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How do I Grade Students?

Grading Matters

Grading matters for students, faculty and institutions. Grading (associated with the term ‘summative assessment’) has been known to motivate students in their learning and can be associated with their self-esteem. 

Poor performance can hinder students’ progression. We need be able to stand over our grades and ensure that there are reliable, in particular between different graders (inter-rater reliability).  

What approach should I use? 

UCD has a standard grading scale for module component grades (See Academic Regulation 4.24-4.31). 

For more on UCD Grading approaches see UCD Registry's Assessment web page.

Whereas most scales have grades (or percentages), the option of a Pass/Fail grade is also a possibility where, for example,  the context of the learning opportunity is so diverse that consistency of grading is challenging, or a competency/skill required does not lend itself to a range of grades (see UCD Academic regulation around use of pass/fail, i.e. Reg 4.15.) There is an interesting debate around the value of norm-referenced (students ranked against each other) and criterion-referenced assessment (where students are rated against a given criteria). UCD’s use of grade descriptors is more akin to criterion-referenced assessment.  

Improving my grading

Grading takes practice. At the beginning you may need more structure, whereas over time you can develop a more holistic judgement. 

Reflect on your own views around grading and any past experiences of grading. Whereas you need to be supportive of students in their assessment, students also need to be prepared for more complex assessments in the future.  If you are new to this activity you should discuss the assessment’s standards and calibrate your grades with a more experienced examiner.

Key features to successful grading

  • Use assessment criteria/assessment rubrics (see UCD T&L’s Designing Grading and Feedback Rubrics. Rubrics have rich descriptions of the criteria. For example, UCD Level Descriptors, or other task-based rubrics, such as AACU;
  • Use marking schemes (a short list of expectations that give structured guidance);
  • Develop a systematic approach to consistency in your grading. For example, in an examination context, correct one question for all students first, rather than a full student’s assessment;
  • Develop a shared understanding of the standards required, such as having discussions with your team/colleagues on how to approach grading, i.e. develop a grading ‘Community of Practice’ (Herbert et al., 2014); 
  • Moderate your grades whereby your marking is reviewed by another marker. See your School policy on how this is implemented;
  • Consider the advice from your External Examiner.

As a Competent/Experienced Grader

If you are more experienced grader, the above still applies. However, if you have developed a more holistic approach to your judgement (You know a good assessment standard when you see it!!), you need to be able to be transparent and share with your students how you have come to this judgement.


Developing the Assessment Standards in your Module

When you are developing the expectations for the standard of the assessment for your module, there are some national, institutional and disciplinary influences that are important to consider when clarifying the standard to be obtained by students: 

  • The Irish National Framework of Qualifications sets out some descriptions for the levels commonly associated with University programmes, i.e. levels 8, 9,10;
  • UCD Level Descriptors assist in devising a coherent assessment strategy that assesses student learning as they progress through the different levels of their UCD programmes;
  • Your module learning outcomes: Your module’s learning outcomes should align with your assessment. Therefore the verbs used in these are a useful reference to standards required. For more on taxonomies to assist in writing your outcomes, see ;
  • Your module assessment criteria and markings schemes: Your assessment criteria including assessment rubrics are useful for developing clarity of standard. Rubric are characterised by their rich descriptions. For more on how to design these, see UCD T&L’s Designing Grading and Feedback Rubrics; Grading/marking schemes are similar to rubrics but may be more akin to a list of components required, rather than rich descriptions.  
  • Be conscious of international and disciplinary norms and requirements: Be aware that UCD students have experienced and will experience different grading systems internationally and in different disciplines. Witte (2011) highlights that, for example, ‘The 100 point grading scale is used in China, Japan, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Latin America and all the English-speaking countries, but local uses vary and the pass/fail mark should never be assumed’ (p53).
    • The U.S. pass Grade is 60 to 65% (pass is a grade of C- or more).
    • UK and in the Republic of Ireland a passing grade is usually 40%. 
    • A low C is considered ‘good’ in UCD, but only ‘satisfactory’ or ‘passing’ in the US’ (Witte, 2011).

Learn More

The UCD Governance Document Library contains the official version of statutes, regulations, policies and other key documents applicable to the governance of the University, i.e. Academic Regulations; Assessment Code of Practice; Extern examiner policy and guidelines; Extenuating circumstances policy and guidelines.

For advice on assessment procedures, see also UCD Registry Assessment and Contacts in UCD Registry


  • Rust. C. (2007). Towards a scholarship of assessment. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 32(2), 229-237.
  • Bloxham, S. (2009). Marking and moderation in the UK: False assumptions and wasted resources. Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, 34(2), 209-220.
  • Bloxham, Sue Peter Boyd & Susan Orr (2011) Mark my words: the role of assessment criteria in UK higher education grading practices, Studies in Higher Education, 36:6, 655-670, DOI: 10.1080/03075071003777716
  • Herbert, I. A. John Joyce & Trevor Hassall (2014) Assessment in Higher Education: The Potential for a Community of Practice to Improve Inter-marker Reliability, Accounting Education, 23:6, 542-561, DOI: 10.1080/09639284.2014.974195
  • Knight, Peter T.(2002) 'Summative Assessment in Higher Education: practices in disarray', Studies in Higher Education, 27: 3, 275 - 286 URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/03075070220000662
  • Sadler D.R (2005) Interpretations of criteria based assessment and grading in higher education, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 30:2, 175-194, DOI: 10.1080/0260293042000264262
  • Witte, A.E. (2011) Understanding international grading scales: More translation than conversion, International Journal of Management Education 9(3),