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Grading Time-Savers

April 20, 2016

By Lynn Bartels

Grading Time-Savers

As we approach the end of the semester, I feel like a grading machine.  I have stacks of research papers, theses, and project reports to grade and I’ll have final exams coming in soon too.  Grading is hard and sometimes mind-numbing work.  Here are a few grading tips to give students the feedback they need without taking up so much of your most scarce resource-time. 


Not everyone is a fan of rubrics, but a good rubric can save you a lot of time in grading. Instead of writing out similar comments over and over again to different students, you can evaluate the assignment on several criteria and students can easily see the strengths and weaknesses of their assignment.

Here is a website from Association for Assessment of Learning in Higher Education (AALHE) that provides links to rubrics for lots of different assignments in a wide variety of disciplines. You can probably find one to adapt for your purposes

An online rubric in Blackboard can save you even more time.  When grading a blog, journal, wiki or discussion board post, you rate the criteria on line and then grades are posted right into Blackboard’s Grading Center. Another benefit is you can easily see who has turned in their work and who hasn’t.

Use Different Types of Grades for Different Types of Assignments

Not every assignment needs to be graded on a 100-point scale.  For example, it might make sense to use letter grades or 100-point numerical scale grades for papers, essays and some projects.  Whereas, a 4-point scale (1 = no check, 2= check minus, 3 = check, 4 = check plus) or 3-point scale (1= unacceptable, 2= competent, and 3 = outstanding) might make sense for quizzes, homework or discussion board posts.  Similarly, a 2-point scale (pass-fail or credit-no-credit) might make sense for preparatory work (  Walvoord and Anderson (1998) recommend using the fewest scale points that make sense.

Don’t Grade Everything

You don’t have to grade every assignment. For example, journal entries, minute papers, issues, reading logs may help students build their fluency and confidence with ideas (Walvoord & Anderson, 1998). Instead of grading every assignment, you might only grade every 3rd assignment.

Make your Comments Count

Writing comments on student work takes an enormous amount of time and students may not even read them. Only provide a comment when doing so may lead to student improvement. Comments on drafts or works in progress may be more important than extensive comments on a final project (Walvoord & Anderson, 1998). Drafts are teachable moments. If you expect carryover from one project to the next project, ask students to explain how they addressed the comments from the previous work on the new assignment (Walvoord & Anderson, 1998).

Don’t forget how disheartening it can be to get a paper back covered in red ink.  If you need a reminder about how bad negative comments can make you feel, read through one of your own manuscript rejections. Stanford’s Center for Teaching and Learning recommends trying to make comments that are “encouraging and affirming of good ideas” and are “constructively critical of problem areas.” It might help to write your comments in the form of a question “so that you are in dialogue with the student’s ideas.” Instead of writing “irrelevant example,” try “How does this quote support your claim?” Or instead of “unclear” try “How does this connect to the theme of______?”

Here is a suggestion I like that will help get students to pay more attention to your feedback. It can be frustrating to spend hours writing comments that students never read.  To avoid this, send the feedback to the student with comments but no grade and then post the grade in Blackboard later (Teach Philosophy101).

If you can type comments faster than you write, consider using GradeMark in Turnitin to record your comments.

Don’t be an Editor

There are many reasons to avoid marking every error. I have to admit that when I see an error, it’s difficult for me turn off the editing and let the error go without marking it. Walvoord and Anderson (1993) explain that when you mark every little mistake, students think all they need to do is fix what’s marked.  When this happens, students can lose ownership of the work.  They see it as your job to note every error and their job to fix those errors making them reluctant to revise anything that hasn’t been marked.  

When students repeatedly make the same mistakes throughout a paper, comment on the mistake and note that it needs to be fixed throughout the paper.  Students learn more from recognizing and fixing their own mistakes than simply making the changes we mark.

Here’s a situation where it doesn’t make sense to spend time editing. If the paper is fundamentally flawed and requires a major overhaul, it’s a waste of time to mark every minor grammatical error. The paper needs a substantial revision not a minor fix up.

If different students are making the same mistake, it might be helpful to use a standard comment across students or develop a symbol to indicate a common mistake.


I hope your end-of-the-semester grading goes well and the stacks of work to be graded start shrinking.  Feel free to share any grading tips you have with us.


Walvoord, B. E. & Johnson Anderson, V. (1998).  Effective Grading:  A Tool for Learning and Assessment, John Wiley & Sons:  Hoboken, NJ.

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