June 22, 2023

Making the most of grading and assessment with limited resources

Manjinder Kainth, PhD

What is grading and assessment, and what are their differences?

Though occasionally used interchangeably, assessment and grading are not quite the same thing. As Turnitin succinctly puts it: “Assessment does not always include grades, but grading is always a part of assessment.”

Think bank statements! Grading tells you a student’s current financial position, which you could then perhaps compare to their worth last month, or other students’ worth. Assessments will go into granular detail, itemising income and expenditure.

Or to take a journey metaphor, if you prefer. Grading will place your coordinates on the map. Assessment will tell you how you got there and outline your next steps.

Assessment is best seen as an umbrella term. It may or may not include grading.

Assessments could include CATs (Classroom Assessment Techniques) such as quizzes, asking questions, or simply a show of hands. Concept maps are popular: they can quickly show whether students understand key concepts and their relationships.

Grading is one type of assessment. It entails “grades”, or some form of measurement or value in the form of letters, numbers, marks, percentages, or perhaps even a simple pass / fail. In short, it sums up an evaluation of quality.

Both grading and assessment make an impact on student learning outcomes – and your teaching!

The key thing is not to lose sight of the ultimate aim of grading and assessment: learning.

Stassen, Doherty, and Poe’s seminal 2001 handbook “Course-based review and assessment: methods for understanding student learning” defines assessment as “the systematic collection and analysis of information to improve student learning.” (Stassen et al., 2001, page 5). That is the thing to keep in mind.

Grades tell students about their progress with the learning: where they are in relation to their past selves or other benchmarks. Assessment will give the bigger (personalised) picture. Done well, grading and assessment provide valuable insight into whether the students are engaging with and understanding the key principles? Or seen from the other side, is your teaching working? Assessment and grading, therefore, have a crucial diagnostic and trouble-shooting function. They keep both student and teacher on track. They also use up a significant amount of resources, in terms of time and money.

Let’s look at how we can save resources and the merits of each approach.

1. Pre-written content

Raised on education technology such as Seneca and StudyTubers like Ali Abdaal, modern students are increasingly savvy about the learning process, and they want to play a part in it. Many are aware of the importance of active learning techniques such as spaced repetition and retrieval practice. Tap into that.

Students might share assessment resources between classes or year groups, writing quizzes and flashcards for each other, for example. All this doubles up as learning tasks in themselves. Furthermore, sharing their resources ensures a greater sense of ownership or investment in the learning and assessment process.

  1. Ungraded (unweighted) content

Arriving at just the right grade, along with writing detailed feedback, takes precious time, and the grades themselves can get in the way of learning. A student’s internal monologue – questions such as “How will I do in this assessment? Will I pass?” – can be a huge distraction, deflecting from what really matters: where to go next with their learning. Unweighted assessment, on the other hand, does not impact grades, meaning students can practise without fear of how they’ll perform or measure up.

Some may argue that low-stakes assessment can result in low buy-in from students: “This doesn’t count for the final grade? Why bother?” And the assessment, itself, may still require some form of feedback and, therefore, take up time. We believe, however, in the merits of slowly shifting the culture. If, over time, we introduce and promote the importance of this process, then students will see it as liberating. No longer shackled by performance anxiety, students are free to learn from rather than worry about mistakes.

Moreover, if there is less pressure on you, the teacher, to write detailed feedback, you can invest more time in oral feedback and building relationships with your students.

  1. Automation

We wrote about this recently.


Automated grading systems, which use algorithms to assess and grade assignments or exams automatically, are most suited to objective, well-defined, easily quantifiable assessments, such as multiple-choice, true/false, or fill-in-the-blank questions. They provide lots of opportunities for students to practise – and improve – without taking up hours of teacher time.

The likes of Kahoot, which set up questions, quizzes, and surveys, can be motivating and fun, especially in large lecture theatres where “discussion” is often rather one-way. They also enable you to quickly identify common strengths and weaknesses in your students.

·       Which questions did everyone get right?

·       Which questions took the longest?

·       Which questions posed the most difficulties?

 Such instantaneous feedback is invaluable – for you and them. 

  1. Graide

Of course, it would be remiss of us not to mention Graide. We have over 10 years’ teaching experience between us, and we created the software to make limited time and resources go further.

Graide provides speedy, high-quality feedback, as the AI learns and then replicates how you mark, so you don’t have to correct the same answers – including the mistakes – again and again. The amount of time saved by the software will only increase year on year.

How our artificial intelligence engine works | Graide

Final thoughts

To finish with Stassen et al., assessment and grading are there for students and teachers.

It “focuses on assessing student learning and experience to determine whether students have acquired the skills, knowledge, and competencies associated with their program of study”, while “collect[ing] information on the success of a program, course, or University curriculum” in order to “improve institutional practices”.

Grading and assessment are key motivators, providing key markers or milestones on the learning journey. Without something to aim for or guide rails along the way, students can drift. Or to return to our money metaphor, building up savings in the learning bank can be both reassuring and inspiring.

Manjinder Kainth, PhD
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I’ve been intricately involved in teaching for many years. I have over 6 years of private tutoring experience, taught in higher education, and most recently worked on designing and delivering crash courses for a high school.