How to Grade Papers Quickly and Efficiently

Students handing in papers to teacher at desk
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A recent report indicates that although the majority of teachers find their job rewarding, they spend an average of 95 minutes outside of the school day preparing for classes and grading. Instructors at various levels often feel they are overwhelmed with grading and cannot provide effective feedback. Teachers may employ various techniques to reduce the amount of time spent on such activities and yet provide students with good assessment.

1 Create a Rubric

Rubrics speed up grading by providing a template upon which to measure student work. Create categories to indicate the areas the assignment should be judged in and the relative weights for each, with standards for several levels within each category. For instance, a rubric for an essay might have one section that focuses on content development with high, medium and low levels of mastery. The content portion might be worth 50 percent of the entire grade while a section on organization is valued at 30 percent and mechanics at 20. Determining the overall score simply requires quick math, and the technique reduces the number of general comments instructors need to make. Students receive a copy of the rubric along with their scores for each section, giving them clear indications of what areas they need to improve upon and what they did well.

2 Use Sequencing and Encouragement

Using several assignments that do not require grading to lead up to one larger piece that you do grade, such as a portfolio or other compilation, reduces time grading and yet allows for student learning along the way. Do not spend much time commenting on things that will not be returned to students, such as essays turned in at the end of a semester. Encourage students to get help before assignments are due. Working on assignments with a tutor or other students gives them good feedback, and better papers take less time to grade.

3 Vary Testing and Grading Formats

Use multiple-choice formats for testing when appropriate. You can design questions that not only test memorization but also students' grasp of ideas and purpose. If you feel you need to include essay questions, you can combine them with multiple-choice or fill-in-the-blank questions to reduce grading time. Another option is to use peer grading. Assignments that carry little weight in a student's overall grade can be checked by other students in class, giving immediate feedback to all class members. Short assignments that check for understanding may be assessed with a check mark or plus rather than a complicated score and written commentary.

4 Be Clear, Brief and Instructive

Make sure your prompt or handout clearly explains assignments and the criteria you will use for grading and go over the material orally. When students follow the assignment more closely, you spend less time writing comments when grading. Come up with a standard term or mark to use when grading and then give a handout to students to explain these markings. For example, "awk" is faster to write than spelling out for each student why a sentence is difficult to understand. Mark just one or two of the same errors in each draft, or mark grammatical errors on just one page of an essay. Explain to students that you indicate patterns of errors but do not mark them all.

Kristie Sweet has been writing professionally since 1982, most recently publishing for various websites on topics like health and wellness, and education. She holds a Master of Arts in English from the University of Northern Colorado.