Graduate student workshop at the Tisch College of Civic Life. (Ian MacLellan for Tufts University)
Graduate student workshop at the Tisch College of Civic Life. (Ian MacLellan for Tufts University)

Grading is an important component of teaching, but can provide many challenges.  A grade can monitor a student’s progress towards achieving a particular learning goal and provide important feedback on the student’s current level of performance that is critical to promoting the greatest learning gains.  Grades can also be a source of motivation for students to focus on specific learning tasks and work towards continuous improvement.  Providing accurate and fair grades in a timely way to help students improve their learning can be challenging during a busy semester, and students who aren’t satisfied with their grades can provide challenges.  This page provides strategies and resources to help you grade more fairly and efficiently. 

Establishing Grading Criteria

A key part of developing your grading system for a course is deciding what will be graded and how much each component will contribute to a final course grade.  To get started consider the following questions

  • What goals or outcomes are most important for a student to achieve in the class?
  • What can a student create, do or produce to demonstrate your course goals and outcomes?
  • What different kinds of work will students produce (e.g., exams, papers, labs, discussions, presentations)?
  • Which kinds of work should carry the most weight?

If you’re considering assigning grades to non-cognitive or performance factors (e.g., effort, participation, attendance, attitude, etc.) carefully articulate how those components demonstrate a student’s achievement of the course objectives.  Regardless of which components you choose to include, it’s essential to communicate how the work will be evaluated to students.  Providing understandable criteria to students can help students perform better, prevent student confusion or frustration, and make grading more efficient and consistent. 

Grading Student Work

Most faculty find the process of grading to be difficult, time-consuming and emotionally demanding.  We recommend considering some of the following points –

Articulate and communicate clear criteria: Once you’ve decided on your grading criteria for the course, do the same for each individual student activity you’ll be assigning a grade.  A key tool for creating a prioritized list of criteria, communicating them to students and applying them consistently and efficiently to the student’s work is a rubric.  Read more about designing and using rubrics.

Select an appropriate grading scale: Granularity in a grading scale can introduce precisions without meaning and require spending lots of time deciding how to allocate individual points.  Consider using broader scales that indicate overall work quality (e.g., excellent, good enough, needs significant improvement, etc.) instead of detailed numeric scales (e.g., 100 points).  For more on this see Assigning Letter Grades to Numerical Scores (Tufts).

Prioritize meaningful and useful feedback: Avoid spending time marking factors unrelated to the learning goals of the activity, and tie the feedback you do give to students future work.  Brief comments can refer to criteria from a rubric or the activity’s goals, or reflect overall patterns of performance on the students work. Reserve detailed feedback for instances where a student might need to use the information on a future activity.  For example, you can ask first for student who want detailed feedback on a courses’ final paper or report.  For assignments during the semester, use class time to discuss ways to address common trends.

Grade efficiently: When grading a large number of students consider using group assignments where appropriate and marking exams or quizzes one question at a time.  Set a reasonable time to spend on each students work, and use a timer to prompt you to move on.  Also use technology where it can save you time – e.g., Canvas’s speed grader, assigning points with a rubric or grading scale of credit/no-credit).  

These resources will get you started grading various types of assessments —

Educational Technology

Canvas has a useful Grading tool called SpeedGrader for marking up and commenting on student work. Learn more . . .

Grading Written Assignments

Grading Written Assignments (Tufts)

Grading with Rubrics

Whys and Hows of Rubrics (Tufts)

Grading Lab Reports

Sample Laboratory Report Rubrics (University of Michigan)

See Also

The Troubles with Grading & Grade Inflation (Teaching@Tufts)

Journal-Based Grading in a Mathematics Course (Teaching@Tufts)

Ungrading a Graduate Data Analysis Course (Teaching@Tufts)

Thinking about our Assessments in the Age of Artificial Intelligence (AI) (Teaching@Tufts)

Alternatives to Exams (Teaching@Tufts)