Grading scheme

Below you can find the scheme I use for grading papers. Additional explanations are available below the table.

By way of introduction, I first came up with this idea when my wife prepared for the Großes Deutsches Sprachdiplom of the Goethe-Institut, which uses a fairly similar approach (although, of course, with very different categories).

While acknowledging that it is impossible to do full justice to the complexities of grading written work, I find this approach more transparent, consistent and replicable than simply reading papers and then, after a short moment of introspection and mentally balancing strong and weak points, deciding on its worth.

If you find parts of the table unclear or have ideas for improvement, please feel free to leave a comment below. If you are fellow lecturer that would like to adopt or adapt this approach, I’d be happy about a few words of appreciation.

 A (Sehr Gut)B (Gut)C (Befriedigend)D (Ausreichend)F (Nicht ausreichend)
ArgumentThe paper makes a CLEAR AND CONCISE argument. It hypothesizes the relationship between its dependent and independent variable(s) and RIGOROUSLY tests this relationship in the empirical section. The paper contains NO factual errors.The paper makes a CLEAR argument. It hypothesizes the relationship between its dependent and independent variable(s) and CAREFULLY tests this relationship in the empirical section. It contains SOME factual errors.The paper makes an argument, which is however NOT ENTIRELY clear. It is unclear which (in)dependent variable(s) have been chosen and the “state of the art” is presented INDISTINCTLY. The student has made SOME EFFORT to reconcile theory and empirics. The paper contains some factual errors.The paper attempts to make an argument but largely fails to "get its point across". The reader only has a remote understanding of what the student wants to explain and how. The literature review is unrefined and theoretical and empirical parts HARDLY FIT together. The paper contains VARIOUS factual errors.The paper makes no argument. The theoretical part is missing or reduced to the point where it resembles a “caricature”. The empirical part is not connected to previous sections of the paper. Factual errors abound.
StructureThe paper is well structured. Individual sections are ALWAYS well connected. The reader never loses sight of the “big picture”. All sections are STRICTLY NECESSARY for the paper's argument.The paper is well structured. Individual sections are MOSTLY well connected. The reader never loses sight of the “big picture”. There are individual DIGRESSIONS putting the reader off track.The paper is not well structured. Individual sections are well connected. The reader SOMETIMES loses sight of the “big picture”. The paper SOMETIMES digresses into other areas.The paper is not well structured. Individual sections are RARELY well connected. The reader OFTEN loses sight of the “big picture” and digressions are FREQUENT. The paper has no recognizable structure. Individual sections are not connected. The reader feels lost from start to finish.
PresentationFormatting rules (font type, line spacing, etc.) have been FOLLOWED. Table of contents and list of abbreviations are COMPLETE. Tables and figures in the text HELP the reader. The paper contains NO typos.Formatting rules have been followed. Table of contents and list of abbreviations are complete. Tables and figures in the text are INEFFECTUAL. The paper contains INDIVIDUAL typos. Formatting rules have NOT been entirely followed. Table of contents and/or list of abbreviations miss INDIVIDUAL items. The paper has NO tables or figures in the main text. The manuscript contains SOME typos, suggesting that it has been prepared at the last minute.Formatting rules have not been entirely followed. Table of contents and/or list of abbreviations miss VARIOUS entries. The paper has no tables or figures. FREQUENT typos give the impression of careless working habits.Formatting rules have been disregarded. Table of contents and/or list of abbreviations missing. No tables and/or figures. The manuscript is rife with typos.
ReferencesSources are marked CLEARLY in the text. The required citation style is used consistently throughout the paper WITHOUT errors. The reference section at the end is complete and contains ALL sources (no more, no less). Sources are marked clearly in the text. The required citation style is used with SOME errors which do however not hamper finding the source. INDIVIDUAL items in the references are misplaced.Sources are marked clearly in the text. The citation style is used inconsistently. Finding the source is OCCASIONALLY difficult. SOME items in the references are misplaced.Sources are NOT ALWAYS (!) marked clearly in the text. Finding the source is occasionally difficult. Some items in the bibliography are misplaced.Sources are not marked in the text (plagiarism!?). No recognizable citation style used. References missing or containing many errors.
Sources In the theoretical section the paper uses contributions from PEER-REVIEWED scholarly journals and high-quality book publishers (e.g., university presses). The empirical section draws from a LARGE number of available primary sources.In the theory part the paper MOSTLY uses contributions from scholarly journals or high-quality publishers. The empirical section draws from a large number of available primary sources.In the theoretical section the paper uses SOME contributions of limited scholarly standing (e.g., working papers, MA-theses, self-published books). The empirical section uses FEW available primary sources.The theory section MOSTLY consists of low-quality (scholarly) sources. The empirical section is taken mostly from secondary sources and only REHASHES what others have done already. The paper contains few to no scholarly and primary sources.

 

Most categories should be self explaining. But let me add that all these categories are only guidelines and never absolute. Moreover, as categories are typically made up of several specifications one could wonder, for example, how one would fare in the “structure” part if individual sections are always connected (A) but the paper frequently digresses into other areas (D). Generally, I would then settle on B or C depending on whether I see more light or shadow overall.

The presentation category also deserves a special mention. As the inclusion of at least one table or figure is, for me, usually a very good indicator of the work that has gone into a paper, I have included this aspect rather vigorously in the scheme. Without a figure or table it will be hard to reach anything better than a C in this category.  Tables and figures simply lighten up the text and reel in the reader. Moreover, styling a table or figure to perfection is much harder than it first seems and can help you develop a clearer argument.

You should also note that if you do not always (!) mark all sources clearly in the text this starts smelling like plagiarism and you could not have anything better than a D in the references category. Where the problem becomes endemic and leaves me no choice but to come to the assessment that you, in fact, plagiarized the result will be an automatic F (Nicht ausreichend) for the paper overall; no matter its other merits. That’s a real pity because, as you can easily infer from reading through column F, you else virtually need to hand in a phonebook to fail. You may also note that I use the terms references (as in references section at the end) and bibliography interchangeably in the scheme.

In the end, I simply compute the arithmetic mean of all five categories to arrive at the paper’s final grade. Over time I have come to appreciate this as a fairly accurate way of grading papers – and communicating to students what is expected of them for good grades. Ever since adopting this approach the quality of papers has noticeably increased.

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