Learning Innovation Teaching Resources

Grading Student Work

Practices related to grading as an assessment of student performance vary widely across disciplines, course levels, departments, institutions, and instructors. However, there are some strategies most instructors agree contribute to successful grading:

  • Creating clear grading criteria
  • Communicating this criteria to students
  • Giving constructive feedback
  • Employing time management strategies when grading large amounts of student work



Establish Classroom Standards

It is strongly suggested instructors explain assessment standards clearly when introducing the course to students and throughout the rest of term. Most students use grading criteria to determine what they should concentrate on learning in a course. By making the grading policies clear, an instructor can focus students’ attention on what is most important for them to learn and retain.

Students are typically, understandably, concerned with their grades or the layout of a class. Often, if expectations are not clear, students will display increased anxiety. Therefore, it’s recommended to determine criteria from the onset, explain these standards clearly to students, and reinforce their application consistently throughout the term. Consistency is also important when considering factors such as attendance, participation, late work, missed exams, and so on. Clarifying these rules early on will help prevent problems.


Keep Records of Grades

Keeping accurate and thorough records of evaluations of each student’s performance throughout the term, and once the term is over (for at least a year), will help should a student approach an instructor to question a grade, finish an incomplete, or ask for a letter of recommendation.

When students ask to have a grade on an assignment changed, act carefully. It’s important for an instructor to give themselves time to investigate, assess, and craft a fair and equitable response. If a student comes to an instructor to contest a grade, it may be helpful to have the student submit the request in writing. This will require the student to reflect on and justify their request and provides the instructor with documentation should the decision need to be explained.


Developing Grading Criteria

With clear grading criteria, instructors will have a focused, objective way of responding to student work. With clear guidelines, students will have a greater chance of meeting instructor expectations and learning goals.

Therefore, when developing grading criteria, instructors should ask themselves what they expect students to accomplish with an assignment. Organize this list to reflect the priorities of the assignment, then think about what elements would be necessary for an outstanding grade, above average grade, average grade, and so on.

Once a clear task and grading rubric has been created, instructors should inform students what is expected of them. If they are informed of the requirements ahead of time, they may be less likely to complain their grade wasn’t fair.

Also consider using “parallel language” when describing the grading scheme and commenting with feedback. This will help students to identify the strengths and weaknesses in their work, which may assist in future improvement.


Saving Time on Grading & Workload

Consider the following strategies to use time effectively in grading:

  • Design good assignments: Much of the assignments can be behind-the-scenes or graded for completion, or sequenced projects with check-ins that prevent long-term issues. Making sure assignments are clear prevents problems later on.
  • Clarify grading criteria: The clearer an assignment is defined, the better the final products will be. When students know what the instructor is looking for, they can help give to each other during peer review sessions. Additionally, activities such as grade norming sessions can help solidify student understanding.
  • Use class time to generate ideas: If an assignment is directly linked to key concepts in the course, class time spent generating ideas for the assignment will not detract from course content. The more students can brainstorm ideas early on, the more detailed and complex their assignment will become. These ideas can be generated through tasks such as collaborative small groups or paired interviews.
  • Have students submit early drafts: Having assignments in a sequence, opportunities to revise, or other such check-ins allow for lower-stakes assignments to work to build to larger projects require less smaller detail grading.
  • Have students conduct peer reviews: Having students review one another’s work produces better work as another pair of eyes have viewed the work before the instructor. It’s important to articulate to students what is expected and what makes for good reviewing, however, in order for this to be effective.

Avoid the Red Pen

If providing written feedback or marking up exams or assignments, it’s recommended to avoid red inked pens as studies show students perceive comments left in red ink more negatively than other colors. This makes students less likely to read and absorb these comments.