Grading 101

Grading 101

Grading 101

Tests aren’t generally something people look forward to. As a teacher, I love them! When you think about it, tests are the best way to gauge how well you’ve taught something (or how well you didn’t).

I talk about this a lot when I speak, but one of the biggest mistakes teachers make is teaching to the test. The goal isn’t for our students to get hundreds. The goal is for them to be successful one day in their careers. Telling your students, word for word, test questions ahead of time doesn’t help them when they’ve graduated and are in the field.

I see teachers all the time who grade to be popular. They give everyone 100’s and they’re everyone’s best friend. You’re creating lazy students when you do this. You’re not setting them up to aim high and achieve more. Your grades need to have value otherwise you’re crippling them. You need to have a standard and stick to it.

You’ll have students who ace exams and others who fail. You’ll find some students don’t have to study at all and others who will end up cramming all night. What’s important is that your grading rules are consistent.

Here are some of my rules for grading and testing:

  1. Answers should be direct. Don’t leave things up to interpretation. You need to have clear reasons as to why they scored high or low.
  2. Trick questions are mean. I hated when my teachers used these and your students will hate you, too.
  3. Expect more out of students who have been in school longer.
  4. Don’t grade papers in red. It’s harsh and can hurt someone’s self-image. I like grading in green or blue.
  5. Open book or take home tests create lazy students. They’re searching for the answers—they’re not learning to understand.
  6. If a lot of your students miss a specific question, the responsibility falls on you. Take a look at the way you taught that subject and research a more effective way to communicate it.
  7. Allow some form of make up tests—even if students are absent or late. Have a policy that there will be consequences, such as a certain amount of points off.
  8. Extra credit is not a good way to make up for bad test scores. The fact is that they didn’t know the information and they need to. Allowing them to do something else that they already know how to do doesn’t help them.
  9. Don’t let students grade each others papers. That is a sign of a lazy teacher. In addition, grades should be private between you and the student.
  10. Always give test reviews before an exam.
  11. Always review the answers as a class after you’ve graded the papers. When doing this, allow the students to describe in depth why they answered a certain way. It may help a student who got it wrong.
  12. Have a private conversation with students who continually get bad grades. Use statements like, “Here’s what I noticed when grading your paper,” and find out what you can do to help them succeed. Be their cheerleader!


You should see an array of grades—some should be high and some should be low. Not everyone learns the same or tests the same, so expect grades to be all over the place. What’s important is that you see individuals improving.

Never underestimate the power of an educator.