City College: Guidelines for Grading a College Essay

College essay-grading poses particular challenges for teachers and professors. Unlike math, where there is one definite answer, an essay is subjective and cannot be graded in such a straightforward manner. However, there are ways to simplify this process and make college essay-grading subject to certain criteria.

Listing the Essential Features of an Essay

The first step is to list down the features of a good college essay, as required by you and clearly communicated to your students beforehand. These would normally be the following, with a few additions or exceptions, depending upon your requirements.

1. Relevance: Does the college essay clearly address the question?

2. Originality: Does college essay reflects the writer’s own understanding and presentation of the topic?

3. Components: Does college essay contain all the elements of an essay – thesis statement, thesis development, topic statement, argument, examples, recommendations, suggestions, etc.?

4. Structure: Does college essay show clear evidence of a proper structure – introduction, body sections, and conclusion?

5. Language: Does college essay use appropriate language, such as wide vocabulary, proper terminology, accurate spelling, correct grammar, etc.?

6 Style and Citations: If references and citations are a requirement, does the college essay provide these? Has the essay been written in the specified style – APA, MLA, etc.?

Developing a Rubric

The next step would be to develop a rubric to grade the college essays. A rubric is a table used to score essays, projects, and other subjective assignments. It mentions each criterion such as those mentioned above and defines the performance levels within those criteria, giving each level weight in the form of points. This helps in calculating a cumulative score and a measurable estimation of the essay, which is what grading is all about. The design of the rubric, its performance levels, and point weight all depend upon your specific needs and expectations from students. Thus rubrics may change from course to course or semester to semester, but they must represent the student’s writing ability.

An example of a rubric is given below:

Features A (15 points) B (10 points) C (5 points) D (0 points)
Components Clear evidence of all components, major and minor. Major components such as thesis statement are present, but some minor ones are missing. Very few major components are present, along with a few minor ones. No evidence or very poor evidence of major or minor components.
Structure Well-structured essay, with clear paragraphs for introduction, body sections and conclusion. Structure present, but parts often overlap. Poor structure without clear differentiation. Structure completely missing. One block of writing work.
Language Fluent use of vocabulary, sentence structure and grammar. Good use of language skills with some errors of grammar and spelling. Deficient language skills reflect writer’s discomfort in expression. Error-prone work full of basic language errors.

Grading the Essay

Finally, you are ready to grade your students’ essays. All that you have to do is read each essay, look for the criteria in the list you made, evaluate each criteria according to its performance level and assign points according to the rubric above. Lastly, divide the cumulative score by the number of criteria you have chosen to get an average score. For example, if your student has scored an A, B and C respectively in the 3 criteria above, he has scored 30 points. You can further grade the essays A, B+, and so on.

Sharing Grading Methodology with Students

It is not only important to tell students their marks, it is equally important to share the grading methodology with them. This lends transparency to the grading process and reduces the risk of unfounded accusations of prejudice or errors.

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