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Grading Essay Exams

Grading Essay Exams

19 May, 2016

In an exam situation, students must perform under pressure for a set length of time, without much chance to review and revise their work. Therefore, the standards imposed on student writing under the circumstances of essay exams must not be the same as those implemented on writing done over a course of several days or even weeks.

The scoring of essays can be unreliable; scores not only differ across different graders, they vary with the individual grader at different times. Graders can be affected by a number of extraneous factors, such as handwriting, color of ink, and word spacing.

To make sure that consistency is achieved as much in grading as possible, and that the first test by the same standards as the last is marked, here are some suggestions for grading practices that will elevate the overall reliability of essay tests.

  1. Prepare Model Answers To All Questions In Advance.

The model gives a key that clears out the major points students should cover in their responses. Before beginning to grade a batch of tests, scan over some essays to check if the model answer needs to be changed. If, through some quirk in wording, students have misunderstood your intent, or if your standards are unrealistically high or low, you can change the key. The influence of a vague lecture or other irregularity in teaching the material can also be a legitimate reason for altering the answer key. If you don’t see any of these issues and you have carefully constructed the model answer, students should not be able to surprise you with better answers than yours. However, be open to legitimate interpretations different from your own.

  1. Grade Anonymously.

If you know who the student is, your overall impressions of that student’s work will unavoidably affect the scoring of the test. When assessing essay questions, fold the blue books over so names are not seen (even better, ask students to use their student ID numbers instead of their names).

  1. Grade Each Essay Separately.

Reading everyone’s answer to Question 1, then reading everyone’s answers to Question 2 (and so on) is better than grading a single student’s entire test at once. Otherwise, a brilliant performance on the first question may outshine weaker answers to other questions (or vice-versa). It also is easier for you to remember one answer key at a time. Shuffling the papers after grading each question will help compensate for the possibility to give later papers lower scores as you grow tired.

  1. Write Comments On Test Papers As You Grade Them.

Comments do not have to be extensive to be effective. Highlight specific elements of the answer that were missing or incorrect and the number of points lost as a result. For example, you may assess penalties for incorrect statements, omission of relevant material, adding irrelevant material or errors in logic that lead to unsound conclusions. Students have a right to know why they receive the grades they do, and need particular guidance to enhance performance. Strive for a few analytical comments on the good and bad aspects of the essay rather than a detailed critique — writing too many comments will likely overwhelm students, and they may miss the main points of your critique.

  1. Decide If You Intend To Grade Grammar, Syntax, Spelling, And Punctuation.

Decisions of this nature should not be subjective. What counts for one student should count for all students.

  1. Distribute Your Model Answers With The Corrected Essays.

While alleviating some of the burden of writing comments on exams, this practice has many other benefits as well. Students tend to learn a little more when they compare their answers with the model, and they will have a clearer picture of why they obtained the grade they did, thereby lessening the number of requests that you re-grade their papers.