10 Things Your Professor Won’t Tell You About Grading

Today’s post is an outstanding piece that was originally written by Levi on The Chegg Blog.  We hope this insight helps anyone that’s just finishing finals, or can help you for future reference.

For most professors, mum’s the word about grading.  The less said, the less possibility of argument later when the student doesn’t get the grade he or she most wants.  Here is a look behind the curtain at what the professor is really thinking when awarding grades—but won’t tell you.  Read on.

1. “It’s 15 minutes – then on to the next.”  You might think that your grader will spend upwards of an hour grading each of your assignments.  Guess again.  Given that an instructor might have 30, 40, or even 70 papers or tests to grade in a week, he or she is likely to try to get three or four students’ papers done in an hour.  This is why you should get right to the point, make your claim clearly and succinctly, avoid extraneous or irrelevant material, and take the trouble to really explain your points.  Make it easy for the all-too-rushed assigner of the grade.

2.  “I often outsource the grading.”  In large courses at large colleges, the professor giving the lectures isn’t always the person actually doing the grading.  Instead, there’s a cadre of low-paid grad students (or, at some universities, even undergraduates) who do the grading.  It could be your TA or some other person hired solely to grade the tests or papers.  Some professors actively manage the graders, going over sample papers and setting the grading scales; but others are happy to delegate the whole job to the underling and never set their eyes on any student work.

3.  “It’s not nearly as subjective as you think.”  Many students understand that on “objective” tests (like multiple-choice or short-answer tests), there’s no question about whether you got the answer right or wrong.  But they think that the grading on essay tests or papers is “just a matter of opinion” — the grader’s subjective feeling about how good the piece of work is.  It’s not so.  If you were given a stack of 50 essays on the same topic — and if you had a good grasp of the material — you could know right away which are the A’s, B’s, C’s, and D’s.  Sure, there’s some judgment around the edges: a grader sometimes has to think a minute, and look over the essay a second time, to decide if it’s a B, B+, or B/B+.  But the major grade “breaks” are almost never matters of opinion; that’s why there can be different TA’s, all of whom will assess your paper the same way.

4. “A’s are often in short supply in my courses.”  While some students think grade inflation is rampant in college, in truth most professors give about 10-25 percent A’s in introductory classes and perhaps 25-40-percent A’s in more advanced courses.  And, contrary to what you might have heard, some courses have a “heavy bottom.”  If you’re at the kind of university that most students in this country attend, there might be as many people getting C’s and D’s as are getting A’s and B’s.  And, believe it or not, in a large intro class of 300 students, there might be up to ten-percent F’s.

5.  “Grading is usually not a zero-sum game.”  In classes that are curved, your grade is in fact determined by your position or ranking relative to other students.  But, except in sciences, most college courses are not curved.  So relax.  The reason you didn’t get an A on the midterm isn’t because you best friend stole the last available A.  It’s just that your level of work didn’t quite rise up to the level of excellent work.

6.  “First impressions count.”  Since your grader is working at breakneck speed to make a decision about what grade to give, nailing the main point in the very first paragraph sets the essay on the path to an A.  Keeping the grader in suspense about when, if ever, you’re going to answer the question, or, worse, larding your essay with all sorts of long-winded introductions or irrelevant filler paves the royal route to a C.

7.  “… and last impressions, too.”  Often by the time the grader gets to the end of your essay, especially if it’s a long one, the grader might not remember each of the points you made and what their significance was.  It’s a good idea to offer a brief summary at the end of your exam or paper, showcasing for the grader the points you most want him or her to take into account in determining your grade.

8.  “Excuses cement C’s.”  Sometimes, you haven’t prepared the relevant material for the test, or you’ve run out of time before completing your answer, or you realize you didn’t follow instructions quite right.  And then you write a profuse apology giving all the reasons for your missteps.  Bad idea.  When the grader encounters all your excuses, it throws into high relief the deficiencies of your answers – which the grader might not have even noticed or had been tempted to overlook.  Let your work stand on its own.

9.  “Only losers leave exams early.”  When I make up problems or essays for the test, I’m thinking you’ll spend the whole exam period figuring out the problems or writing the answers.  And that you will use any left-over time to recheck your problems or fix up your essays. If you leave early because you feel you’ve nailed the test, or because you’re too bored to even look at the thing again, you’re depriving yourself of opportunity to improve your grade.  A few points on a final can make the difference between, say, a B+ and an A- (or a B and an A, if your school doesn’t have pluses and minuses), it’s worth the time – and the grief – to stay ‘til the bitter end.

10.  “Grade disputes almost never work.”  Sometimes students who don’t get the grade they think they deserved, want to dispute the grade. Sure, most colleges have official procedures for disputing a grade – sometimes involving the TA, the professor, the department chair, or even the dean.  But you should be aware that grades get changed very, very rarely – and this, only in case of procedural irregularity (such as incorrectly adding up the points, failing to read a page of the answer, not following course policies on the syllabus or the rules of the college).  Arguments I hear all the time, but almost never work include, “My friend wrote the same paper but got a better grade than I,” “another TA grades easier than mine,”  “the assignment wasn’t fair,” or “the TA had it in for me.”  If you haven’t gotten the grade you want, in most cases it’s best to just ask how you can do better next time.

Students – what are some tips you learned about the grading process?  Was it something simple such as don’t procrastinate on papers? Or submit your paper with some candy for the professor?  Tell us in the comments.

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