English 456: C20 Criticism and Theory

Humanities Core Course Grading Rubric: An Example

Al Drake | Cyber Cafe | Thurs. 6-7 | 714-434-1612

First, a few comments of my own: if I were you, I wouldn't be satisfied with a grade of less than B through A range. It's true that grades are at the same time necessary and ridiculous -- obviously, the most important thing is not the grade you get but the value you get from your engagment with the course readings, the teacher, and your fellow students. Yet, the old idea that "if men were angels, no government would be necessary" drifts inevitably like a dark cloud over the sunny hills of academia. We just can't do without standards. We get lazy when we have no set purpose, no goals, no reasonably objective standards by which to judge our progress. If I give you a B minus or less, the grade indicates that I believe you should be writing and interpreting better than you're showing me you can. I believe you can do better. Believe so yourself and don't be satisfied until you see some results. And if you get a B or higher, well, then -- you have a reputation to keep up and enhance.

I offer the following grading rubric (only slightly altered) because it serves as a good explanation of how most teachers, myself included, go about establishing a grade for a paper or for a full-length exam response. I don't plan to apply this standard mechanically, but if you internalize the category standards set forth for "A" papers, you will be writing with much the same goals in mind as teachers generally have when they put grade to paper. I've never seen a better breakdown of what goes into a letter grade than the document that UCI's Humanities Core Course developers have posted.

UC Irvine Humanities Core Course Rubric

Letter Grades



Development and Support




offers cogent analysis, shows command of interpretive and conceptual tasks required by assignment and course materials: ideas original, often insightful, going beyond ideas discussed in lecture and class

essay controlled by clear, precise, well-defined thesis: is sophisticated in both statement and insight

well-chosen examples; persuasive reasoning used to develop and support thesis consistently: uses quotations and citations effectively; causal connections between ideas are evident

appropriate, clear and smooth transitions; arrangement of paragraphs seems particularly apt

uses sophisticated sentences effectively; usually chooses words aptly; observes conventions of written English and manuscript format; makes few minor or technical errors


shows a good understanding of the texts, ideas and methods of the assignment; goes beyond the obvious; may contain one minor factual or conceptual inconsistency

clear, specific, argumentative thesis central to the essay; may have left minor terms undefined

pursues thesis consistently: develops a main argument with clear major points and appropriate textual evidence and supporting detail; makes an effort to organize paragraphs topically

distinct units of thought in paragraphs controlled by specific and detailed topic sentences; clear transitions between developed, cohering, and logically arranged paragraphs that are internally cohesive

some mechanical difficulties or stylistic problems; may make occasional problematic word choices or awkward syntax errors; a few spelling or punctuation errors or cliché; usually presents quotations effectively


shows an understanding of the basic ideas and information involved in the assignment; may contain some factual, interpretive, or conceptual errors

general thesis or controlling idea; may not define several central terms

only partially develops the argument; shallow analysis; some ideas and generalizations undeveloped or unsupported; makes limited use of textual evidence; fails to integrate quotations appropriately

some awkward transitions; some brief, weakly unified or undeveloped paragraphs; arrangement may not appear entirely natural; contains extraneous information

more frequent wordiness; several unclear or awkward sentences; imprecise use of words or over-reliance on passive voice; one or two major grammatical errors (subject-verb agreement, comma splice, etc.); effort to present quotations accurately


shows inadequate command of course materials or contains significant factual and conceptual errors; does not respond directly to the demands of the assignment; confuses some significant ideas

thesis vague or not central to argument; central terms not defined

frequently only narrates; digresses from one topic to another without developing ideas or terms; makes insufficient or awkward use of textual evidence

simplistic, tends to narrate or merely summarize; wanders from one topic to another; illogical arrangement of ideas

some major grammatical or proofreading errors (subject-verb agreement; sentence fragments); language marred by clichés, colloquialisms, repeated inexact word choices; inappropriate quotations or citations format


writer has not understood lectures, readings, discussion, or assignment

no discernible thesis

little or no development; may list facts or misinformation; uses no quotations or fails to cite sources or plagiarizes

no transitions; incoherent paragraphs; suggests poor planning or no serious revision

numerous grammatical errors and stylistic problems seriously distract from the argument

grade for category

grade for essay