Grading assignments

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The list below represents what a group of experienced UVic Teaching Assistants (TAs) have identified as key considerations when grading or marking assignments as a TA. Not all suggestions below may be applicable in all departments on campus. Please use the list as a guide only as this list is not exhaustive but encompasses a diverse array of aspects.

General grading notes*

  • Grading is both a method of assessment and a communication tool between students and instructor.
  • Make every effort to be fair and consistent among students and among different course sections.
  • When there are issues, begin by talking with the course instructor because it is they who are ultimately responsible for setting the marking standards within a given assignment.


Throughout this guide the word “Grading” can be used interchangeably with “Marking” in disciplines and departments where that language is more appropriate.

Preparing to grade

Preparation for grading and marking begins early in the course by communicating expectations to the students. For example, inform students about the following:

1. Mechanics of the assignment, such as:

  • Do papers have to be double or single spaced?
  • Is a cover page required, and if so, what information needs to be stated?
  • How many references should the assignment have? This is usually given as a range (e.g., a certain number of pages).
  • What referencing format should be followed?
  • What content is expected and how much emphasis will be placed on writing style?

2. Encourage students to consult with you for information on approaches to write a thesis statement, resources, as well as any other requirements for the assignment that they are not clear on.

Using a grading rubric

Rubrics are very useful tools to help maintain consistency and fairness in your grading. Make rubrics available to students prior to the assignment so that they know what standards are expected.

  • If applicable, you may choose to design a rubric with the students – this gives them a personal ownership and a deeper sense of the expectations.
  • Using a rubric is an easy way to demonstrate to students why they received the grade they did.
  • Grading rubrics can assist with grading consistently among students and between course sections.
  • Rubrics make marking assignments efficient and stream-lined because the criteria are specific.

Three approaches to rubric design

In general, there are five components to include in every rubric:

  1. Task description – outcome being assessed, or instructions students receive
  2. Characteristics to be scored (rows) – skills, growth, reflection, beliefs, behaviours, or other learning that a student can showcase or demonstrate
  3. Levels of mastery or scale (columns) – labels used to describe levels of mastery; language used here is very important; aim for four or six. Avoid phrases like “Deplorable, Poor, Inadequate” and instead use “Level 1-4”, or “Novice to Expert”.
  4. Description of each characteristic at each level of mastery/scale (cells) – what each level at each characteristic looks like; each description and each characteristic should be mutually exclusive
  5. Space to write personalized comments

There are three general approaches to rubric design: analytic, holistic, and single-point.

  1. An analytic rubric specifies at least two characteristics to be assessed at each level and provides a separate score for each characteristic (e.g., a score on “formatting” and a score on “content development”). Specific expectations based on key criteria; provides detailed feedback about student learning
  2. A holistic rubric provides a single score based on an overall impression of a submitted assignment. Impressionistic; single-dimension is adequate to define quality and provide overall overview
  3. A single point rubric has a single column for criteria and a score ranging from 1 (developing) to 4 (exemplary). This includes a feedback column to provide notes on the score and support student learning.

Adding feedback comments

  • Comments provide the necessary feedback for learning. They should address the strengths and areas for development of the assignment and offer concrete suggestions for improvement. Feedback focuses on the assignment, not the student.
  • Provide constructive and positive feedback:
    • Consider the feedback sandwich method: one positive feedback, one constructive feedback, and one feedback that the student should keep doing.
    • Or the glow and grow method: one note of feedback where the assignment is glowing, and one where the assignment can grow.
  • Ensure that any key points missing are explained.
  • Feedback can also be provided by the peers. You can organize learning groups and create chances for students to hear from their classmates.
  • You can pre-empt many student concerns by providing thorough feedback.

Assigning grades

  • You should put the grade on the last page of the assignment or add a separate page of comments. A student’s grade is not for public consumption.
  • If you grade online, you will want to have a conversation with your course instructor about saving the draft of feedback and comments versus publishing feedback in Brightspace (UVic’s Learning Management System), but adherence to UVic’s strict privacy policies is essential.

Returning assignments

  • Normally, all written work is to be returned to students with the exception of final exams.
  • It should be returned in such a fashion that does not allow another student access to the comments or grades. This means that you do not leave a pile unattended for the students to pick up at random.
  • Generally, assignments should be returned to students, so they have enough time to incorporate the feedback into their next assignment.

You may also be interested in reviewing additional documentation on grading and assessment from LTSI.

This guide was developed during the Teaching Assistant Consultants’ (TACs) seminars for the academic year 2009-2010 and updated in 2020-2021.

About this post

This post was last updated:

August 9, 2022

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