Keep Your Calm with These 15 Time-Saving Tips for Grading

Help! I’m up late grading EVERY night, and I’m exhausted.

When you have a mountain of assignments to grade, sometimes even the best Netflix marathon can’t keep you from feeling overwhelmed. If you’re exhausted from staying up late correcting papers every night of the week, put down the red pen and read these teacher-tested tips for making it faster and easier to grade tests, quizzes, essays, and more.

1. Stamp student assignments.

Ellen L.G. Lucy, who’s been teaching for 35 years, says the best teacher tool she ever bought, at the recommendation of a colleague, was a rubber stamp from Vistaprint that says “Seen by Mrs. Lucy.” She stamps papers that she has perused—not corrected completely—so students and parents are aware. If you don’t want to buy a stamp, take Melissa Redden’s advice: Just put a large check mark on the paper in a noticeable color. “I tell parents at the beginning of the year the only grade book grades will be a number grade with a circle around it,” says Redden.

2. Color-code essays.

Students in Jamie Hales’ class color-code their essays before turning them in. She has them underline their main idea in one color, evidence in another color, and key vocabulary in a third color. “It forces them to make sure they have everything required before turning it in,” says Hales. “I can scan the essays to make sure the colors are all there.”

3. Use a scanner.

For grading multiple choice and true/false questions, you can save yourself hours of tedious work with a scanner. At only three pounds, Apperson’s DataLink 1200 is portable, so you still can do your grading at home if you run out of time at school. The best part is that it comes with DataLink Connect, free software that instantly spits out reports on student performance. So, instead of sorting through every quiz or test, you can quickly look over the report to find common errors and areas you may need to review in class the next day (and quickly get back to watching your favorite shows!).

4. Pass out colored pens.

Have students grade their own multiple choice quizzes and worksheets with a brightly colored pen, like red or green. Ronni Jones says she has her students place their pencils on the floor and asks her most trusted students to act as monitors. She likes the system because it provides kids with instant feedback. “You still have to check to be sure they’re being honest,” says Heather Galiszewski, who also uses this strategy. “I tell my students that if I see anything other than a red pen in their hands, they get an automatic zero.”

5. Grade one section at a time.


When Rebecca Bolton is grading assignments or tests, she first grades all multiple-choice questions for every student. Then she moves on to the second section and so on. She says it typically takes only about two minutes per student to grade her physics exams.

6. Stop using an answer key.

If you’re grading assignments, not formal assessments, correct one paper against another. Ellen L.G. Lucy learned this technique from a teacher friend. For example, put any two students’ papers side by side; find where the answers differ; and then check to see which one is correct. Lucy says this technique catches most errors.

7. Provide an answer blank.

“When I first started teaching, I thought I needed to look at every process on every problem for every student,” says math teacher Cindy Bullard. She started adding answer blanks so she could quickly focus on the areas where students need support. “If they have right answers, a quick scan tells me if their process and notation are correct,” says Bullard. Wendy Badeau uses a similar strategy to save time, which she learned from a fellow teacher: She asks her students to write any multiple-choice or true/false answers in the margins of their papers. “I can line up four or five papers and grade them all at the same time.”

8. Trade and grade.

Sarah Mattie has students write their ID numbers, instead of their names, on assignments. That way, when she asks students to trade papers and correct them, it not only saves her time, but it also keeps grades confidential.

9. Don’t grade everything.

Take a hint from Caitlin Valesco and give a completion grade on bellwork or work that is guided and/or done with a partner. Rather than collecting this work to correct, Valesco simply walks up and down the aisles with a clipboard and checks that the assignments have been completed. Kimberly Darron grades homework for completion by using a bingo dauber color-coding system: green dot for 100 percent complete; blue dot for 50 percent complete; and red dot for 0 percent complete. Darron says she also uses this system to grade journal entries when she’s just scanning for content completion.

10. Spot check during lessons.

Ellen L.G. Lucy often provides students with whiteboards and markers (or has them use the whiteboard app on their iPads) to have them work through math problems and hold up their answers. “The nice thing about this is you can quickly see who is understanding the concept by not only accurate answers but by who holds up their whiteboard the quickest,” says Lucy. Sarah Mattie also uses whiteboards for vocabulary assessment. She asks students to write down the words and hold them up.

11. Alphabetize assignments.

One of the student jobs in Anita Schmuecker’s classroom is to put all turned-in papers in alphabetical order. She says it helps her quickly enter the scores after she grades them.

12. Cut down on grading long assignments.

On longer assignments, Michelle Turner chooses a random 10–15 questions and grades those rather than the entire assignment. She says she chooses a different set of questions for each student.

13. Give verbal feedback.

“I’ve started providing more verbal feedback to students,” says Christa Barberis. “Assessment needs to be something students can work with, and it needs to be authentic,” says Barberis. She typically provides feedback on one aspect of the assignment in which a student did well and one aspect that needs improvement.

14. Use voice typing to dictate your comments.

When Sancha De Burcha needs to write extended feedback on assignments, she uses Google Docs’ voice-typing feature. She downloaded the app for her phone, which allows her to simply dictate her comments rather than write or type them. Bonus of using this method: You end up with a digital record of the feedback. De Burcha cautions, however, that you need to check for typos.

15. Mark all papers before entering grades.

Many teachers mark a single assignment and enter it into the grade book immediately. Mary Elizabeth Allcorn says she saves a lot of time by marking all papers first. She then sets up her grade book and inputs all of the grades at once.