Grading GraphicAt this time of the semester, grading is taking over my life. Why is grading so hard? I’m not talking about the physical effort of sitting down with a numerous number of essays, reports, quizzes, exams etc. While that has its own challenges, what I find most challenging is deciding what is worth 100% [nothing?] and what is worth 90%, 85%…

One of my major difficulties is due to the fact that I was educated in Britain and now I am teaching in the US. In Britain you earned marks – another American English-English English difference – we (Brits) call it marking, whereas Americans call is grading. Also I read my degree. Yeah, I used to get asked what I was reading at University!

Back to the point. In Britain, in my day (!), you started with zero points and had points added on for correct points. You could also lose points – as I often did for untidy work. I do not think you could get below zero.

In the US it seems that you start with full points, which are then lost. I seem to have to justify every point I take away.  Every point. I do not know what would happen if I said that the work in my opinion was only worth a C grade, without justifying it. Perhaps I give them too much information, so the students ask for more?

Another major difference is that at my University, and in Britain in general,  70% was the equivalent to an A and it was very very challenging to get an A. I remember being very happy if I got a B on anything, I rarely got A grades. Obviously American students are mostly unhappy if they get less than a B+ on anything. In my classes I have lots of assignments; none are worth more than 50 points out of 400! Students still ask about every point. One point in 400! One point. Mind you, I rarely queried my marks when I was at University and I did all right.

I try to resolve this grading/marking dichotomy by having a Primary Trait Analysis or a Grading Rubric. This also helps when I have teaching assistants help grade as they can see what I think is important. A typical rubric would like this:

Rubric for This Essay

General Appearance

A: Type written 12 point font, single spaced. Shows authors name, essay title, only one page long.

B: Above correct, but too long or used smaller than 12 font size.

C: Too long and smaller font or not titled appropriately.

D: Not clearly laid out, with wrong font, spacing etc.

Writing Style

A: Essay structure. Normal sentence structure, paragraphs clearly defined by topic change, logical flow. Clearly read through and edited correctly.

B: Essay structure. Each paragraph with one topic and logical flow. Some grammatical and/or spelling errors.

C: Each paragraph with one topic and logical flow. Many spelling and/or grammatical errors. Or not essay format.

D: Not essay format. No paragraph structure. Some spelling and/or grammatical errors


A: Personal perspective on a few relevant topics

B: Personal perspective on many topics

C: Impersonal perspective on few relevant topics

D: Impersonal perspective on many topics


A: New original title appropriate to essay

B: New title, may not be appropriate

C: Same title as homework title (APeople are different@)

D: No title or misleading title

We, myself and the TAs, grade giving each student a letter grade for each subsection above. After a discussion, where we all come to an agreement on the subsection grades, we take off, for example, one point for an A-, two for B, three for C etc. If there were two A-s, then two points would be lost.

The rubrics get more and more detailed the more we use them. This year I have been better about having rubrics, but not so good about letting the students themselves see them. That is something I will have to improve on next time through.

One problem I have is that there is not room for that spark of originality. I tried having that on a rubric once; until a student asked me how they could be original! So when it appears we have to fudge things a little.

My Dad once told me that when he started teaching he asked for advice for grading student work. He was told by a senior colleague, or words to this effect:

You got a First [the equivalent of a 4.00+]? Right, so if their work is as good as yours, give them an A. If it is slightly worse give them a B, if is all right but not great give them a C. Fail the rest of them.

Perhaps I should try it. Do you think it will fly in the US?
technorati tag: