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Strategies for fair and conflict-reduced grading

The best student assessment method can be hampered by the amount of time it takes to grade the assessment.  Many instructors create the “perfect assignment” only to realize too late it will take weeks to grade.

Here are some tips to make grading your students’ assignments easier.

  • Decide before the class starts what in each assignment is the most important to you. For example, is clarity of thought the most important in a paper? Spelling? Grammar? Are the essay questions the most important part of the exam? Weigh the most important thing most heavily and let the students know the weights. Let them know why you are placing the heaviest weight on that item. Make sure they understand the meaning and importance of each assignment.
  • Decide before the class starts what constitutes different levels of work.  For example, what is an “A” paper and how does it differ from a “B” paper.  Better yet, outline a set of criteria, attach different weights to the criteria, and share the criteria with your students ahead of time.
  • You can save a great deal of time and effort by providing the clearest directions possible to students. Make sure those directions are written. Go over the directions.  For lower level classes, have students repeat the directions back to you.
  • Consider using different grading scales for different levels of work.  For example:
    • Use letter grades for high-stakes assignments, such as papers or exams.
    • Use the check +, check, check- systems for lower stakes assignments, such as homework or one-minute papers.
    • Use pass/fail for very low-stakes work, such as paper drafts.
  • Use timesaving devices
    • Rather than correcting every mistake on a paper, tell students there are, for example, “three grammar errors on this page, two spelling errors, and your introductory paragraph has more than one topic sentence and more than one topic.” Leave it up to the student to find and correct the error.
    • After reading a few papers, you will see a trend in errors.  List these errors on a master sheet, giving each error a letter or number.  Continue grading, placing the letter or number on the paper rather than writing out your full comment.  Remember to give the students a copy of the master sheet when you return their paper.
    • Believe it or not, a felt tip pen is easier to use and less fatiguing than a ball-point pen.


Virginia Commonwealth University  |  Center for Teaching Excellence
Last updated: 06/20/2013
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