The easiest way to get better grades
Many students ask eNotes how they can improve the grades they receive on term papers and essay exams. The easiest way is to pay more attention to appearance. A messy paper or a paper full of careless mistakes is bound to make a bad impression on the grader and most likely lead to a lower grade. Here are some of the most common faults found in students’ papers, as well as to be seen in many of the questions submitted to eNotes.
Lack of capitalization. The new electronic texting gadgets have conditioned many students to use nothing but lower-case letters because this is faster and easier on the thumbs. But this habit can create a terrible impression in school.
Improper punctuation. Sentences are ended without periods, quotes are left without quotation marks, questions are asked without question marks, and so on.
Bad spelling. Especially in people’s names, characters’ names, and titles of books, stories, essays, and articles. These are usually easy to check.
There are other faults, but papers would improve, and grades would improve, if students would pay attention to these three important things. It is hard to believe that a high school or college student doesn’t know that the first word in a sentence should begin with a capital letter, or that a proper name such as Jane Austen should not be written as jane austen.
Perhaps others would like to comment on this subject.
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The "easy" way to get better grades is to be interested in class, talk to the instructors after class, and do everything possible to convey that you enjoy being there. Most teachers grade easier on students they like either purposefully or subconsciously. Teachers like students that like their class, and look for ways to give them the benefit of the doubt.
Now, I'm not for one second saying not to work hard, but this strategy will pay massive dividends.
I would argue in favor of grammatical correctness because I strongly believe that grammar and logic are almost identical. Most problems with grammar are ultimately problems with logic. Thus correct grammar and critical thinking go hand in hand. If students were taught that grammatical problems were actually problems in logic and in clear thinking, they might take grammar more seriously than they do. Stanley Fish endorses this argument in his recent bookHow to Write a Sentence, and the argument is also strongly endorsed in one of the best writing texts I have ever seen:They Say / I Say, by Gerald Graff.
My emphasis as a history teacher is on content and argument. I don't even include neatness as a guideline on rubrics. I still circle punctuation and grammatical errors, but don't let them make or break a paper. Many people will no doubt disagree with this approach, but my emphasis will always be on critical thinking as that strikes me as a much more serious deficiency among my students than punctuation and grammar. I'm not saying that neatness, grammar, etc. are not important, or certainly that they are mutually exclusive with critical thinking, but given limited time and resources, my emphasis is on not on the mechanical aspects of writing.
As a previous post notes, many of these comments and suggestions would not be as helpful, or even applicable, in improving grades for science or math-oriented classes. However, the original question is discussing term papers and essay exams, so I think the writing orientation of the post answers is probably on target for the intended area of discussion.
I'm going to show my age and suggest (not a new idea) that students are going to have increasing problems with spelling, punctuation, grammar, and all the rest as they find new and wider applications for the new language that is being developed for use when texting, tweeting, and all the rest. Students who communicate regularly and primarily through messages along the lines of "CUL8R" (see you later) are setting themselves up for problems when asked to create a product using traditional (old-fashioned) methods of writing.
These strategies seem to answer the popular question as to how to get better grades on essays. Following the three pieces of advice offered here will lead students to larger lessons too, I think, training them to edit and to look critically at their work.
Even the most basic editing - like identifying missing question marks and capitalizing proper nouns - can help to intill the habit of reading with an eye for improvement.
I might add one more piece of specific advice as a natural extension of the three items offered here and suggest that students plan on doing at least a second draft of an essay and make sure that the second draft is not an exact copy of the first, but shows some small improvements at least.
In accord with the point that the overall appearance and adherence to structure and form of papers is a key to success in coursework, this concept can be extended to the presentation of resumes, as well. After all, much of the judgments made on applications are based upon appearance. If any written work by an individual student adheres to grammatical and stylistic modes, there will be more favorable results.
I think an essay or written answer would be greatly improved by using correct grammar. It's understandable if you miss a comma but the basics of subject-verb agreement (and of course having a subject and verb) in the sentence. This is one of the things that frustrates me the most because it's so hard to follow ideas when they have those type of errors.
I definitely agree with you that this would be a very good way to make your papers look nicer and get better grades. However, I'm not sure that I would say that it is the "easy" way to get better grades. I think that paying close attention to detail is not necessarily all that easy. I would suggest that students who find it easy to be conscientious with their spelling and punctuation and such are not the ones who are asking how they can improve their grades.
In reply to lentzk's post #10, I agree with her entirely. But I was only thinking about getting better grades on written assignments, which is why I posted my question in Essay Lab. lentzk says "Most teachers grade easier on students they like either purposefully or subconsciously." This is true of the way teachers or teachers' aides grade papers too. They are subconsciously influenced by the appearance of a paper. I am not suggesting that a student can raise grades astronomically, but I believe a C paper can be raised to a B-minus paper, or a B paper raised to an A-minus paper, if the content is exactly the same but the appearance is improved. e-martin in post #6 says that "students should plan on doing at least a second draft of an essay." This is excellent advice. Among other improvements, a second draft would catch spelling and punctuation errors and would probably have better-looking typing or handwriting.
Being an English teacher, I agree with many of your suggestions wholeheartedly. But it's not much of a solution for improving math (or even science) grades. Paying attention in class, taking each subject seriously, completing assignments and homework in a timely manner, utilization of time, and being prepared for tests will almost guarantee a satisfactory grade for the students.
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