Essay Grading


How do you write an essay that will get a high grade?  The basic rule is: show that you learned something from lectures and from the text.  Organize your thoughts to show that you can make a compelling case for whatever issue you are discussing.


When the GSIs grade the essays, they begin by putting them in piles.  If the maximum score is 20, then the will make, typically, six piles – for grades 10 and below, 12, 14, 16, 18, and 20.  Then they go over the essays a second time, and redistribute the essays; some go up, some go down; some get intermediate grades.


Here are the guidelines for the six initial piles that was used by one of our GSIs.  For the specific example, I assume the essay asked the student to explain lasers and their important applications. You can find out from your own GSI (in discussion or office hours) if he/she has a different breakdown.


0 to 9: Student did not demonstrate either that they attended class or read the notes, at least with any frequency.  Or they didn't understand the question.  For example, an essay on lasers that contains little more than "lasers are cool and can help people", with facts easily obtainable from action movies.  These essays often include the misinformation that the class is specifically trying to debunk.  The more misinformation, the lower the grade.


10-11:  Students showed they had attended the class and/or read the notes, but had little understanding.  An essay on lasers that correctly explains the acronym and gives a couple of applications.  The essay reads as if the student never attended a discussion section.


12-13: Students had the basic idea, but with some misconceptions and/or mistakes.  For example, the essay contains an incorrect explanation of how a laser works, but correctly explains that it has to do with quantum mechanics.  Skimpy examples.


14-15: Students having the main idea and getting most of the points, but with a fundamental misunderstand/mistake/omission.  A decent essay but thinking that it's the electrons (rather than photons) that are emitted.


16-17: A good essay.  Nothing (very) wrong, all major points answered satisfactorily.


18-19: A very good essay with no mistakes, and a lot of detailed information substantially above the norm. A very good explanation of the lasing mechanism, clear understanding of how lasers work in the various examples.


20: An essay that really stands out, due to conciseness, clarity, and exposition.  This is a rare grade.  Typically each GSI (grading 100 exams) will give only a few scores of 20.  Some of these exams will be posted as examples.