Students often wonder how I grade their papers. How do I decide between a C and an A? How do I evaluate arguments? Really, what they’re asking is how to get the A they want?
First of all, I should admit that they don’t teach us to grade in grad school. The closest I came was the first time I was a TA (teaching assistant), I was handed a bunch of papers, the assignment and I was told “read a few, you’ll figure it out”. My professor, who ended up being Dr. Dissertation Advisor, said he’d read a few to make sure I was on track.
It was scary. I sat on the couch in our base housing house and read every paper three times. I read them in alphabetical order. I re-read them mixed up and one more time to make sure the grades were what I wanted them to be. The stack had at least 60 papers in it — I did it in two days. Yep, I read 180 freshman ethics papers in two days… in the end I changed very few of the grades and Dr. Advisor changed none of the grades (if he even read the papers… upon reflection, I kinda doubt it).
These days I generally use a grading matrix for papers. It has some general aspects of what I want on the left side — and across the top “excellent”, “average” “poor” and “missing”. I put an X in the appropriate box to reflect my evaluation of the paper. I get very few students questioning my grades.
The thing is, an A paper generally has the following qualities:
- It fully answers the question…. all parts of the question.
- It’s accurate in the answer.
- It has original analysis and examples.
- It’s in proper academic form.
Really, that’s it. Falling down on #3, but having all the others is generally a B. Missing #1 and or 2 is more like a C. Huge mistakes in #4 will get you a D or a plagiarism problem.
A good paper is an easy read. It’s well organized and reasonably well written. If you struggle with writing, you should know how to get help with that — at BNCC we have a writing center, as do most colleges. Use it — it’s there for you and the people there are paid to help you.
Peer review also helps a lot. Have a friend smarter than you or not in your class read your paper to see if it makes sense. If it’s readable and not confusing, you’re probably at least in B territory. Spice it up with some of your own thoughts, particularly if they’re amusing, and you’ll get closer to an A.
One of my faculty mentors my first year teaching in Omaha once told me something pretty profound about philosophy class grades. He said, “earning an A or B is about 80% following directions and good time management. The A comes with a little insight about the topic” — and, he’s right.