Grading is essential for evaluating student performance, communicating expectations to students, and motivating students to continue to learn. Depending on the type of assessment you are interested in, grading can be tricky. We have created some bullet points to help you get started (Walvoord and Anderson 1998).

Grading Papers:

  • While papers are a great way to assess students' ability to think critically and form an argument, they can create a significant workload.
  • Minimize writing in the comments, particularly as a writer instead of a reader. Grading papers can become overwhelming quickly if you rely on commenting on everything that catches your eye. Instead, read through the entire paper once before writing in the margins and only correct recurring grammatical issues. This will help reduce the risk of your comments becoming too prescriptive. You may also want to consider giving voice-based feedback using screen capture technology such as Vidgrid. 
  • Don't be afraid to ask questions. Formulating specific questions for the student can provide an opportunity for the student to think critically about their own work.
  • Be specific. With the comments and questions you decide to leave, be sure that they are direct enough that the student will know exactly what you are trying to say. For example, consider phrasing statements like "This is one of your strongest arguments" instead of "good."
  • For your final comments, remember to list both what they did well and what needs improvement. When addressing these comments, consider what is "high priority" and what is "low priority" and make that clear within your comments. "High priority" should be anything that is directly affecting the grade of the student, while "low priority" should be other important moments that do not impact the grade as significantly.
  • Be clear. Be concise. Refer to previous comments, notes in the margins, or notes you may have taken for yourself to ensure that your comments are helpful, clear, and concise.
  • Washington University in St. Louis' writing-intensive video can be helpful to see the potential positive outcomes of a writing-intensive course.

Manually Grading Exams:

  • For short-answer exams, it's helpful to divide up the exams if possible. Again, a trusted TA can come in handy.
  • After grading, always double-check! Make sure that your addition makes sense to ease grade distribution. Look at how the grades are distributed, any common areas of difficulty, and where your question-writing can be improved for the next exam.
  • Tests should be returned as soon as possible. This will help you get the necessary work completed, help students evaluate their performance, and allow them to seek any help they may need.
  • Consider a "regrade" policy for your students. For example, if they come into your class within a week and can prove they know material they may have missed, that you are willing to reconsider their grade. This not only gives students the opportunity to correct any arbitrary errors that are not representative of their knowledge but also encourages them to thoroughly examine their exam performance.

Automatic Grading Options:

  • For large-enrollment courses, you may benefit from machine-graded questions either through a Canvas quiz or exam or by using Scantron bubble sheets.  Scantron also offers different types of grading analyses to ensure that grade feedback is including the quality of exam questions. 
  • Canvas quizzes can be used for quizzes or exams and can be proctored if desired. 
  • Google Forms offers free templates for quizzes or written assessments that grade automatically and provides you with a score easy to input into a grade book.
  • Kahoot can be used for easy in-class assessment of where student understanding has gaps or successes.
  • iClickers are another method of in-class automatic grading assessment and poll taking.
  • For more options, refer to the Knute Broady Collection's Active Learning page.

Avoiding Subjectivity:

  • To have an inclusive and safe atmosphere for students, it's important for them to feel like all students are graded equally.
  • Be transparent. Be consistent. Before your course begins, decide how you would like to assess your students and create a clear grading rubric for your method. If you are planning on assigning the same kind of assessment more than once, consider putting your grading expectations on the syllabus so they have something to refer to throughout the course. Once you have created these grading expectations, stick to them. Sometimes changes must be made to your course after it begins, if this affects your grading expectations, clearly state all changes to your students, then remain consistent with your new rules.
  • Be thorough with your record keeping. Not only will this practice help you when it comes time to assign final grades, but it will provide you with any necessary evidence of performance if a student has questions after receiving their grade.
  • Be flexible. If a student comes to you after receiving their grade to dispute anything, be sure to give them a fair hearing. If there is a need for regrading, it's best not to grade in front of the student but to take your time and return it again. Mistakes happen, it is important for your students to feel comfortable to discuss them with you.

For more ideas on how to clarify assignments and grading through Canvas, consider Manda Williamson and Cal Garbin's Canvas FAQ Page PDF from CTT's July 2020 Workshop series. Or, to help speed up the grading process for similar comments, Williamson and Garbin's Providing Material Feedback PDF can also be helpful.

Vanderbilt's grading guide is another helpful external resource.


Walvoord, B., and Anderson, V. (1998). "Effective Grading: A Tool for Learning and Assessment" San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.