One of the most common questions heard and read in teacher forums is how to grade a test or assignment. It’s something most credential programs don’t teach. Once you’re in the classroom you might have district norms for grading student work, or you might just be on your own. 

Which group are you in?

  1. ✅My district has norms for grading.
  2. ✅I have to figure out grading on my own.

I was in group # 2 when I started teaching. I tried a couple of different methods, but once I figured out how to grade quickly, and effectively, I could finally get off the grading hamster wheel!

How-to-grade-a-test with a hamster in a pink hamster wheel in the background

Grading a Test or Assignment Faster With a Rubric

Set your intention for each assignment. Decide what are the critical components you want to grade. Begin with the end in mind.

You can find rubrics online and possibly your textbooks or teacher manuals have rubrics included in them. However, I usually find those to be more general than what I like to use.

I create my own rubrics and tailor them to the specific one or two skills that I want the students to master. Do I want them to practice using transition words in their writing? I have a rubric that only focuses on that. Do I want them to master that difficult hook at the beginning of a narrative? I write a rubric specifically for that.

When you assign something to your students, you can go over the rubric with them. Since they know exactly what’s expected of them, they’re more likely to hit the mark. When you grade their work, it goes super quickly.

One more thing I discovered by using rubrics. When I graded student writing, using the specific skills noted, they often outperformed my expectations. Now that’s something every teacher would like to see.

A writing rubric on top of colored paper with a colored pen.

Grade Student Work With Multiples of 10

As much as possible, make all your tests and assignments total up to points that are multiples of ten. 

The reason for this comes from the good old days when teachers had to calculate all the student grades by hand. It was faster and easier to calculate based on tens. 

Even though today we have grading systems that do all the calculations for us, it’s still mentally easier if the possible points are based on tens.

It’s also an easy way to weight assignments. If it’s an everyday routine item, give it ten points. If it’s a quiz, give it 50. If you want to grade a test and weight it even higher, you can make it worth 100 points. Whichever way you choose, the consistency of tens across the gradebook makes the weighting and calculating much easier.

Use a Grading Sheet for Each Assignment

I know, this sounds like extra work, but it’s actually a strategy that will save you hours of time.

Assignment cover sheet with emoji erasers on colored paper.

This image is the actual half sheet that I kept on my desk clipped to the folders that had returned work in them. When I looked over the papers, I noted the grade on it. If I didn’t have time to put it in the gradebook right away, it wasn’t a problem. 

At the beginning of the year, I entered all the students’ names on the sheet. Each term, I printed the sheets in a different color. I used blue for term 1, green for term 2, and yellow for term 3. It’s just my way of color coordinating. It’s really handy to have the sheets printed and ready for anything…grading, tallying votes in class, marking informal small group work. You’ll probably think of plenty more ways to use it.

This is part of a larger system for grading that uses color coded folders. If you use this system, you’ll never have random piles of paper on your desk again. (Unless you want those random piles!)

The grades were recorded on this half sheet. Students got their papers back right away, whether they were digital or physical. I could enter the grades later when I had the time. It may not sound like much, but this one small thing was a game changer. If you want to grab a copy for free, it’s available in the Members’ Vault. 

Grade Writing F.A.S.T.

I have a system that makes grading writing fly by. Literally. You can get all of your grading for writing assignments done before you leave the classroom. In fact, most of the grading happens during class time. You can learn about the F.A.S.T. system in my course Building Strong Writers with Simple Systems. You can watch the first module for free and see the topics for the entire curriculum when you click the link.

Consider Weekly Formative Assessments Instead of Homework

I’ll never forget when my son was very little, and was in his first swim classes. A math teacher’s daughter was in the same class. While the children were splashing and laughing, this poor woman would sit in the bleachers with a cardboard box full of math papers to grade. (Literally, a cardboard box full!) I always thought about how sad it was that she had to spend so much time grading homework papers that she couldn’t relax and enjoy her sweet little daughter’s swim time.

It’s something many teachers never talk about. But Juliana of the CollaboratEd blog has written a raw and honest post about the truth behind homework. 

