Getting Ready for Grading

Grade What You Mean to be Grading

On the last day of classes, with only finals remaining, you may be bracing yourself to work through stacks of papers, projects, or exams that need to be graded.

Although the workload is certainly a factor, it’s often the human dimension of grading that can be the hardest part. For example, we may fear being disappointed by some students’ lack of progress or worry that they will be disappointed by their grades. We may feel anxious that students will complain or even challenge their grades. We may sometimes be dissatisfied with our grading criteria or frustrated that students’ understanding of their task in a final project doesn’t align with what we intended for them to do. Considering all of our possible concerns, it can be grounding and clarifying to reflect on what we intend for students to learn in the class— our highest priorities—and what we intend for grades to communicate.

In general, students’ final course grades should match up with their learning. If they learned a lot but their final course grades are low, that can be a sign of course design issues. Likewise, if they didn’t accomplish important learning goals, but their grades are high, that is also a sign that you need to make adjustments to the course. When a course is well aligned, the learning goals are clear, the assessments (projects, papers, exams, assignments, etc.) suit the goals well, and students get practice and feedback throughout the course that helps them make progress if they put in the effort.

The final assessment in a course (whether paper, project, performance, exam, etc.) can be an opportunity for students to demonstrate how much they’ve learned throughout the semester. Before you start grading, it’s helpful to review what was most important for students to learn, and to learn how to do, in the course. (Hopefully, the final project is designed to be an opportunity for students to show off their learning.) Keeping your eye on the goals can help you resist being distracted by the minutiae. The more exhausted we get, the easier it is to be distracted by our pet peeves or by things that are actually outside of the scope of the course. We can go on thought tangents that make grading take longer and that aren’t really relevant to the learning goals anyway. When that happens, it’s helpful to take a short break and resume when you can focus. Then you can return to students’ work, asking: What should I really be grading here? If you focus your attention on those priorities, it can make grading less stressful, less time consuming, and more fair.

If you’d like to discuss grading final projects or how to respond to end-of-semester grading questions or requests from students, we’re here to help! You can email us for a consultation at We look forward to working with you!