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How to Grade English Essays: Quicker and Better

Updated on July 14, 2015
VirginiaLynne profile image

After over 20 years of teaching college English, VirginiaLynne loves to share tips, teaching plans, and information about the profession.

Grading Essays

Grading can feel overwhelming.
Grading can feel overwhelming. | Source

How to Grade English Essays

Do you dread grading essays? Most English teachers do. How can you grade essays easier, with fewer complaints and better feedback to students?

Use Detailed Rubric: I've seen many simple graph rubrics, but students always wanted me to explain them. So I developed this detailed rubric which is based on the guidelines for grades set out by our English Department. I find the detailed explanation of the differences between "A," "B" and "C" in each area of the paper not only cut down on what I had to explain to students, but it also helped me to make a decision on grades.

Make a Grammar Error List: At the end of the grading rubric, I include a list of the common grammar errors I see in many student papers. That way, as I go through the paper, I can just circle those errors. Students can then use that paper when they come in to get help from me or a tutor.

Checkmarks and circles rather than lots of comments: I copy my rubric off on two sides of a sheet of paper and it gives me about 1/3 of a sheet for comments. I always start off with a comment about what I think the writer did well on the essay, and then move into commenting on what I think was not as well done, or what I'd like to see them improve on in the next essay.

Just Underline errors on paper: Because the rubric includes grammar area notes, I usually just underline the places in the paper which have errors. Sometimes I put a note about what the error is on the side. The student is then responsible to find and correct the error.

Customize Rubric: You are welcome to use my rubric below, or customize it for your own grading standards. In fact, I sometimes change the rubric for specific essays to reflect what I'm emphasizing on that paper.

Do you have ideas of how to grade English essays more quickly and easily? Please share your tips with everyone in the comments!

Grading Essays

Most English instructors would like a better, faster way to grade essays.
Most English instructors would like a better, faster way to grade essays. | Source

Grading Time Poll

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Grade Essays Faster!

Use these tips to grade that stack of Freshman English essays faster and better!
Use these tips to grade that stack of Freshman English essays faster and better! | Source

Freshman Essay Grade Sheet

Name______________________ Essay #___________

Check = error in the sentence.

A=9 or 10 (exceptional work) B=8; C=7; D=6; F=5 or below

______ Pre-Writing Assignments, writing center visits

(A) All assignments completed carefully and thoughtfully.

(B) Assignments completed.

(C) Assignments not thoroughly done

(D) Incomplete assignments

(F) No assignments/ poorly completed

______ Draft

(A) Complete draft ready for workshop which indicates considerable pre-writing work

(B) Complete draft, ready for workshop which indicates some careful thought

(C) Complete draft ready for workshop but not as fully thought through

(D) Incomplete draft for workshop

(F) No draft (draft completed and peer edited outside of workshop=5/half credit)

______Pre-Writing, Peer Editing, Writer's Response, in-class peer editing responses

(A) Carefully considered and complete responses which indicate what is good about the paper and also give some clear and thoughtful suggestions for improvement

(B) Complete responses which offer some help to writer

(C) Responses which are more mechanical and show less thought

(D) Responses are not complete and not carefully considered

(F) No responses

_____Title, Opening and Conclusion

(A) Title sets tone for the essay, provocative opening establishes topic and engages reader and conclusions indicate significance of paper and don't just summarize

(B) Title indicates subject, more predictable opening and conclusion not as strong

(C) Title indicates subject, introduction weak and conclusion summarizes

(D/F) unimaginative title or no title, introduction and conclusion predictable and ineffective

_______Thesis, topic sentences, organization, unity and coherence

(A) Clear central idea that controls the organization of paper unity and coherence through entire paper and within well-organized paragraphs

(B) Strong central idea which usually unifies paper, some paragraphs may not be effectively organized

(C) Clearly stated central idea but paper not clearly unified and weak organization

(D/F) central idea not clearly stated, paper lacks focus, disorganized


(A) Treatment of content reflects originality, thorough development of ideas and thoughtful reading of sources.

