Grading Standards

August 2006. Revised May 2010.

Each assignment I give comes with its own goals and requirements that determine its grading criteria. For example, a research paper should generally feature direct quotation from primary sources, while a closed-book exam need not. What follows are some general standards I use to assign letter grades.

Papers are graded on three criteria. Typically, argument, organization, and evidence each count for about 30 percent of the grade, with the remaining 10 percent based on style. However, if a paper is unusually strong or weak in one area, these weights may change.

1. Argument

The first thing I look for when reading an essay is a strong thesis statement; a paper lacking one will rarely get a grade over a B+, and infrequently even that.

State as bold a thesis as you can prove. I will look for this thesis statement and evaluate your success in proving it.

2. Organization

Assuming I can identify a thesis statement, I will look for topic sentences that support that thesis, and good essay structure.

3. Evidence

History rests on a foundation of fact. Every assignment should display strong familiarity with the events of the period, and factual statements should be accurate. Some assignments will require you to choose sources from assigned readings; others will ask you to find them by doing research. Sources, whether primary or secondary, should be read critically and evaluated for their reliability and persuasiveness.

4. Style

All assignments should follow the rules of formal writing. Paragraphs need clear topic sentences and should follow one another in a clear order. Write in the active voice whenever possible. Direct quotations and close paraphrases should be cited, either with footnotes or parenthetical references, and page numbers provided.

Letter Grades

Since a paper may excel in one area and falter in another, two very different papers may receive the same grade. Nonetheless, it is possible to describe in rough terms the types of papers most likely to receive each grade. Please note that competent papers earn B”s; higher grades require not merely meeting the instructions, but doing the best you can with them.
An A paper is more or less incapable of improvement given the bounds of the assignment. It presents a thesis so daring that the reader is at first doubtful and only persuaded by the evidence mustered in support. Evidence is presented in well-chosen quotations and specific details. The writing is clear, even graceful. The paper is free from errors of grammar, punctuation, and style.
An A- paper presents a thesis and proves it. But it has flaws–portions of the paper are irrelevant, the paper does not meet all of the assignment instructions, or numerous stylistic problems mar the writing.


B+ papers generally either state a thesis but fail to prove it (often forgetting about it for the bulk of the paper), or they present a bland, obvious thesis statement hardly worth arguing. Papers that lack theses but present unusually good command of sources also earn B+’s.


A B paper is competent but not distinguished. It shows that the students read the texts, but does not present an argument. Alternatively, it may present an argument but suffer from factual inaccuracy. B papers may provide copious facts or quotations from primary sources but fail to use them to advance an argument.


A B- paper is deficient in terms of evidence, argument, or style. It may contain numerous factual inaccuracies, or present facts as rambling streams of consciousness rather than in ordered paragraphs.


Grades of C+ and below go to seriously deficient papers, such as papers well below the minimum length or exam essays that fail to show familiarity with assigned readings or primary sources.

Plagiarism and other forms of academic dishonesty (such as unauthorized dual submission or cheating on an exam) will suffer grade penalties and be referred to the honor board for disciplinary action.