The Five Stages of Grading


The Law Teacher, Volume 10, number 1 (Fall 2002), p. 15.

About the Author

Cindy G. Buys teaches at Southern Illinois University School of Law, Mailcode 6804, Carbondale, IL 62966; (618) 453-8743; fax (618) 453-8769; cbuys [at]

As a new law professor, I have just survived the emotional roller coaster of exam grading for the first time. In just two semesters, I have identified in myself the following five stages of grading:

I first approach my exams in a pleasant state of anticipation. (Remember, I'm a new law professor and I teach relatively small, upper-level, elective courses.) It was such a good class, with in-depth and widely participatory discussions. Surely, the learning I observed in the classroom will be evident on the exams. In fact, I think, the exam was probably too easy and I'll have trouble separating the good from the less good and applying the mandatory curve.

After grading the first set of essays, I am in a state of shock and disbelief. Where were these students all semester? They had to have been in the classroom since we have a mandatory attendance policy. Didn't they hear anything I said? Didn't they read? I'll be lucky to be able to pass a single student.

Next, I become angry. What a waste of my time. Why do I need to read their entire outline in the exam answer? Do they think I don't have anything better to do? Just answer the question asked! I specifically said, "Answer A, B, and C." How could this student have left out B entirely? Don't they read?

This is so depressing. I spent hours and hours planning and preparing for each class. I used new technology to help them learn better. I gave ungraded quizzes so they could assess their progress. I encouraged them to ask questions. Am I such an awful teacher that this is all they learned? Maybe it's my fault. Maybe my instructions weren't clear. Maybe I left out a crucial fact. I go back and re-read my essay question and instructions. No, it's all there.

Finally, acceptance. A few students actually correctly identified most of the issues. A few not only stated the correct legal test but applied it and supported their analysis with relevant facts. Someone was listening. These few bright spots sustain me and give me hope. I re-read all the answers and decide, on the whole, that they may not be what I had hoped for, but they are acceptable. I will try again next year.