How I grade essays (and papers)
© 2000, Gary Varner
- An essay is presumed to be a midrange B (85%) "until proven otherwise."
- For an essay to move up from a midrange B, it must be adequate overall and outstanding in one or more respects.
- To be "adequate overall" it must do everything the directions asked for, and without making any significant mistakes.
- Different essays are outstanding in different respects.
- Sometimes an author does a particularly good job explaining the material we have studied, doing so in a succinct, but thorough and precise way.
- Other times an essay does an outstandingly good job on the critical or evaluative portion of the assignment, for instance by coming up with an original and insightful criticism of an argument we have studied, or by coming up with an original and insightful way of responding to an objection to an argument.
- For an essay to move down from midrange B, it must either be incomplete or get something wrong.
- An essay is incomplete if it fails to do everything the instructions required.
- Different essays get things wrong to different degrees.
- Sometimes an author just doesn't write clearly. For example, "A reductio ad absurdum argument makes a false assumption" is an unclear and imprecise way of expressing the thought that "In a reductio ad absurdum argument, one assumes the negation of what one intends to prove."
- Other times they say something that is just plain wrong. For example: "The ontological argument is an example of an a posteriori argument."
- Sometimes an essay is incomplete in some way or gets something wrong, but it is also outstanding in some way. In such cases a judgment call must be made. Sometimes the outstanding aspects of an essay make up for, or more than make up for its inadequacies, and it gets a B or even an A. Sometimes the inadequacies outweigh the outstanding elements and the essay gets a C.
- For an essay to warrant a D, it must be substantially wrong in multiple respects, and a D essay is almost never outstanding in any respect.
- For an essay to warrant an F it must either be radically incomplete, substantially wrong in a majority of respects, or otherwise give the impression that the student did not take the assignment seriously.
- For purposes of calculating course grades, I assume the following values for letter grades: