make a number of decisions. What percentage of the overall grade should it be? Will students work alone or in groups? Will they submit individual papers or a single answer set for the group?

Grading Students' Essays

The English department at Dickinson College conducts a seminar for faculty teaching in the Freshman Seminar program, to help them learn to teach writing to new students and to evaluate students' assignments. They suggest assigning a percentage to the various categories shown below, with approximately equal weight given to content and presentation. When students hand in a rough draft, they recommend assigning it a nominal percentage, and grading it on the basis of whether the student has made reasonable progress on the assignment. The grade sheet typically occupies a full page, with adequate space left for instructor comments. A sample grading sheet is shown.

Evaluation of Paper #1

Quality of effort on draft = 10%


Score: _____

Content = 40%

Score: _____

1. Paper responds to the assignment

2. Focuses on central idea or thesis

3. Thesis supported by evidence

Organization = 25%

Score: _____

1. Paper has an introduction, development, and conclusion

2. Paragraphs coherent and focused on single idea

3. Paragraphs are related to central thesis

4. Transitions between paragraphs are logical, so that the reader can follow the development of the thesis

Mechanics = 15%

Score: _____

1. Sentence structure

2. Word usage

3. Punctuation

4. Spelling

Style = 10%

Score: _____

1. Sentences varied and not awkward

2. Language is uninflated and appropriate for a formal paper (no slang, contractions, etc.)

Paper 1 grade:__________________


Ideally, tests measure students' achievement of the educational goals for the course, and the test items sample the content and skills that are most important for students to learn. Tests usually ask students questions about material that is most essential to the discipline. A well-constructed test measures a range of cognitive skills, not just students' recall of facts. However, it is unlikely "that research will ever demonstrate clearly which form of examination, essay or objective, has the more beneficial influence on study and learning" (Ebel and Frisbie, 1986). Your choice of examination form will need to take into account many factors such as the time available for students to take the test, the amount of time you have available to grade it, and what you wish to measure. Some goals and methods of testing, adapted from Fuhrmann and Grasha (1983) are:

  • To measure knowledge (recall of common terms, facts, principles, and procedures), ask students to define, describe, identify, list, outline, or select.

  • To measure application (solving problems, applying concepts and principles to new situations), ask students to demonstrate, modify, prepare, solve, or use.

  • To measure analysis (recognition of unstated assumptions or logical fallacies, ability to distinguish between facts and inferences), ask students to diagram, differentiate, infer, relate, compare, or select.

  • To measure comprehension (understanding of facts and principles, interpretation of material), ask students to convert, distinguish, estimate, explain, generalize, define limits for, give examples, infer, predict, or summarize.

  • To measure synthesis (integration of learning from different areas or solving problems by creative thinking), ask students to categorize, combine, devise, design, explain, or generate.

  • To measure evaluation (judging and assessing), ask students to appraise, compare, conclude, discriminate, explain, justify, or interpret.

There are a limited number of standard formats for exam questions. Multiple choice questions can measure students' mastery of details, specific knowledge as well as complex concepts. Because multiple choice test items can be answered quickly, you can assess students' grasp of many topics in an hour exam. Although multiple choice test items are easily scored, good multiple choice questions can be challenging to write (see sidebar on page 42). Short answer questions can

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