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How to Grade Papers Faster

Reviewing and grading dozens of student papers takes time. But there are ways you can save time, while still giving your students quality feedback. Today, I’m going to share a few tools with you that have helped me grade papers more efficiently over the years.


Find a good rubric for fast paper grading

You probably already know it’s a good idea to grade papers based on a rubric. Rubrics lay out a set of standards that students and teachers alike can understand. What you may not know is that some rubrics are time-savers, while other rubrics can make grading take a lot longer.

Now obviously, you don’t want a rubric to be so simple that it doesn’t give students sufficient feedback on how they did. But a rubric doesn’t need to be so complex that grading takes more time than necessary. Let’s look at a rubric that is probably too complex for efficient grading:

Detailed Rubric

All those descriptions can distract your focus from the students’ actual work. To keep focus on your students’ writings, marking them attentively and quickly, it’s better to use a rubric that looks like this:

Picture 2

Of course, a more complex rubric can be helpful to students, because it gives them a detailed explanation of why they got a certain score. So you may want to give your students a rubric with lengthy explanations, but make a simplified version of that rubric for your own use. And speaking of modifying rubrics….

Find a way to make the points on a paper divisible by 10

Most rubrics are designed with assessment in mind, not ease of grading calculations. But this is an important consideration. If a rubric grades on—say—a thirteen point scale, or has seven differently weighted categories with a total of 155 points, calculating your students’ letter grades will take longer.

The letter grades you give your students are based on increments of 10 points. A is 90-100%, B is 80-89%, and so on. Why shouldn’t rubrics be the same? Look for a rubric that grades papers on a scale of 1-10, or carries a total of 100 points. If you can’t find one (and good base-10 rubrics can be hard to find), make one. You can do this by modifying an existing rubric to a different point scale, or by making a new rubric from scratch. You still have a lot of flexibility if you do this—you can have whichever amount of categories you want, and you can weight them differently—just so long as the total points are easily divisible by 10 and easily translatable into a 100% scale grade.

Making this change not only helps you grade more quickly, but also helps you avoid miscalculating your students’ grades—a confusing and embarrassing mistake when it happens.

Set a maximum length for your students’ papers

Traditionally, a lot of teachers have given their students a minimum length for writing assignments—at least 300 words, at least five pages, that sort of thing. But this really is counter-intuitive. What truly matters in a school essay is writing quality standards, as seen on the rubric. If a student can meet these standards with a relatively short paper, why not let them? Especially because telling students they need to exceed a minimum word or page count encourages “padding”—overly wordy sentences and unnecessary information that makes for lower-quality writing.

By setting a maximum length, you encourage students to think about elegant simple ways to express themselves. And you set the stage for writing they might do in their future careers after school. In the work world, reports, emails, and other professional pieces of writing need to be just long enough to accomplish their purpose, while still short enough to be read with ease. And as an important fringe benefit, setting a maximum length also puts a limit on how much time you’ll need to spend giving each student paper the attention it needs as you grade.

The takeaway

When assigning and subsequently grading papers, you want to work smarter, not harder. When you can grade student papers effectively and quickly, everybody wins. Students get their grades back more quickly, and don’t have to anxiously wait. You are able to devote more time and energy to other teaching activities. And you grade papers more reliably and consistently with a good grading system that doesn’t wear you out.

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2 Responses to How to Grade Papers Faster

  1. OZGUR SAHAN June 7, 2016 at 3:21 PM #

    I was wondering whether 10-point rubric is better than 100-point rubric in terms of ensuring rater reliability. I think that 100-point rubrics are more sensible in that raters may vary more in their assigned scores. What do you think?

    • David Recine
      David Recine June 20, 2016 at 10:18 AM #

      You’re definitely right that a 100 point rubric allows for maximum precision— you can get in some really specific scores that way! Having said that, in my own experience, 100 point rubrics can sometimes actually hurt rater reliability. This is because they’re more complicated… it can get really hard to make precise, 100 point score assessments in multiple categories. This is especially true if you’re grading dozens of papers. Still, someone who is very confident in their math skills might be able to use a 100 point category with confidence. If you think this might work better for you, give it a try and see if it helps you grade more accurately!

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