Let’s face the truth about homework. Some students do it, some don’t, and some have their parents or siblings do it for them. Am I right? 

Juliana writes about how she mindfully transformed homework in her upper grade math class to something manageable and enjoyable. I love how she made homework more meaningful. She turned the concept on its head by making it into a formative assessment that took less time to grade than traditional homework.

A formative assessment infographic with three tips.


If You Must Have Homework, Don’t Grade It

Instead of grading it, just check if it’s done or not. Students who do their homework will do better in class because of the extra practice. You’ll know who is doing homework and who isn’t by their performance. 

You can give an incentive to do homework, such as a few minutes of free time to visit with friends each week, or something that doesn’t cost you any money or extra effort.

I have a homework choice page which gives students the ability to choose how they practice core skills, and when. Students all need to practice core reading, spelling, and math skills. 

I sent home a paper each week with the choices on it. I changed the sheet every six weeks to reflect the current classroom topics. Students practiced, parents signed, and the students returned the paper on Friday. 

The beauty of this system? I didn’t have to grade anything. I logged the completed work on my Assignment Cover Sheet. Then I updated the gradebook to show how many weeks each student had completed their homework. 

Instead of a grade, it was a note on their progress reports. For example, “Juanita completed homework 5 out of 6 weeks.” It left the accountability on the students, which is where it should be. The parents were pleased with the system too, because it gave them some flexibility around work, sports schedules, and all the other things that life is full of.

You can see the No Prep Homework Choice Board system in my Teachers Pay Teachers store.

[click_to_tweet tweet=”Transform homework into a thing of beauty. Or at least into a formative assessment that only takes minutes to grade.” quote=”Transform homework into a thing of beauty. Or at least into a formative assessment that only takes minutes to grade.” theme=”style3″]

Use Teacher Gradebooks That Calculate the Grades for You

Everyone has their own preferences around gradebooks. Some schools require teachers to use a proprietary gradebook. Others allow for teacher choice.

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know I’m all about saving time. So I created some gradebooks in Google Sheets (™) that have drop-down lists for standards and calculate the grades for you. I’ve input the standards for ELA, Math, NGSS, and History Social Studies, so you don’t have to. You can read more about standards based grading in this blog post.

When you post an assignment, choose the standard from a list. Add the total points. As the students turn it in, it calculates the grades for you. 

This gradebook even has a progress report page that you can quickly print out before a parent meeting, an IEP meeting, or any other time you need to quickly show the current academic standing of a student. 

Seventh grade teacher gradebook on a tablet.

You can get the gradebooks for Kindergarten through 8th Grade. 

Curriculum Map or Make a Syllabus

Of course, making a curriculum map or a syllabus is another way of getting off the grading hamster wheel. If you have your lessons mapped out in advance, you can be mindful of what you’ll be collecting and grading. This is going to save you time as you move through the year. 

Have you ever assigned too much work and ended up staring at mountains of grading? Have you ever known of a teacher who quietly “lost” a few assignments because of the grading overwhelm? Your curriculum map will help you avoid that situation.

On the other hand, if you mapped your year, you won’t ever look aghast at your gradebook two weeks before report cards and realize you didn’t teach a certain topic or standard. 

You’ll be able to sit back stress free, knowing you hit all the themes you needed to, and put them into your gradebook.

[click_to_tweet tweet=”Making a curriculum map or a syllabus is a quick way of getting off the grading hamster wheel. Plan ahead with intention.” quote=”Making a curriculum map or a syllabus is a quick way of getting off the grading hamster wheel. Plan ahead with intention.” theme=”style3″]

If that sounds good to you, consider joining my free five day video course to learn how to curriculum map your year. It’s self-paced independent study, and it will change your teaching life. You can sign up below. Or you can watch the video

Plan Your Year Like a Boss In Five Days or Less.

Ciao for now, my friend!





If you want even more ideas, here’s a related post from The Problem Solving Teacher. 7 Strategies to Simplify Classroom Grading