Develop an Essay Grading Scale & Policies and Grade Papers Fairly and Easily

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The Danger of Unclear Essay Grading Policies

On my way out of school last Friday, I noticed a line coming from Mr. Ambiguity’s room. It led down the hall, around the corner, and into the gymnasium, causing a disruption of the JV basketball game.

Alarmed by the truncheons, clubs, and baseball bats, I asked someone what the problem was. He answered,

“Mr. Ambiguity’s essay grading policies are very confusing. No one really knows why they got the grade they did, and we’re here to find out.”

“Doesn’t he have an essay rubric, instructions on how to grade essay papers, or some other clearly defined essay grading policies?” I asked.


I immediately went to the front of the line to share with Mr. Ambiguity my advice on developing an essay grading scale. Unfortunately, he resigned before I arrived and was on a flight to Jamaica. I now have this great plan on establishing grading policies by developing a grading scale with students, and no one to share it with.

I guess I’ll share it with you.

Procedures for Developing a Grading Scale With Your Class

Discuss the purpose of a grading scale, standards for how to grade essays, papers, and other non-objective tests. Be sure to mention the need for the teacher to communicate to the student what he or she is looking for.

  • As a class, brainstorm a list of skills they should be able to demonstrate, for example:

    • Organization: writing an introduction, making body paragraphs clear, writing an effective conclusion, how to write a good topic sentence.
    • Style: using imagery, using connotation, show don’t tell, sentence structure
    • Focus: writing for an audience, maintaining a strong voice, using point of view effectively
    • Grammar: fragments and run-ons, using strong verbs, pronoun-antecedent agreement
    • Mechanics: commas, end marks, quotation marks.
  • Write your brainstormed list on the board and organize it into categories (as shown above).

  • Discuss potential headings for each organized group (trick them into coming up with mechanics, organization, style, content, or whatever else you want).

  • As a class, determine the percentage for each group (the trick here is to guide them with questions to get what you want).

  • Have students copy the final grading scale.

This assignment works well with other types of assignments, including projects, timed-writing, skits, notebooks, and speeches.

See this example of a grading rubric I created with my class.