How to Grade Faster and Foster Student Learning

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Grading is an age-old source of frustration for instructors, with many feeling torn between evaluating student performance and fostering student learning, as they struggle with less time to do either. However, one does not have to forgo student learning to attain more efficiency in grading.

In her piece “How to Grade Faster in 2020,” Deborah J. Cohan suggests that instructors can begin to grade more efficiently by limiting the number of assignments and increasing the value of those assignments for the final grade:

I don’t see the point in assigning a lot of busy work or many assignments each worth 1 percent to 10 percent and then feeling breathless all semester with grading.

Such advice may reduce grading for the instructor, but it runs counter to what we know about student learning. In “Want to Reach All of Your Students? Here’s How to Make Your Teaching More Inclusive,” Viji Sathy and Kelly A. Hogan explain the benefits of reducing high-stakes assignments: “When a single exam or paper carries a lot of weight, you risk letting that one experience or day wreak havoc on a student’s grade.”

One way to address the needs of both the instructor and the student is to consider the relationship between grading and feedback. Jeffrey Schinske and Kimberly Tanner explain that grading is a form of feedback that may be evaluative, which “judges student work [thorough grades, praise or criticism]”, or formative or descriptive, which “provides information about how a student can become more competent.”  Descriptive feedback can have a positive effect on evaluative feedback:

[One study found] that students receiving descriptive feedback (but not grades) on an initial assignment performed significantly better on follow-up quantitative tasks and problem-solving tasks than did students receiving grades or students receiving no feedback. (Schinske and Tanner).

Student learning is enhanced when instructors provide feedback meant to improve a student’s performance. There are several strategies that instructors can employ to provide this kind of descriptive feedback to students that, in the long run, will reduce the amount of evaluative feedback they provide.

Instructors can design courses in ways that provide feedback for low-stakes assignments through quizzes and other assessments. This means that instructors want to intentionally deploy these when they help students the most. Sathy and Hogan note that whatever low-stakes assignments an instructor chooses, it should be required: “When assignments are optional, compliance will vary and you risk exacerbating differences in study skills, background knowledge and the like.”

Holly Fiock and Heather Garcia suggest using technology, especially audio and video comments, to provide feedback that is frequent, specific, balanced, and timely. While Cohan discontinued her use of rubrics, a rubric directly linked to what the instructor wants students to be able to do, explained to students beforehand and coupled with time to practice is more effective. Fiock and Garcia note that rubrics and peer review help provide the kind of formative feedback that help enhance student learning, improve their performance and lessen the time it takes to provide evaluative feedback down the road.

For example, I used a series of low-stakes assignments that fed into the larger project for the literature class I taught in Fall 2019, “Worldbuilding in Science Fiction.” All of these assignments followed the same format:

  1. students created a draft before class and brought it to class
  2. students worked in groups to receive feedback from their peers
  3. students wrote down all of the feedback they received and then explained why they did or did not use the feedback
  4. students revised the draft, then turned in a document that contained the draft, the feedback, their response to feedback and the revision

I graded the assignments using a simple rubric where I looked for whether students had the elements of the assignments. I reviewed the feedback they received from their peers (they were using the same rubric) and made notes of the common mistakes students made. In most cases, a student’s revision was vastly improved from the draft, so I didn’t have to give feedback on the things group members had already addressed. In the next class, I went over with the class the common mistakes and show them how to improve for next time.

We can improve our grading efficiency in ways that do not diminish student learning.


Cohan, Deborah J. “How to Grade Faster in 2020.” Inside Higher Education. 11 Feb 2020,

Fiock, Holly and Heather Garcia. “How to Give Your Students Better Feedback With Technology.” The Chronicle of Higher Education. 08 Nov 2019.

Sathy, Viji and Kelly A. Hogan. “Want to Reach All of Your Students? Here’s How to Make Your Teaching More Inclusive.” The Chronicle of Higher Education, 22 Jul 2019,

Schinske, Jeffrey and Kimberley Tanner. Teaching More by Grading Less (or Differently). CBE Life Sciences Education. 13.2 (2014): 159-166. doi: 10.1187/cbe.CBE-14-03-0054.

Creative Commons License
How to Grade Faster and Foster Student Learning by Crystal S. Anderson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

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