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Organizing Your Social Sciences Research Paper: Grading Someone Else's Paper


The act of grading someone else's paper [a.k.a., student peer grading, peer assessment; peer evaluation; self-regulated learning] is a cooperative learning technique that refers to activities conducted either inside or outside of the classroom whereby students review, evaluate, and, in some cases, actually recommend grades on the quality of their peer's work. Peer grading is usually guided by a rubric developed by the instructor. A rubric is a performance-based assessment tool that uses specific criteria as a basis for evaluation. An effective rubric makes grading more clear, consistent, and equitable.

Newton, Fred B. and Steven C. Ender. Students Helping Students: A Guide for Peer Educators on College Campuses. 2nd edition. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2010; Ramon-Casas, Marta et al. “The Different Impact of a Structured Peer-Assessment Task in Relation to University Undergraduates’ Initial Writing Skills.” Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education 44 (2019): 653-663.

The Benefits of Peer Grading

Professors assign students to grade the work of their classmates based on findings in educational research that suggests the act of grading someone else's paper increases positive learning outcomes for students. Professors use peer grading as a way for students to practice recognizing quality research, with the hope that this will carry over to their own work, and as an aid to improving group performance or determining individual effort on team projects. Grading someone else's paper can also enhance learning outcomes by empowering students to take ownership over the selection of criteria used to evaluate the work of peers [the rubric]. Finally, professors may assign peer grading as a way to engage students in the act of seeing themselves as members of a community of researchers.

Other potential benefits include:

  1. Increasing the amount of feedback students receive about their work;
  2. Providing the instructor with an opportunity to verify student’s understanding, or lack of understanding, of key concepts or other course content;
  3. Encouraging students to be actively involved with, and to take responsibility for, their own learning;
  4. Providing an opportunity for reinforcing essential skills that can be used in professional life, including an ability to effectively assess the work of others and to become comfortable with having one's own work evaluated by others, and facilitating key skills, such as, self-reflection, time management, team skills building;
  5. Fostering a more in-depth and comprehensive process for understanding and analyzing a research problem through repetition and reinforcement of key criteria essential to learning a task;
  6. Providing motivation for improvement in course assignments and a more comprehensive perspective on learning; and,
  7. Can assist in deepening the student’s own perception of their learning style and ways of knowing [at a higher cognitive level, this is known as reflexivity, or, the process of understanding one's own contribution to the construction of meaning throughout the research process].

Boud, David, Ruth Chen, and Jane Sampson. "Peer Learning and Assessment." Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education 24 (1999): 413-426; Huisman, Bart et al. “The Impact of Formative Peer Feedback on Higher Education Students’ Academic Writing: A Meta-Analysis.” Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education 44 (September 2019): 863-880; Dochy, Filip et al. "The Use of Self-, Peer, and Co-Assessment in Higher Education: A Review." Studies in Higher Education 24 (1999): 331-350; Falchikov, Nancy. Improving Assessment through Student Involvement: Practical Solutions for Aiding Learning in Higher and Further Education. New York: Routledge/Falmer, 2005; Huisman, Bart, Nadira Saab, Jan van Driel, and Paul van den Broek. “Peer Feedback on Academic Writing: Undergraduate Students’ Peer Feedback Role, Peer Feedback Perceptions and Essay Performance.” Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education 43 (2018): 955-968; Ryan, Mary Elizabeth, editor. Teaching Reflective Learning in Higher Education: A Systematic Approach using Pedagogic Patterns. New York: Springer, 2014; Sadler, Philip M. and Eddie Good. "The Impact of Self- and Peer-Grading on Student Learning." Educational Assessment 11 (2006): 1-31;Topping, Keith J. “Peer Assessment.” Theory Into Practice 48 (2009): 20-27; Rachael Hains-Wesson. Peer and Self Assessment. Deakin Learning Futures, Deakin University, Australia.

How to Approach Peer Grading Assignments

I.  Best Practices

Best practices in peer assessment vary depending on the type of assignment or project you are evaluating and the type of course you are taking. A good quality experience also depends on having a clear and accurate rubric that effectively presents the proper criteria and standards for the assessment. The process can be intimidating, but know that everyone probably feels the same way you do when first informed you will be evaluating the work of others--cautious and uncomfortable!

Given this, the following questions should be answered by your professor before beginning:

  • Exactly who [which students] will be evaluated and by whom?
  • What does the evaluation include? What parts are not to be evaluated?
  • At what point during a group project or the assignment will the evaluation be done?
  • What learning outcomes are expected from this exercise?
  • How will their peers’ evaluation affect everyone's grades?
  • What form of feedback will you receive regarding how you evaluated your peers?

