Returning Graded Material


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When it comes to grading, finding a comfortable turnaround time is important. After students have submitted an assignment or taken an exam, you should try to get these materials graded and returned as soon as possible. Some teachers pride themselves on having a turnaround time of only 1 week. But graduate student instructors, who are often balancing the courses they are taking with the courses they are teaching, may not be able to get things graded that quickly. Two rules of thumb may be helpful here:

  • Give students a reasonable timeline when they turn in assignments or take exams. You will be surprised to see how long students are willing to wait for their grades, so long as they know when to expect them. Giving students a timeline also helps keep you, the grader, motivated and accountable.
  • Give students enough time to benefit from your assessment before the next assignment or exam. For example, if you have assigned more than one paper, make sure that you grade and return the first paper well in advance of the second paper's due date. It is important to get the first exam back quickly, as this assessment may prompt changes in students' engagement with the course material.

When it comes to returning graded papers and exams, it is generally best to hand things back at or near the end of classtime. This will prevent distraction and disengagement or hostility from students who are unhappy with their grade.


There are a number of different techniques for preserving confidentiality when returning graded materials in class. You should:

  • Return quizzes and exams face down
  • Put the grade on the last page of a written assignment
  • Avoid handing materials out in the order of grades (high to low or low to high)

If you are posting exam grades instead of returning exams, use student ID numbers or student-selected identifiers instead of names.

Handling Student Complaints

You can anticipate and thus avoid some problems before having to actually solve them.
So remember to:

  • Make things clear on the first day of class regarding class policy and grading
  • Show clearly what counts for how many points on the exam
  • Respect the confidentiality of the grades when you return tests to the students
  • Remind the students that they can always come and talk to you during your office hours and by appointment should they have any concern or question

When an angry student comes to see you, remember to:

  • Always stay calm and answer nicely and accurately
  • Remind the student that you are the teacher if he/she begins to disrespect you
  • Explain again, patiently and firmly, why the grade that you gave makes sense given the work done and what is expected

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