Saving Time While Grading

Saving Time While Grading

Use this resource in concert with our comprehensive teaching guide on Grading & Feedback.

Grading student work and providing feedback can be time-intensive and demanding. The following strategies, outlined in chapter seven of Effective Grading (2004), may be helpful to consider when evaluating assignments, exams, written work, and overall course performance.

Find out what students already know. Ask students to assess their own performance when they turn in an assignment. This could take on the form of something like a half-page checklist that they turn in as a cover page with the assignment. Save time while grading by only giving feedback in areas where students indicate they need help, or are unaware that they do.

Don't grade work that's clearly careless or lacking. If a student did not take the assignment seriously or they struggled with foundational concepts, don't waste time grading it and mark the assignment accordingly. You might consider asking the student to revise and re-submit the assignment.

Focus on foundational issues. Be strategic about the kinds of edits and comments you make on student assignments. Focus on issues that are central to the course or discipline overall. Ask yourself if something constitutes a "teachable moment," or if you are giving a certain type of feedback just because you noticed it. Getting into the weeds can invite students to focus on less relevant specifics instead of broader issues. Similarly, avoid grading a student's use of grammar unless it is a core aspect of the assignment. Instead, share your preferred style guide (e.g. APA, MLA, Chicago, etc.) with students as a resource, and refer them to RWIT for writing support.

Focus on guiding in the assignment. In many cases, we are better served by spending time guiding the assignment early on and while students are working on it rather than at the end when we're grading it. When it's time to evaluate student work, ask yourself if you need to associate a grade with your feedback to achieve your underlying goals. If the answer is no, consider sharing comments on student work instead of adding a grade, which can act as a distractor. This can be especially helpful for peripheral assignments, earlier work in a course, drafts of papers, or project proposals.

Change the grading levels and gradations. Ask yourself in each of your assignments whether you need to use a traditional thirteen-level grading system (A+...F) rather than something more specific to your assignment. Use only criteria and grading levels that are helpful to the students' learning and your own feedback processes. Other options could include:

  • A six-level system (A through F) without pluses and minuses.
  • A four-level system: check, check-plus, check-minus, and no check.
  • A three-level system: outstanding, competent, and unacceptable.
  • A two-level system: pass-fail or credit-no credit.

Limit the basis for your grading. For this strategy, consider limiting what you are evaluating and giving feedback on to specific issues you have seen students grapple with in the past. Look for a specific desirable or undesirable behavior in student work, and give them feedback on that component. Alternative versions of this could include only grading specific components of an assignment (e.g. sources, argumentation, etc) in specific ways. 

Ask students to organize their work. Many people spend inordinate amounts of time navigating the ways in which their students present and organize their assignments. If you find yourself struggling with this, give students a model for organizing their work to save you time and create efficiency.

Delegate feedback and use peer review. Assign students to look for certain things and give feedback in structured ways to other's work. While this might seem like outsourcing the work of feedback to your students, when structured well, it can create meaningful teachable moments for students to learn from each other.

Use technology and processes to save time.

  • Use Canvas Gradebook and Speed Grader to streamline your grading and feedback processes.
  • Use Gradescope for grading exams and assignments in Canvas.  Gradescope is particularly effective in situations where: you have multiple graders collaborating, rading problem sets and short answer questions that can be grouped togethe, grading code submissions and creating online assignments that easily digitize previous paper-based assignments.
  • Create a comment bank in a word processor and copy and paste repetitive feedback. 
  • Type or speak narrative feedback to your students in Canvas.
  • Share resources that address common issues for students to reference on your Canvas site. Add to it as you go so you can reuse it from term-to-term.
  • Create spaces online for students to support each other's work. Examples include a shared Google Drive with draft class work, a discussion board on Canvas, or Piazza to manage Q&A.
  • Create opportunities for quick feedback, like virtual drop-in hours during busy assignment periods.

Keep a grading log. Track how long you spend grading specific types of assignments and student work to help identify bottlenecks and challenges. Use this information to iterate on future assignments and grading approaches.


Walvoord, B. E. F., & Anderson, V. J. (2004). Effective grading: A tool for learning and assessment. San Francisco, Calif: Jossey-Bass Publishers.