Many GSIs are familiar with the difficulty of keeping grading within the time constraints of graduate student work and other academic and personal commitments throughout the semester. If you are directly in charge of course design and assessment, consider what is reasonable for you to do in a semester and scale your and your students’ workload accordingly. Or, you might need to speak with your Instructor of Record if you anticipate the amount of grading will go beyond your contract hours. Below are a few strategies that can help you manage your time and make the process less stressful.

Before Students Submit Their Work

Remind students of the course grading policies when you announce an exam or introduce a new assignment. This can head off superfluous regrade requests and late work.

Review and clarify the assignment design. Clearly worded assignments and clear learning objectives will help students have a much better sense of what is expected of them and thus help them achieve those expectations. Make sure that exam questions are vetted thoroughly prior to the exam.

Clarify how you plan to grade the exam or assignment – either on your own or with your Instructor of Record and fellow GSIs if teaching collectively. Design and distribute a grading rubric, and test it out on a sampling of papers. It may also be helpful to look at a representative sampling of student work to get a sense of the common errors prior to creating your rubric.

For longer assignments, build peer review and revision into the assignment process. Not only does this head off the temptation for students to finish their assignment the night before a deadline, it helps students better recognize the separate stages and revision processes that necessarily go into making great work. See: Drafts, Edits, Revisions and Review and Revision.

Have students double-check their own work for careless errors or mistakes – rather than yourself. You might want to include a checklist that students are required to fill out and attach to their submitted assignment. Here are some examples:

  • I proofread this paper at least twice for grammar and punctuation.
  • I asked at least one other person to proofread the paper.
  • I ran the paper through a spell checker.
  • I have formatted this assignment according to the citational standards accepted in this course (MLA, APA, etc.).
  • My paper is formatted in 12 pt font, Times New Roman (or other accepted font), and double spaced with regular margins. 
  • My paper has a title. 
  • I have included my name, student ID, the date, and section number for this course. 

Adapted from: Barbara E. Walvoord and Virginia Johnson Anderson [1998], Effective Grading: A Tool for Learning and Assessment [San Francisco: Jossey-Bass], 128–29.

Consider asking students to turn in a cover letter with their own evaluation of their work’s strongest and weakest points as well as the students’ thoughts on how they could improve the work. This may help you later on when writing comments tailored to each student’s concerns about their work. (See Commenting on Student Work, below).

Specify the means of submission. Most likely, submissions will be uploaded to bCourses or Gradescope, though if paper submissions are preferred, then specify any requirements.

Consider anonymous grading. Have your students label their assignments and exams with their SIDs and not their names.

Set up a grading technology tool like bCourses or Gradescope. Tips for using Gradescope can be found below. 

While You Are Grading

Grade while you are in a good mood.

Grade with company! In addition to being more fun, the other GSIs are a resource for grading questions. Also, if you are grading a large lecture course, it can streamline the grading consistency checks. To ensure consistency, exchange a few papers in each score range with the other GSIs, and grade them independently. Compare the scores and take corrective action if necessary.

Time yourself. Try to limit how long you spend grading each assignment (e.g., I want to grade on average 20 problems per hour or, I want to spend at most 15 minutes per essay). If you find yourself puzzling over a particular paper, set the paper aside to grade last, when your sense of all of the students’ work has been fully developed.

If the assignment has disjoint parts, grade each part separately (e.g., if an assignment consists of three problems, grade the first problem for the entire class before you proceed to grading the second problem, etc.).

For essays, avoid the temptation to mark up or edit each page as you read and instead read the paper quickly once for argument and organization. Then, identify one or two areas where you will focus your comments and feedback during a “second pass” reading. Using a rubric will help you limit your remarks to the most essential learning outcomes you are assessing.

Sort the assignments into stacks as you grade (one stack for each grade). When you are done, check through each stack for consistency. Once you are satisfied, mark the assignments with the scores.

Make notes to yourself as you grade. This will help with consistency and make it easier to find student work if you change your mind.

You are likely to take a break in the middle of the grading task. When you resume grading, first look at papers you’ve already graded to reset your mental scale.

When you are finished grading, look again at the first few assignments you graded to see if you still agree with yourself.

For additional tips for writing-based courses, see Time Management Suggestions for Grading Student Writing.

Commenting on Student Work

Identify common problems students had with an assignment and prepare a handout addressing those problems. This helps you to avoid having to write the same comments multiple times. It also enables you to address the problem in more detail and helps students realize that others share the same problems.

