6 Ways to Save Time Grading Essays

6 Ways to Save Time Grading Essays

Teachers have a lot on their plates, but one of the most challenging and time-consuming tasks is grading student essays.

Even if you give your students a 2-page limit, grading 150 papers can take hours. It’s difficult to give each of your students the specific, helpful feedback you want to provide (at least if you’re hoping to also have a life of your own).

Fortunately, these six strategies can help you grade essays effectively while still saving time for family, friends, and much-needed relaxation.

1. Focus on a particular aspect of the essay.

You can use this method in one of two ways:

The first way is to grade the essays based on one particular aspect of the assignment, such as supporting evidence or focus and organization. This makes the grading process much faster while still allowing you to provide thorough feedback on this specific skill. You can focus on different skills each time.

The second way is to read the entire paper and provide an overall grade, but then focus your comments and feedback on one particular skill.

For instance, if you just taught a few lessons on supporting evidence, you could write in-depth comments for ONLY supporting evidence on your students’ papers. For many students, it’s actually easier and more helpful to focus on one skill at a time.

2. Chunk the essay into smaller pieces.

When essays are full of misconceptions and errors, grading takes much longer. One way to reduce the time you spend grading is to ensure that the majority of your students submit polished final drafts.

You can accomplish this by chunking the assignment. For example, work closely with your students on writing their thesis statement and introduction. Next, work on gathering evidence and writing body paragraphs. Finally, talk to your students about conclusions.

If you take time in class to help students work on and polish each piece of the essay, grading them will ultimately be much easier. Plus, this process can be very beneficial for student learning.

3. Use peer editing first.

Another strategy that results in polished final drafts is having students peer edit prior to submitting the assignment. Provide students with a list of questions, criteria, or a rubric to use in assessing one another’s essays. This guide should match what you will be looking for when you grade the final draft.

After students receive peer feedback, they’ll revise their essays accordingly. By the time you receive their final drafts, they should be much closer to meeting your criteria.

Peer editing also helps students become better writers. Thinking from the perspective of the grader gives them insight into what makes a good paper—and what doesn’t.

4. Create a rubric.

Make a rubric that sets out specific criteria and what a proficient essay should look like for each criterion. Asking your students to help you create the rubric is especially effective and will result in more polished papers.

The more you use the rubric, the more you’ll recognize what “proficient” looks like according to your criteria, and the faster you’ll grade.

Plus, a carefully written rubric can save you from needing to write many comments on each paper. Simply circle or highlight what level the student has achieved for each criterion, write a personalized comment or two, and staple it to the student’s paper.

5. Give collective feedback.

If you find yourself writing the same comment on paper after paper, providing collective feedback can be an excellent time saver.

You can even jot down a few notes on what each class period seems to struggle with the most, or on common errors that you see by class period. This can usually be accomplished by skimming through a sample of essays from each period.

To make this process even faster, you can skim through an overall sample of essays and write down overall struggles instead; it’s up to you!

Then, stop individually writing any comment that appears on the list. Instead, create a few PowerPoint slides, either for your students as a whole or for each class period, listing and explaining common errors or issues.

In class, hand back the graded essays. Explain that they may not have many comments on the paper, but you’re about to discuss the most common errors you noticed. You can then have students find and correct these errors in their own papers or write a reflection on which of the common errors they noticed and how they plan to avoid them next time.

6. Grade electronically.

Some teachers aren’t a fan of grading on the computer, but you might want to give it a try at least once if you haven’t attempted it yet.

Reading typed essays is often faster than attempting to decipher student handwriting, and typing comments is less time-consuming than hand-writing feedback for some graders. You’ll also avoid those pesky hand cramps.

Grading electronically can also make revisions easier to track for both you and the student, and you won’t have students raising their hands to ask, “What does this comment say?” This can often happen as a result of the increasingly sloppy handwriting caused by grading a gigantic stack of papers.

Bonus Tip:

Although it won’t technically make grading faster, you can make the grading process feel faster by offering multiple topics to choose from or allowing students to choose their own topics.

This reduces the monotony of grading 150 very similar essays on the same topic, which can sometimes make two hours feel like an eternity.


There’s no magic solution for saving time without sacrificing effectiveness when it comes to essay grading.

But you can try these six methods to make essay grading much faster, all while continuing to provide useful feedback and helping your students grow into strong, confident writers.

WriteLab brings together Natural Language Processing, Artificial Intelligence, and English Language Instruction. Student writing is analyzed in seconds with the WriteLab app—giving students feedback and suggestions on how to revise and polish their draft.

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