(B) More predictable content

(C) Conventional or stereotypical content, very predictable

(D/F) unoriginal content/ content not coherent

______Logic, Examples Details, Focus

(A) Sound logic and ample supportive details and examples make for a strong, convincing, focused paper

(B) Sound logic, middle paragraphs directly focus on subject but sometimes not enough supporting detail or examples

(C) Clear topic sentences but not enough support or evidence; details don’t always focus on main idea

(D/F) illogical thinking, evidence not relevant, ideas are not focused

_______Unity and coherence in Voice, Tone and Transitions and awareness of Audience

A) Consistent mature tone and voice which consistently is aware of audience and smooth transitions

(B) Writer usually aware of audience but some mixed levels of usage and transitions sometimes mechanical

(C) Writer not always aware of audience and also some mixed levels of usage and/or weak transitions

(D/F) no awareness of audience, transitions missing

_______Sentence Variety and Word Choice

(A) Sentences are clear and concise with varied and effective structure. Word choice is fresh, lively, and precise

(B) Sentences are generally clear and concise with some sentence variety and few shifts in tense, voice or person; word choice sometimes inappropriate or emotional but usually clear

(C) Sentences are sometimes unclear or wordy; sentences are somewhat varied; word choice tends to be repetitive and there is a tendency to use clichés and awkward phrases

(D/F) sentence structure garbled, repetitive, incomplete or simplistic; word choice dull and ineffective, constantly unoriginal

_______ Grammar, punctuation, spelling errors

(A) Excellent (0-2 errors)

(B) Good (3 errors)

(C) Fair (4 errors)

(D) Poor (5 errors)

(F) Unacceptable number of errors (6 or more errors or more than 2 serious errors)

Grade: ________________

Some weaknesses in your paper circled below. See grammar book or writing lab for help on these areas.

1. ORGANIZATION PROBLEMS: thesis statement, topic sentences, paragraph organization, whole essay organization, sentence organization, argument idea weak

2. DEVELOPMENT PROBLEMS: undeveloped topic, audience not clearly defined, draft not significantly improved, details not sufficient, details don’t focus on topic, details not specific enough , evidence weak, repetitive

3. LANGUAGE USE PROBLEMS: adjectives, adverbs, transitions, prepositions, awkward word order, sentence fragments, misplaced modifiers, word choice, repetition , sentence variety, run-ons, coordination and subordination, pronoun reference, mixed and incomplete sentences

4. GRAMMAR PROBLEMS: parallelism, pronoun errors, verb tense shift, subject verb agreement, spelling, comma errors, semicolon use, quotation punctuation errors, apostrophe, hyphen


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    • Nataly Havrysh profile image

      Nataly Havrysh 

      2 years ago

      Hi, the idea of circling from among the most common mistakes at the end of rubric is great. It can really make grading easier but it will also be a good notice for students about what to work on, because they usually do not make meaningful conclusions from all the in-text remarks.

      I do not really agree with your assessment of content. Of course, essays presenting arguments on unexpected positions are more challenging and more interesting to read, but I don’t think students should refuse from their positions, even if they are common and thus may sound stereotypical.

    • VirginiaLynne profile imageAUTHOR

      Virginia Kearney 

      6 years ago from United States

      Thanks so much nifwlseirff for your great comments. You are absolutely right that in the end no system can grade essays for you even though they can make some of the task easier. Yet, I still have to tell myself, "no more checking email--just grade!" to get through them. My college just subscribed to an online plagerism and grading system that I've started using. I have put this grading rubric into the system. I'm not sure it is faster to grade, but I do like the grammar/spelling checker feature and the fact that I have a copy of all my comments.

    • nifwlseirff profile image

      Kymberly Fergusson 

      6 years ago from Villingen Schwenningen, Germany

      After spending heaps of time marking technical writing and professional communications essays while teaching at uni, you definitely need a clear marking guide or rubric or it will take forever! This is especially true when working with a group of markers.

      If' it's an assignment that has been run in a previous class, I release the assessment rubric to the students, so they know what they are aiming for.

      If submitted electronically (preferred!), they first get run through a plagiarism checker. It compares work to online sources and to each other submission. No point spending time marking copied work!

      I then randomly select 5 or so, and see how they stack up against my rubric. If in a team, we then discuss any changes we need to make.

      I try to avoid seeing the student's name on the submission to remove any bias, and set aside difficult / borderline essays for a second set of eyes.

      Other than this, I just power through them!


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