Type your comments. This has a number of advantages. It allows you to keep a computer record of each student’s progress over the semester; comments can be more detailed; longer comments on common problems can be cut and pasted from one assignment to another; and it is easier for the students to read what you have written.

Do not comment on every problem or point. Focus on a couple of major points, keeping in mind the overall learning objectives for the assignment. This not only helps you to grade more efficiently, it also avoids overwhelming the students. It enables them to focus more effectively on the areas of their work where they need to put more effort to accomplish the learning outcomes for the course.

If you have asked students to submit a cover letter with their own assessment of the work’s strong and weak points, you can take these points into consideration when responding to that student work. This emphasizes that feedback is more of a dialogue with the student and less of a one-sided evaluation. 

Make sure you’ve included enough comments that the students can discern why they received a particular grade and how to direct their future effort to better achieve learning outcomes.

Instead of writing lengthy explanations for a complicated issue, write that you ask the student to come see you (“See me” or “Please see me in office hours”). A live conversation gives you the chance to hear what the student found specifically difficult with the assignment and to tailor your feedback accordingly. It also gives students a chance to ask clarifying questions for complicated issues. Keep track and remind students if they forget to follow through.

After You’ve Graded

If appropriate for your course or section, use a spreadsheet or the Grades tool in bCourses to calculate grades. If using the bCourses grader or Gradescope, these can be directly imported to the Grades tool.

If a student consistently turns in unsatisfactory work, meet with him or her to figure out why and develop a plan of action. Often a student just needs guidance on how to approach an assignment or a more effective study strategy. If there are additional barriers preventing a student from doing their best work, this may be a time they can discuss those with you and formulate a plan to address them.

If returning work in person, try to do it at the end of section to maintain student focus, but be sure to leave enough time to discuss common problems with the class in sufficient detail.

Final Thoughts on Time Management

Document how much time you are spending, and on what, and re-evaluate. If you feel you are spending more time on grading than is warranted, speak with the  Instructor of Record and discuss  options. As your supervisor, the Instructor of Record is responsible for making sure the time expectations do not exceed what is stated in your appointment letter. Perhaps you can change the grading criteria to streamline the process. Ascertain whether it is necessary to grade every problem on an assignment? Occasionally, instructors in the problem-based disciplines decide to grade a random subset of problems on an assignment (after informing the students, of course). Are comments (instead of a grade) sufficient on rough drafts? Can you use a simpler rubric (e.g., pass/not pass instead of a five-point scale)? Can you have the students grade each other’s quizzes in section? Remember, the focus should be on helping students move forward in their learning. Sometimes, the best ways to do this are with low-stakes, ungraded assessments such as quizzes. These steps can also help reduce stress and anxiety both for students and for you as the instructor.

In the event you have already discussed these matters with your Instructor of Record, you can speak with your department’s Faculty Advisor for GSI Affairs.

Additional Tips: Getting To Know Gradescope

Likely you will be dealing with digital submissions, so it will pay dividends to familiarize yourself with the grading tools. Here, we’ll describe some useful tips about Gradescope that can speed up some aspects of grading.

Map Out Student Work With A Grading Outline And Template

To organize student submissions based on problems, Gradescope needs to know which pages of a submission correspond to a particular prompt or problem. These demarcations can be done either by the student or the grader. As a GSI you can save a lot of time by having students mark up their own submissions.

To allow students to tag their assignment, you must add an outline of your assignment. After uploading a template of the assignment to Gradescope, it will prompt you to add an outline of the problems. Click the “+” sign to add a box for each sub-part. Even if the point values are not finalized, doing this step enables students to mark which regions of their submissions correspond to different problems. This data is important for grading one problem at a time across all students efficiently.

For exams where students do not handle the submissions themselves, it is recommended that the exam be spaced out so that students’ work can fit neatly in the blank space without the need for scratch paper. In Gradescope, you can upload a blank copy of the exam and label the regions that correspond to the outline of problems. If successful, the scanned exams will all have the same format as the template and Gradescope can automatically do the tagging according to the template version. This consistency also allows Gradescope to handle multiple exams scanned and uploaded as a single file! For more information on instructor uploaded submissions, see their documentation page.

Keyboard shortcuts

  • When grading an assignment, you can put in various rubric items. Instead of clicking on each rubric item that applies to a student’s submission, you can press keys 0-9 corresponding to the items
  • To navigate between students (on the same problem), use the left and right arrow keys
  • To navigate between problems (for the same student), use the ‘.’ and ‘,’ keys
  • If a student’s solution to a single problem is spread over multiple pages, use the ‘j’ and ‘k’ keys to move between pages.

For a visual reference, Gradescope has several video tutorials.