Grading Standards for Essays:
Please note that this is a guideline to grading, not a fixed policy; there are a number of variables that figure into any evaluation of a given paper. I've listed grades from lowest to highest because I want you to read all of the descriptions. Remember, a grade on an essay is not an assessment of the writer's intelligence; it is a measure of how successfully the paper conveys an argument about a particular topic. The grade evaluates the paper, not the student.
An F paper fails to meet college standards. It has no thesis directing it and lacks even a minimal coherence. The writing may fail on a sentence level (in other words, individual sentences are incoherent). Overall, it reflects little knowledge of the text as well as poor grammar and mechanics. If your paper receives an F, come see me immediately. I can help. Do not despair.
A D paper represents minimum pass work, or a C paper that doesn't work. A D paper is often plagued by a lack of focus and may even fail to respond to the assignment. The thesis statement may be vague or unsupported (or even absent), and it may not move beyond summary and description (remember, a successful paper must make an argument, not merely demonstrate that you've attended the talk or watched the movie). It may lack important factual information, make illogical claims, or offer no textual evidence. A D paper will have many grammatical and spelling errors and may even have sentence level errors such as comma splices, run-on sentences and sentence fragments.
A C paper represents average college work. A C paper demonstrates a firm grasp of the obvious but doesn't move very far beyond that point. The thesis is a general statement or an obvious point in the text (or one discussed at length in class) but not particularly insightful or original; the argument coheres but is simply structured (i.e., it doesn't explore any secondary arguments). Paragraphs are not well organized, have weak topic sentences, or lack development. In short, this essay lacks support for its assertions. Quotations stand alone with no introduction or analysis and consist of a series of long passages from the text. Sentence structures are not very sophisticated (they are short and choppy and/or fail to vary in form) but they are free from serious errors in grammar and punctuation.
A B paper represents good work. The paper has a strong sense of unity that grows out of a focused thesis that is specific, interesting, and original. This essay usually explores secondary arguments or addresses counter-arguments. It contains appropriate, well-integrated quotations, which the author analyzes and contextualizes, providing both claim and warrant. Occasionally this essay introduces a long quotation without providing adequate justification of its significance or an interpretation of its language. It is generally graceful with few mechanical errors, and the few that do appear arise from the complexity of the sentences (i.e., the errors are more sophisticated that those in a C paper).
An A paper represents excellent work - writing that is so good it is surprising. While an A paper is by no means impossible, it is an accomplishment. This essay has an original, complex thesis, and each part of the essay advances the argument with specific details and sound logic. It wastes no time retelling the plot of the text, but the writer's familiarity with the text is very obvious: apt quotations are selected, appropriately introduced and fully analyzed. An A paper possesses graceful yet complex sentence structures, creative uses of figurative language, sophisticated and precise diction and almost flawless mechanics. This paper makes an insightful argument with force and clarity!