6. What to Do with Your Marked Essay

After you have seen what your grade is, try to figure out what it means. Of course it adheres to the university scale: A = excellent, B = good, C+ = satisfactory, C = adequate, D = marginal, and F = failing; but you need to know much more. Is your essay good because you have presented a worthwhile argument in a competent manner, or is it merely good because your brilliant ideas were not well presented or well supported? Is your essay poor because it simply did not have much to say, or because it did not address the assignment, or because your good interpretation was seriously marred by faulty grammar? Assess your writing by carefully rereading what you’ve written, checking the terms of the assignment, and checking the literature you have written about.

Errors in writing may be marked using the abbreviations from your writing manual, or see the next section below, “Marking Symbols and Abbreviations.” If you don’t immediately see what the mistake is, or if you don't see how to correct it, refer to your writing manual—either to the inside cover or to the index, and then to the relevant section of the manual to read a fuller explanation. For errors in spelling, usage, word choice, diction, or idiom, consult your dictionary as well. If you are still unable to understand what is wrong, ask your instructor.

To deal with the markings on your paper most effectively, sort them out according to the kind of correction required:

  1. Mistakes in grammar, spelling, punctuation, and documentation are usually straightforward. Faulty writing usually lowers your grade; if grammatical errors obscure your meaning, they could lower the grade even more. Be sure you understand the relevant rules or conventions; then write out your corrections so that you'll be less likely to repeat them. Keep a checklist to help you detect errors when revising future essays.
  2. Problems with diction, usage, sentence structure, clarity, and logic may range from weak or ineffective to outright mistaken. These often require more careful analysis and assessment to figure out the best revision.
  3. Weaknesses in development and mistaken or inaccurate use of details require you to go back to the literary work to check accuracy, balance, and thoroughness.
  4. The overall shape of your essay—its unity, coherence, paragraph structure, and organization—may need strengthening or reforming. The effectiveness and achievement of your essay depend upon these matters of form as well as matters of substance.
  5. Consider how the good ideas in your essay could be sharpened, strengthened, extended, or developed further

If after reviewing these matters carefully you do not understand the markings or comments on your paper, ask your instructor. Also, if you are not sure how to go about correcting the mistakes or addressing the problems in your paper, discuss the matter with your instructor. If you ignore or forget your mistakes, you are apt to repeat them.

If, after carefully reviewing your paper and the relevant literature, you feel that your grade is unfair, the instructor may reconsider it if you will write an explanation of what you think is unfair in the marking. You might want to answer any questions that the comments raise, clarify points that you think the marker did not understand, and support your argument against any objections the marker may have made.

Try to learn as much as you can from your marked essay, and make notes to help yourself write a better essay next time and a better final exam. Keep your essays during the year and have them available whenever you have a conference with the instructor or teaching assistant.

Return to Top

7: Marking Symbols and Abbreviations