Efficiently Grading Student Writing

Do you love teaching and hate grading?  The time it takes to grade student papers is the chief reason for our dislike of the chore.  How can you make marking student writing more time effective?  Walvoord and Anderson in Effective Grading: A Tool for Learning and Assessment in College (2010) directly address this concern.  They say,

“We wrote this book because, as teachers of English and biology, we have struggled across our careers to make our grading fair, time efficient, and conducive to student learning.”

Here are some suggestions adapted from Walvoord and Anderson that will help to make grading more efficient:

Front Load the Work of Grading

Moving students to a finished product requires three discrete faculty activities.  You must give students an assignment, guide students on completing the task, and finally grade the final product.  Many instructors spend most of their time on grading the final product, but a more effective practice is to spend more time on guiding students to understand the qualities you want in the completed assignment.  How do you apportion your time?

Spending Most Time on Grading the Assignment




Spending Most Time on Giving and Guiding the Assignment




Creating clear rubrics to guide students in what you desire for the finished paper takes time up-front but shortens the amount of time you will spend grading because your rubric becomes your grading criteria.

Have Students Submit a Self-Evaluation with the Paper

Spending your time telling students what they already know about their work is an inefficient use of time.  Require students to submit their work with a self-evaluation check sheet.

Student Check Sheet for a Literary Critical Essay

_____ I read the short story at least twice.

_____ I revised this essay at least once.

_____ I spent at least five hours on this essay.

_____ I started work on this essay at least three days ago.

_____ I have tried hard to do my best work on this essay.

_____ I have used the grading criteria in the assignment sheet to check and revise my work.

_____ I proofread the essay at least twice for grammar and punctuation.

_____ I asked at least one other person to proofread the essay.

_____ I ran the essay through a spelling check.

_____ If I were to revise this paper again, I would . . .

Avoid Fixing Every Grammar or Punctuation Error

Do not waste time on extensively marking grammar or punctuation.  Mark a few errors and point the student to the Writing Center or ESL for consistent help.  Generally, you should require that finished products reflect edited standard written English (ESWE).

Limit comments to teachable moments

Teachers should remember that students often ignore comments on final graded work.  Comments are most helpful on drafts or works-in-progress that allow the student to improve the work.  On final papers, focus on making global suggestions that will benefit students' future work at writing.

Create Boilerplate Language

“Instead of writing by hand on the student’s paper, write the comments on your computer.  When you find yourself writing the same thing over and over, create a boilerplate passage you can insert in your comments” (p. 109)


Walvoord, B. E., and Anderson, J. A. (2010). Effective grading: A tool for learning and assessment in college (Second Edition). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.  (This book is available to borrow from CTE or to purchase at Duquesne Barnes and Noble.)