As a TA, I have to grade students' assignments. The main instructor usually has requirements regarding the minimum average grade for the class. At the same time, it is tricky to predict the class' performance until I have graded about one third of the students' papers (for larger classes, and one half for smaller classes).

Even then, unexpected things can come up. To ensure fairness as well as fulfill the minimum average grade required by the instructor, I often have to re-grade their papers multiple times. For example, when first grading Josh's work, I gave him 4/5 pts for question 1. After finding out some others did better than him (but still not entirely correct), I gave the other students 4/5 and take one more point from Josh, and this process keeps going on and on. As a result, when I return the assignments to the class, their papers are full of my corrections for their previously assigned points.

I did mention curving to the instructor, but he didn't seem to be OK with that. In fact, he manually re-graded the first HW instead of curving it, which made me feel bad (and insulted). It doesn't seem like the students have an issue with the way I grade, but I still wonder whether modifying the grades multiple times make me look unprepared/unprofessional?*

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    What the instructor is making you do is among the worst, most time-wasting mistakes one can make. Mar 21, 2018 at 11:14

2 Answers 2


To ensure fairness as well as fulfill the minimum average grade required by the instructor

The section I boldfaced seems completely illogical to me. If there is any concern about the difficulty of an assignment, this should be handled by adjusting the final grades, rather than the assignment-by-assignment grades. This can be handled by stating at the beginning of the semester something as simple as:

The instructor reserves the right to adjust the grading points downward on a uniformly sliding scale.

This allows the instructor to adjust for any roadbumps in the difficulty of assignments without having to making too many adjustments in the grades of individual assignments. This also gives students a truer sense of their performance than having grades arbitrarily raised to ensure an artificial minimum average. Also, because grades are uniformly adjusted (e.g., if an A was 90/100 and B was 80/100, and an A becomes 84/100, then B becomes 74/100), there's no room to complain about arbitrary curving of grades, except for the single selection of the D/F or A/B transition that would drive the process).

If there is no option but to change the grading rubric, I would instead use the following approach. If you know what the general flow of the problem is, take a random cross-sample of the students' papers—say 8 or 10—and compare their results with the standards. If you feel comfortable with the agreement between your standard and the homeworks you use, go ahead and grade the rest. If not, then make adjustments, add a few more papers, and repeat until you're satisfied. But regarding dozens of papers every time seems like a waste of everybody's time.

If you want to avoid looking unprofessional doing so, I'd mark lightly in pencil until you decide the final grading scheme. Once it's locked in, you can switch over to whatever you use and it will look "final," saving you from any potential embarrassment. But really, it's understood that people make mistakes and changes when grading, so I wouldn't worry too much about it overall.

  • I did mention curving to him, but he didn't seem to be ok with that. In fact, he manually re-graded the first HW instead of curving it, which makes me feel bad (and insulted). Another point is, many times, I feel that adjusting the points for a specific question in the HW, instead of curving the total grade, is more appropriate. Mar 21, 2018 at 4:10
  • I've tried to add an approach which might help you in that case. However, like I said, I think it's silly to curve or regrade individual assignments. It's a waste of time and doesn't actually give students a fair sense of their performance.
    – aeismail
    Mar 21, 2018 at 4:21
  • Thank you. My main question in the OP is that whether the way I grade makes me look unprepared/unprofessional in the eyes of the students? I don't mind spending a bit more time grading as my classes for now are relatively small in size. Mar 21, 2018 at 4:24
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    It's possible to mark up the student's work (identifying mistakes, suggesting corrections, etc.) without scoring it. I generally do this for enough papers to get a sense of what the students are doing well, what are common mistakes, and whether there's some problem with my initial scoring scheme. Then I go back and score the initial sample of papers and finally grade the rest of the stack. Another advantage is that if I've made some mistake in writing the question or in my solution to the problem it will quickly become apparent. Mar 21, 2018 at 4:26
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    @ASlowLearner You may just have a case where your philosophy of education is different from the professor's. Which is probably a good thing here, as what the professor seems to be doing are things that would be wildly unethical in research: forcing data to conform to a prior bias. I have done what Brian suggests, though: sampling a collection of papers/exams to see how reality compares with expectations so I can decide if an adjustment has to be made before grading in earnest; mostly with an eye towards identifying my own mistakes in constructing the question (awful, but it happens). Mar 21, 2018 at 4:29

Modifying the grades consumes extra time and effort in addition to that required by the grading itself, so regardless of professionality, you should try to avoid it. I assume that you have all (or large number) of assignments to grade available at once.

Your problem is that you start to grade to early.

First, read all the answers, mark mistakes, write comments, or whatever the standard procedure is. Do not assign any points except full points or no points, and those only in the situation where you are certain that that will be the final score. (Empty answer, total nonsense, perfect answer.)

You'll have to do this anyway, so it does not slow the process of grading. It gives you a good sense of the answers of the students, and so makes it easier to come up with the grading scheme (rubric, I guess, is the jargon here).

The next step is to write your grading scheme. Be as precise as you can, considering the successes and mistakes of the students. Ideally, this should so accurate that the actually grading would be merely comparing the assignment with the grading scheme, but this never happens in practice.

Before you start to grade, check a number of papers and which grades they would get. Check that this is appropriate. If yes, then grade the papers. If no, then revise your scheme and retry.

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    I don't like the first sentence: "X consumes time and effort, so you should not do it". In teaching, many good things take time and effort, and you should do them nonetheless if you want to be a good teacher. Otherwise a good answer, though. Mar 21, 2018 at 9:31
  • Grading itself consumes time and effort. So perhaps you should forego grading altogether, throw the exams from the top of a staircase, and assign grades depend on which step the exam landed on? This first sentence really doesn't make sense when you think about it.
    – user9646
    Mar 21, 2018 at 10:07
  • @lighthousekeeper Thanks, the first sentence was poorly worded. I of course meant that modifying the grades takes extra time and effort, in addition to what is required by grading itself. Edited.
    – Tommi
    Mar 21, 2018 at 12:06

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