|Grading Standards for College Essays - An Overview
Characteristics that differentiate an ‘A’ and ‘B’ essay – Both grade levels are exceptionally well-written and well-organized.
Expression – Concise diction, active voice, and originality of expression differentiate an ‘A’ and ‘B’ essay.
Syntax, vocabulary, and usage (verb choice, point of view) are concise with an appropriate voice and formal level of diction.
The essay clearly differentiates between denotation and connotation with an effective originality of expression. Sentence structures vary and have a level of complexity appropriate to the content.
Content – An original, thoughtful analysis differentiates an ‘A’ or ‘B’ essay.
The essay has a focused and manageable thesis, based on the assignment and/or prompt with sufficient and reasonable evidence as paraphrased and documented examples, followed by an original and thoughtful commentary or analysis. If appropriate, the essay addresses effectively opposing viewpoints and balances thoughtfully evidence and discussion.
Organization – Effective transitions that promote both content and analysis differentiate an ‘A’ or ‘B’ essay.
The essay’s introductory paragraph and central thesis statement provide an explanation of the topic’s significance, and/or background/context, positioned appropriately in the paragraph. Each body paragraph consistently supports the thesis in clear, precise topic sentences, followed by support examples, evidence, and analysis/commentary.
Transitions and other connecting devices between and within paragraphs create a coherent focus on the thesis. Supporting evidence integrates documented sources with analysis and discussion. The concluding paragraph touches effectively on the essay’s main points with a significant conclusion that clearly stems from the evidence and reasoning.
Basic Grammar / Documentation – Consistent attention to grammar and documentation differentiates an ‘A’ and ‘B’ essay.
The essay documents all sources accurately, based on the MLA style guide. The essay presents a professional appearance and contains very few or no typos and/or errors in mechanics (punctuation, etc.), including spelling and basic grammar.
Characteristics of a ‘C’ Essay – A ‘C’ essay fulfills the basic requirements of a college essay.
Expression – Vague and inaccurate voice and diction, coupled with a lack of sentence variety and subordination.
Although word choice is generally precise, at times the voice and diction may be either indirect or inappropriate. Sentence structures vary, but in some places monotonous and/or simplistic language clouds the content.
Content – Lack of focus or consistently addressing the thesis.
The subject is appropriate for college-level work and fulfills the requirements of the prompt or assignment but has no significant or original focus on thesis support and examples. Some commentary and analysis may need additional evidence. The discussion demonstrates thoughtfulness, though it may contain some lapses in logic and reasoning. Although the essay addresses and acknowledges opposing viewpoints when appropriate, the commentary or analysis may misrepresent the meaning or intent of the subject or thesis. The ratio between evidence and discussion has no consistent balance.
Organization – Lack of consistent and appropriate focus on a specific thesis with respect to transition and evidence.
The essay contains an introductory paragraph that leads to the thesis statement, but the essay’s central point is too broad, too narrow, or imprecise as relates to the controlling idea in the paragraph; supporting evidence at times strays from the point followed by little or no analysis or commentary. Although essay exhibits a clear organizational pattern, some areas need stronger transitions and other connecting devices to create coherence between and within paragraphs.
Supporting evidence from sources integrate into the discussion, but in some areas the integration needs logical transitions and connections. A concluding paragraph restates and/or summarizes the essay’s points and stems from the evidence and reasoning, though the connection may need more emphasis and preciseness.
Basic Grammar / Documentation
Sources may have some MLA format documentation errors. A number of typos and/or errors in spelling, grammar, mechanics (punctuation, etc.), and/or format detract from the essay’s credibility.
Characteristics of a ‘D’ Essay – The essay contains significant weaknesses in most areas of composition.
Vocabulary, usage, and voice are often imprecise or inappropriate for college-level work and may include clichés or slang.
Sentence structure does not vary. Language may be monotonous or repetitive. Clauses sometimes lack logical connections.
The subject (lack of a thesis) is too broad, too narrow, too vague, or too simplistic for college-level work and may fail to fulfill one or more of the basic requirements of the assignment or prompt. Paragraphs do not provide sufficient and/or specific supporting evidence for assertions and arguments. The essay may contain several significant lapses in reasoning and does not acknowledge opposing viewpoints. The essay lacks or misrepresents supporting examples and sources, whether quotes or paraphrases. Discussion and evidence from sources lacks balance.
The introductory paragraph is either missing, inadequate, or does not relate or lead to the thesis statement. Although the essay contains a thesis statement, it may be too broad, too narrow, too vague, or may appear in a succeeding paragraph. Body paragraphs have no controlling ideas or topic sentences, and/or topic sentences do not relate clearly to the thesis. Support evidence may stray from the point.
Neither does the essay follow an organizational pattern. Transitions within and/or between paragraphs may be lacking or inappropriate. Supporting evidence from sources does not integrate coherently. The concluding paragraph fails to touch on the main points of the essay, nor does it stem logically from the essay’s thesis and supporting points.
Basic Grammar / Documentation
Sources do not always receive proper credit and documentation. At times, the essay does not cite references according to the MLA style format. Neither does the essay present a professional appearance. Frequent typos or errors in spelling, grammar, mechanics (punctuation, etc.), and/or format detract substantially from the essay’s credibility.
Characteristics of an ‘F’ Essay – The essay fails to fulfill the basic requirements of a college essay.
Language is imprecise, monotonous, repetitive, or inappropriate for college-level work. Sentence structure does not vary sufficiently. Clauses lack logical connections.
The subject is too simplistic for college-level work. It is too broad, too narrow, or too vague, and fails to meet significant requirements of the assignment or prompt. The essay does support assertions with specific and or sufficient evidence. The essay contains frequent lapses in reasoning, nor does it acknowledge opposing viewpoints. The essay does not accurately paraphrase and/or summarize sources, thus misrepresenting their intent.
The essay has no introductory paragraph or thesis statement, and paragraphs lack controlling ideas. The essay does not follow an organizational plan. Supporting evidence does not introduce and integrate sources and evidence into the discussion and analysis, nor does the essay have a concluding paragraph.
Basic Grammar / Documentation
The essay does not credit sources (plagiarism), nor does it cite references according to the MLA style format.
The essay does not present a professional appearance and contains frequent typos or errors in spelling, grammar, mechanics (punctuation, etc.), and/or format, including sentence fragments, comma splices, and/or run-on sentences.
(Adapted from: “Grading Standards for College Papers”. English Department, College of Southern Maryland, 2004).