The art of grading – minimal marking

Are you tired of endless grading? It’s the end of the semester, and you’re dreading the hours and hours of grading. After all of your work, you’re not even sure if students will learn from your pages and pages of ink. But what if you could grade more effectively, in less time AND help your students? Thankfully, there are several strategies you can employ through “Minimal Marking.”

Here are a few suggestions:

  • Don’t correct all mistakes. Research in composition has shown that students learn much more about error correction when they have to find and correct their own errors. Instead, make a checkmark next to the line (or, grading online, highlight the line or put it in bold) and ask students to find the problems. Usually, they will catch the error on a second read.
  • Identify patterns of errors and point them out. Say they are having trouble with subject verb agreement or past tenses. Correct one or two problems with subject verb agreement and then ask them to go through the rest of the paper and correct the others.
  • “Sit on your hands/put away the red pen.” If you are requiring your students to resubmit a paper, try to resist the urge to correct everything. Limit yourself to 2-3 elements the next draft should address such as conceptualization and organization. Papers that are covered in comments (however useful) are often overwhelming and do not help the student see a path to revision.
  • Grading rubrics: Giving students a breakdown of how you will grade their papers offers you an easy way to justify a grade and explain areas for improvement without the necessity of correcting line-by-line.
  • Ask the students to talk about revisions. If you’ve allowed for multiple drafts, prior to the students handing in a final paper, ask them to reflect briefly on how they’ve incorporated your changes. This works to prevent them from just resubmitting without addressing each of your points and allows you to focus on how the writing has or has not progressed.


There are many different types or rubrics, and many are not painful at all. This post from the Cult of Pedagogy talks about some commonly used rubrics.

You may also consider student self-grading. This post from Faculty Focus discusses how self-grading can be helpful.


Credits: Original post by Lindsey Albracht, Christina Nadler, and the students in the Macaulay Honors Program at Queens College; updated and remixed by Charlotte Thurston.

Featured image from The Pattern Library.

Last updated: July 13th, 2020.