments should not justify the rating. Never start a note by saying, "You got a C because …" It is not your job to defend the rating given. Instead, use the comments to focus on the review and the next work.
Grade a Paper Step 7
Grade a Paper Step 7

Step 2. Find a reason to congratulate him

Try to start your comments by looking for something that the student has done correctly and encouraging it. Finding phrases like "Good job" in an essay tends to be more memorable for the student and will ensure that he or she repeats the behavior.

If you have a hard time finding something to congratulate him on, you can always praise him on the topic he chose for the essay: “This is a very important topic! Good choice!"

Grade a Paper Step 8
Grade a Paper Step 8

Step 3. Focus the note on three main problems that need to be improved

Even if the student has written a disastrous essay, do not overwhelm him with everything that needs to be fixed. In your comment, try to focus on no more than three main areas for improvement. This will give the student concrete strategies for perfecting his work and will avoid overwhelming him with "failures."

When you take your first read, try to determine what these three points might be so that, by carefully reviewing the essay, it will be easier for you to write your comments

Grade a Paper Step 9
Grade a Paper Step 9

Step 4. Encourage the review

Instead of focusing your comments on everything the student has done wrong, direct them to the next essay or to the rewriting of this essay, if that fits with the conventions of the assignment.

"In your next job, make sure you organize the paragraphs according to the arguments you make" is a better comment than "your paragraphs are disorganized."

Method 3 of 3: Part 3: Give an Alphabetical Grade

Grade a Paper Step 10
Grade a Paper Step 10

Step 1. Use a rubric and let the students see it

A rubric or evaluation matrix is used to designate numerical values (usually based on a scale of 100) to various criteria used to finally give an alphabetical grade. To get an alphabetical grade, you first assign numerical values to each section and then calculate the grade. Letting students know about the rubric used will help the transparency process and eliminate the idea that you are giving arbitrary grades without any support. For example, a rubric might look like the following:

  • Thesis and argument: _ / 40
  • Organization and paragraphs _ / 30
  • Introduction and conclusion _ / 10
  • Grammar, correct use of words and spelling _ / 10
  • Sources and citations _ / 10
Grade a Paper Step 11
Grade a Paper Step 11

Step 2. Know or describe each alphabetical grade

Let the student see the description of what an A, a B, etc. means. Write your own descriptions based on your own criteria and emphasis by the class. Share it with your students so that they can understand the grade they receive. Here are some popular designations, regularly worded as follows:

  • A (100-90): The essay meets all the requirements of the work in an original and creative way. Working at this level goes beyond the basic instructions of the task and shows that the student had an additional initiative in working the content, organization and style in an original and creative way.
  • B (89-80): The test meets all job requirements. Working at this level is very good in terms of content, but you need to improve in organization and style, perhaps the work requires a little more revision. Unlike an A, a B does not reveal all the original thinking and creativity of the author.
  • C (79-70): The test meets most of the job requirements. Although the content, organization, and style are logical and consistent, they may require further revision. Furthermore, they do not reflect a high level of originality and creativity on the part of the author.
  • D (69-60): The test does not meet the job requirements or does not meet them adequately. Working at this level requires a lot of review. In addition, the content, organization and style have been developed without success.
  • F (less than 60): The test does not meet the job requirements. Generally, students who make a real effort do not get an F. If the student receives an F for some work (especially if they feel they have tried hard enough), they should talk to the teacher personally.
Grade a Paper Step 12
Grade a Paper Step 12

Step 3. Make the grade the last thing the student sees

Put the grade at the end of the essay, after they've seen the rubric and your comments. Scribbling a big letter at the top near the title will likely cause the student not to review the essay or read all the clever and helpful comments you wrote.

Some teachers prefer to return essays at the end of the day because they fear discouraging or distracting the student during class. Consider giving students time to review their essays in class and make yourself available to talk to them about their grades later. This will ensure that they read and understand your comments


  • Avoid distractions. It may seem like a great idea to grade your essays while watching TV, but that will only take you longer. Set yourself a manageable goal, like grading ten jobs in one night, and have a drink after you hit that goal.
  • Don't have favorites. Rate everyone equally.
  • Divide up your grading time and don't try to grade all the essays at once. Your comments will get shorter and shorter and you may start to omit things or repeat what you already mentioned.
  • Check more than grammar. Look for concepts, plots, climaxes and, even more importantly, make sure it has a beginning (an introduction that grabs your attention), a body (three reasons should have three supports each) and an end (return to the topic of the essay and give it a good ending for readers to remember your story).

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