HELP! How do I Grade an Essay?

Well... I cannot say how you should grade an essay, but I can tell you how I do it! Each teachers has their own way and their own standards. I pride myself on being more than a teacher; I am a mentor, and that makes it a bit different.

When I was in high school and even in university, grading seemed about... well - the grade! I was often mystified why I'd get a 90% on one essay and 75% on the next. There was little or no feedback about how to improve my writing beyond some red circled grammar or punctuation errors.

I aim to grade Much differently!

My goal is to give a grade based on the marking rubric, but more importantly to teach the student how to fix the things that with the least amount of effort will have the greatest impact (I'm an economist at heart).

Isn't this what every parent wants to do when they grade a paper? Don't they want to teach their student to succeed?!

How to Read a Paper to Mentor a Student:

1. Just read it. The first time through, I read for pleasure - at least I hope it will be a pleasure! What is my student trying to do, and what are they telling me about their ideas. The first time through is an ideas reading. Does it make sense and make a good argument (even if I personally disagree).

2. Read for the Rubric. Next, I check the rubric - go through and grade the pieces that I know right away and read for the parts of the rubric I need to re-read for. On my rubrics, I always have grades for grammar, spelling, and punctuation so I go through and mark them (yellow highlight for punctuation, and orange for grammar and spelling). This might take 2-3 more readings!

Get a Free Download to begin using a rubric!

3. Write a Personal Note. This always starts with what the student did well and/or an assessment of how they are improving over their last essay. Then I add a note for next time. Be careful not to give too many things to fix. Just one or maybe two things that would have made the biggest impact. I will add a very short punctuation lesson if punctuation is the issue - just one point like "Commas before and in a list of 3 of more are optional, but you have to be consistent and do it the same each time."

4. End with encouragement. Often students are disappointed when they read the grade and really need to know that they can succeed. Give them that encouragement!

5. Change the Next Rubric.

*If your student is really struggling, it is time to change the rubric. Scale it back to what they can do well and add one single thing to teach them. Then grade on that one extra thing. Add to the rubric each time!

*If they are not struggling and they are acing your rubric it is definitely time to add something more!

*If your student is doing pretty well, but struggling in one area, give that feedback and on the next essay tell them you will be looking especially for that area. This makes success a possibility but provides room for consistent growth and achievement.

Everyone needs someone who has their back. What better feeling can there be than to know that your parent or mentor is behind you and believes in you.

Writing is a learning process - a process of personal growth and character development that takes a lot of practice. It is emotional, scary, and often discouraging. You have the opportunity to be their cheerleader!

Maybe your student needs some outside-the-family feedback (the dinner table can sometimes seem very small - even in my home!), or maybe you just want an outside opinion or help. If that is the case, contact me through my contact form about essay feedback services. (or email me at

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