Grading Rubric

Dara Rossman Regaignon

An A-range essay is both ambitious and successful. It demonstrates mastery of the “Elements of the Academic Essay” with grace and confidence. It includes:

  • an interesting, arguable thesis that is sufficiently limited in scope, presented early and developed throughout the essay;
  • a logical, progressive structure that takes the reader on a journey, developing, complicating, and expanding the initial thesis by considering counter-arguments; strong and clear links between points, and well-organized paragraphs;
  • sufficient, appropriate, and interesting evidence, presented in a readable and understandable way;
  • original and insightful analysis, that shows how the evidence supports the thesis, and that goes beyond summary or paraphrase;
  • deep and thoughtful engagement with sources that uses those sources in a range of ways, including to motivate and support the argument, provide key-terms, and so on; it integrates and cites sources correctly; and
  • a style that is both conversational and sophisticated; that uses diction appropriate to the subject matter and the audience; that engages and stimulates the reader.


A B-range essay is one that is ambitious but only partially successful, or one that achieves modest aims well. It exhibits one or more of the following features:

  • a thesis that may be arguable but vague, uninteresting, or fragmentary; it may be implied rather than stated directly (or stated quite late); it may be dropped in places;
  • a structure that proceeds logically most of the time or in general, but is periodically confusing due to missing links or large intellectual leaps; it might be overly predictable and undeveloped, with few complications; it may include disorganized paragraphs;
  • evidence that is generally solid but may be thin in places, or might be presented without analysis (as undigested quotation);
  • analysis that is at times insightful but sometimes either simply summary or entirely absent; that makes inconsistent or illogical connections between evidence and thesis;
  • sources that are quoted and cited correctly (for the most part) but are deployed in limited ways—as a straw person or as simple confirmation of the author’s viewpoint;
  • a style that is clear but lacking in sophistication; or that is weighed down by inappropriately fancy diction; may demonstrate some errors in punctuation, grammar, spelling, and format.


A C-range essay typically has significant problems in articulating and presenting its argument, or seems to lack a central argument entirely. Its features include one or more of the following:

  • a thesis that is either vague and descriptive, or is a buried unifying concept that is implied rather than stated directly;
  • a structure that is imposed externally (by the five-paragraph template, or by the ideas and structure of its sources) or is confusing (showing signs of movement toward a logical progression of ideas but still making huge, unmotivated intellectual leaps); that includes few complications or counter-arguments; that exhibits disorganized, often overly descriptive, paragraphs;
  • insufficient evidence, often presented without analysis as undigested quotations; may be taken out of context;
  • analysis that has moments of insight but is generally missing or simply summary and may include some misreadings;
  • sources that are not adequately situated or explained; that may be quoted and cited incorrectly; that are used simply as filler or as affirmation of the author’s viewpoint;


A D-range essay has trouble engaging with the assignment and may not show awareness of the conventions of academic discourse; it does, however, show signs of attempting to engage with the ideas, expectations, and sources of the assignment. It may be somewhat short of the assigned length, and is likely to exhibit some of the following features:

  • a thesis that fails to move beyond the level of observation or description; and that does not guide the essay;
  • a structure that is disorganized or aimless at the level of the essay and of the paragraph;
  • a failure to engage sufficiently with sources; as a result, it may misread them in significant ways;
  • little or no analysis of information or sources (i.e., no evidence);


The difference between an essay in the D range and an essay that merits a failing grade lies primarily in differences in 1) length, 2) degree of engagement with the assignment and sources, and 3) presence of original thought. Specifically, a failing essay

  • is significantly shorter than the assigned length;
  • addresses the assignment superficially but doesn’t offer any original insight;
  • may cite sources but doesn’t grapple with either sources or ideas.

An essay that is less than half the assigned length and does not fulfill the basic expectations of the assignment does not count as successful completion of the assignment and puts the student in jeopardy of failing the course. If a student turns in inadequate work, he or she should be given the opportunity to turn in an essay that would fulfill the assignment by a new deadline. If he or she fails to submit at least a substantial draft of the essay by this new date, and has not documented a medical problem or family emergency, he or she may be given a failing grade in the course.