Interpreting a Grade on Timed Writing

Grades, while imperfect, function as a marker of the writer= s success at the assignment. Students ought not to regard grades as a measure of their self worth or as an index of their instructor= s personal esteem. Grades correspond to values held by writing departments and teachers, and as such, can help students to understand the strengths of their own individual essays or to identify skills that need sharpening. In general, grades mean the following:

A 100-90. Excellent, outstanding. This paper reflects excellent work for the course level and serves as an example of the best possible response to the assignment. The writing shows a maturity of thought, sentence structure, and word choice well above the average. The argument, well-reasoned and supported, earns the reader= s respect. The paper exhibits very few errors of any kind and demonstrates that the author has paid attention to detail. Such a piece probably gave the writer pleasure in producing it, and surely gives the reader pleasure, too.

B 89-80. Good, strong. This paper responds appropriately to the assignment. It shows a maturity of thought, sentence structure, and word choice. A few errors may crop up, and indeed can make the difference between this grade and an A, but these errors should not interfere with the writer= s meaning. The argument earns the reader= s respect, even if the writer leaves room for improvement.

C 79-70. Adequate, average. This paper responds to the assignment adequately enough, but disappoints at some level. The thought, sentence structure, and word choice demonstrate an average command for the course level. The argument may overlook important concerns and leave something for the reader to expect. Errors, possibly serious ones, in grammar and punctuation, may detract from the solidity of the reading. The essay passes.

D 69-60. Disappointing, poor. A reader normally has difficulty reading such an essay. The writer may have misunderstood the assignment, written it carelessly, or failed to proofread it. The organizational plan may elude the reader. The argument may sound weak, unconvincing, biased, or dishonest. Errors may abound and create a distraction. Such an essay may create the impression that the writer lost track of the time or of the topic, ignored reviews of conventional grammar and punctuation, disregarded warnings to proofread or revise. The essay fails.

F 59-below. Failing, unacceptable. Typically, an essay like this one has too many errors. If not, such work may show a disregard for the topic, for the conventions of grammar, punctuation, or spelling, or for the tradition in argumentation. This paper may generate copious corrective remarks from the reader, who may stop reading in frustration. The essay fails.

No one wants to earn disappointing grades, but anyone can feel encouraged that a poor essay also offers the most opportunities for improvement. Correction of a single variety of error, for example, often markedly improves the readability of the essay.

An instructor= s written comments lead a student to textbook material most likely to help, and they also show students how to ask tutors for help. Teachers mark errors to give students an idea of what to work on when revising or writing the next paper. These marks, while they may seem to deface a writer= s work and magnify errors, can empower any student determined to use them to write better.

Dr. Cecile de Rocher