II.  Things to Consider

When informed that you will be assessing the work of others, consider the following:

  1. Carefully read the rubric given to you by the professor. If he/she hasn't distributed a rubric, be sure to clarify what guidelines or rules you are to follow and specifically what parts of the assignment or group project are to be evaluated. If you are asked to help develop a rubric, ask to see examples. The design and content of assessment rubrics can vary considerably and it is important to know what your professor is looking for.
  2. Consider how your assessment should be reported. Is it simply a rating [i.e., rate 1-5 the quality of work], are points given for each item graded [i.e., 0-20 points], are you expected to write a brief synopsis of your assessment, or is it any combination of these approaches? If you are asked to write an evaluation, be concise and avoid subjective or overly-broad modifiers. Whenever possible, cite specific examples of either good work or work you believe does not meet the standard outlined in the rubric.
  3. Clarify how you will receive feedback from your professor regarding how effectively you assessed the work of your peers. Take advantage of receiving this feedback to discuss how the rubric could be improved or whether the process of completing the assignment or group project was enhanced using peer grading methods.

III.  General Evaluative Elements of a Rubric

In the social and behavioral sciences, the elements of a rubric used to evaluate a writing assignment depend upon the content and purpose of the assignment. Rubrics are often presented in print or online as a grid with evaluative statements about what constitutes an effective, somewhat effective, or ineffective element of the content.

Here are the general types of assessment that your professor may ask you to examine or that you may want to consider if you are asked to help develop the rubric.

Grammar and Usage

The writing is free of misspellings. Words are capitalized correctly. There is proper verb tense agreement. The sentences are punctuated correctly and there are no sentence fragments or run-on sentences. Acronyms are spelled out when first used. The paper is neat, legible, and presented in an appropriate format. If appropriate, all non-textual elements [e.g., charts, graphs, tables, pictures, etc.] are labeled correctly and described in the text to help support an understanding the overall purpose of the paper.

Focus and Organization

The paper is structured logically. The research problem and supporting questions or hypotheses are clearly articulated and systematically addressed. Content is presented in an effective order that supports understanding of the main ideas or critical events. The narrative flow possesses overall unity and coherence and it is appropriately developed by means of description, example, illustration, or definition that effectively defines the scope of what is being investigated. Conclusions or recommended actions reflect astute connections to more than one perspective or point of view.

Elaboration and Style

The introduction engages your attention. Descriptions of ideas, concepts, events, and people are clearly related to the research problem. There is appropriate use of technical or specialized terminology required to make the content clear. Where needed, descriptions of cause and effect outcomes, compare and contrast, and classification and division of findings are effectively presented. Arguments, recommendations, best practices, or lessons learned are supported by the evidence gathered and presented. Limitations are acknowledged and described. Sources are selected from a variety of scholarly and creative sources that provide valid support for studying the problem. All sources are properly cited using a standard writing style.

Hodgsona, Yvonne, Robyn Benson, and Charlotte Brack. “Student Conceptions of Peer-Assisted Learning.” Journal of Further and Higher Education 39 (2015): 579-597; Getting Feedback. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Gueldenzoph, Lisa E. and Gary L. May. “Collaborative Peer Evaluation: Best Practices for Group Member Assessments.” Business and Professional Communication Quarterly 65 (March 2002): 9-20; Huisman, Bart et al. “Peer Feedback on College Students' Writing: Exploring the Relation between Students' Ability Match, Feedback Quality and Essay Performance.” Higher Education Research and Development 36 (2017): 1433-1447; Lladó, Anna Planas et al. “Student Perceptions of Peer Assessment: An Interdisciplinary Study.” Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education 39 (2014): 592-610; Froyd, Jeffrey. Peer Assessment and Peer Evaluation. The Foundation Coalition; Newton, Fred B. and Steven C. Ender. Students Helping Students: A Guide for Peer Educators on College Campuses. 2nd edition. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2010; Liu, Ngar-Fun and David Carless. “Peer Feedback: The Learning Element of Peer Assessment.” Teaching in Higher Education 11 (2006): 279-290; Peer Review. Psychology Writing Center. Department of Psychology. University of Washington; Revision: Peer Editing--Serving As a Reader. The Reading/Writing Center. Hunter College; Peer Review.  Writing@CSU. Colorado State University; Suñola, Joan Josep et al. “Peer and Self-Assessment Applied to Oral Presentations from a Multidisciplinary Perspective.” Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education 41 (2016): 622-637; Writer's Choice: Grammar and Composition. Writing Assessment and Evaluation Rubrics. New York: Glencoe-McGraw-Hill, n.d.