Just Because I Grade You, Doesn’t Mean I’m Judging Your Intelligence

Just in time for the term to end, and grading to begin at many institutions, I wanted to write about how I, and almost all other instructors or professors I know, view the grading process. I think it’s important as a student to approach assignments with this view in mind, as it will help you to let go of some of the feelings or road blocks that may be currently holding you back.

A stamp on plywood stating "Grade B" in large block letters
Grade B: Upper Queen Street, Ruined House. By wonderferret. Available on Flickr: https://flic.kr/p/33XsFf

Just because I grade your work, doesn’t mean I judge your intelligence, or your abilities, or your worth as a human being or contribution as an individual. That’s not what grading assignments is about at all. At least, not to me.

When I grade students’ work, I’m looking at how well they met the goals of the particular assignment. Did they read the assignment instructions carefully and follow them? Have they viewed the rubric to see what I’m looking for from their work? Do they demonstrate a knowledge and understanding of the course principles, readings and other material needed to complete the assignment. On this one example, did they meet the goals as set out and defined for them? If a student, then, performs poorly on an assignment, I see it as simply that – they didn’t meet the expectations set out for THIS particular deliverable. Nothing more, nothing less.

Doing poorly on an assignment then, doesn’t cause me to judge a student’s innate abilities like intelligence, worth, capacity to succeed in life – because it’s not at all about that. Sometimes, I think that students become paralyzed by fear because they hold themselves up to impossibly high standards. When people are afraid of failure, they hold themselves back from opportunities for growth. I’ve seen some very creative work that didn’t quite meet the goals of the assignment enough to receive an A, but nonetheless spoke volumes about the student – in positive ways. I’ll address this in a future post, but the ability to take risks, fail, and learn from your failures is an ESSENTIAL part of learning. Learning isn’t always easy, and if you think that it should be you’re doing yourself a disservice.

So what DOES a lower mark on an assignment tell me about my students? It maybe tells me they could have spent a little more time reading, or proofreading, or spent more time on the assignment in general. It maybe tells me that they weren’t paying attention to the instructions or the rubric when they put the assignment together. Occasionally it helps me see opportunities to reinforce learning or make concepts even more clear. What it DOES NOT tell me is anything about the intelligence of the student. Very smart people can make mistakes on an individual assignment, or even a whole course. I myself have done both in my day.

So if there are any students reading this, please do not think that your professors judge you if you get a mark that is less than perfect. We know that this is no reflection on your character and we believe that you can achieve your goals. If you stop trying, or don’t put in the time, that is when you set yourself up for true failure. But if you engage with us, put in the time and attention you need, and take the steps to learn from your grade, we’ll be with you all the way to support your progress.






Just Because I Grade You, Doesn’t Mean I’m Judging Your Intelligence

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