Tips for Grading Student Papers

Grading student papers can often be quite a subjective process, no matter how much we try to be objective. Therefore, it is important to clearly articulate your expectations for the paper early on so your students know how they will be evaluated. This often eliminates problems that can arise in the future, such as students complaining about an unfair grade. There are certain ways to protect yourself from this type of complaint.

1. Create a rubric

Many instructors do not like using rubrics because certain pedagogical stances would consider rubrics to be a way to stifle a student’s creativity. However, I often find that rubrics are very helpful, not only in communicating your expectations to the students, but also with indicating where they need to improve.

If you are going to create a rubric, make sure that no matter what format you choose, you demonstrate to your students what a paper meeting the minimum expectations would look like, as well as what a paper that went above and beyond would look like. Be sure to give the rubric to your students before the due date of the essay so they can use it as a checklist. Finally, when you actually start grading, use the rubric to circle places that still need work. This often can even help cut down on the amount of comments you might need to make on the essay, and we all know that commenting takes up a large portion of our grading time.

2. Read a few papers before you assign a grade

While this is another controversial issue that depends on one’s pedagogical goals, most people do base their grading on what other students have accomplished on a given task. In other words, what might be an ‘A’ in one class might not be an ‘A’ in another – it depends on how everyone else in the class did. Personally, I try to find an example of an ‘A’ paper and compare other essays to that particular essay. This helps me maintain consistency in my grading. Therefore, I usually read through a few papers before I assign any grade to the essays. This helps me gauge how well the students adapted to the task at hand.

3. Time yourself

This grading tip is more for the sanity of the instructor than it is for grading ability. You must keep in mind that students do not always read your comments. In addition, even if they do read your comments, they can typically only take in 2-3 major suggestions and try to correct those. Because of these reasons, do not feel that you need to scribble all over the paper and mark everything that is wrong with the essay. Your comments will be more beneficial if you can leave a few notes at the end which delineate the major problems with the essay.

A good way to approach the process of minimal commenting is to time yourself. Set a goal – perhaps 15 minutes – and tell yourself you will stop when that timer goes off. This keeps you sane so that you do not get bogged down in one essay and then move on to the next one and grade it unevenly due to being grumpy or fatigued.

4. Take breaks

Often, teachers can be quite subjective in their grading if they try to grade in one large lump. If you take time away from the essays, you might think clearer. Many instructors tend to get really easy or really hard towards the end of a long day of grading. Spacing out the time you grade with some breaks will make your grading more effective and will also help you stay calm and collected.


Overall, grading is a truly time-consuming task that most teachers deplore, no matter how much they love the act of teaching. It is important to let your students know your expectations for a paper early on, because this will eliminate silly errors and complaints from students that they “don’t understand” why they got a certain grade. It is also important for teachers to realize that they must pay attention to their own limits in order to maintain consistency in their grading. Therefore, taking breaks and limiting the time you spend on a given paper are helpful tips for teachers in the grading process.