Fast and Equitable Grading

Whether you’re grading assignments, essays, lab reports, or exams, there are some general strategies that can help you save time and ensure that you’re being equitable.

For fast grading…

  • Prepare an answer key or set of detailed marking criteria before you start grading. This helps you avoid being “bluffed” by highly literate or clever students who respond elaborately to only one aspect of a question or an aspect tangential to the question and impress you more with their writing or creative problem-solving style than the content of their answer.
  • Annotate your grading criteria as you progress through the marking. This helps you become more efficient as you encounter the same mistakes repeatedly; you have a record of how you handled the same error previously.
  • With problem-solution questions, work through the problem yourself just before starting to grade it, even if you’ve done it several times before. This helps you easily remember the details.
  • Grade only one question or topic at a time so you can stay focused. And finish grading all responses to one question at one sitting if possible so you don’t have to worry about reformulating or remembering the subtleties of your marking scheme. But know your own limits since fatigue may keep you from grading reliably throughout.
  • Identify assignments or exams that use the same approach and group them together. After the divisions are made, go back and grade the work, starting with the best group and finishing with the worst. This allows you to become familiar with some mistakes before marking the more difficult responses.
  • Find excellent, good, adequate, and poor examples to serve as anchors or standards. Use them to refresh your memory of your grading standards and help ensure fairness.
  • Avoid over-marking. Write brief comments on students’ work. Do not feel that you must correct every grammatical or mathematical error, respond to every idea, or propose alternatives for each section. It is best to focus on only one or two major problems and look for patterns of errors rather than note every flaw.
  • Respond to students’ work as an interested reader or reviewer would. Set yourself three goals: highlighting what was done well (to build confidence), pointing out key errors and weaknesses that need correction, and providing ways to improve.
  • Avoid rewriting students’ assignments. Indicate the major problems with a segment of the assignment and perhaps rewrite one paragraph as an example, but leave the major revisions to students.
  • Set limits on how long you will spend on each exam question, essay, or assignment.
  • Sort students’ work into A, B, C, D, and Fail piles before assigning final grades to help you decide on borderline cases.

For equitable grading…

  • Cover students’ names so you’re not influenced by the performance of students on previous exams or assignments, their class participation level, or their attitudes about you or the course. You can ask students to put their names on the last page or the back of an exam or assignment.
  • Determine the general level of performance before grading by randomly sampling the assignments or exams or, if possible, skimming them all.
  • Avoid trying to mark entire exams or all essays in one sitting since you may become too tired to grade reliably. But marking all responses to one exam or assignment question in one sitting can help ensure fairness. Know your own limitations and what will work best for you.
  • When there’s more than one marker for a course, have a group marking session in which everyone grades a few papers or exam answers and compares them. Or you can split up the marking task and have each marker grade the same question or set of questions on every exam.
  • After marking one question on all exams or assignments, shuffle the papers to remove any expectations based on order.
  • Avoid judging students’ work on extraneous factors such as handwriting or use of pen versus pencil.
  • Place marks on the last page of students’ work to help protect privacy.
  • Record all grades as number grades (versus letter grades) when possible to ensure greater accuracy when calculating final marks.

For grading difficulties, cheating, and plagiarism

If you are a teaching assistant, discuss any grading issues with the course instructor, particularly if you suspect issues of cheating or plagiarism. If you are the course instructor and you suspect cheating or plagiarism, contact the associate dean of undergraduate studies for your faculty for advice on how to proceed. University Policy #71 deals with student academic discipline.

You can also help students avoid unintentional plagiarism by clearly explaining at the beginning of term what it encompasses.


If you would like support applying these tips to your own teaching, CTE staff members are here to help.  View the CTE Support page to find the most relevant staff member to contact.

teaching tips

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