Basic Concepts Selected Response Constructed Response  


A. Fill-in-the-Blank Items
B. Essay Questions
C. Scoring Options


C. Scoring Essay Items

Although essay questions are powerful assessment tools, they can be difficult to score. With essays, there isn't a single, correct answer and it is almost impossible to use an automatic scantron or computer-based system. In order to minimize the subjectivity and bias that may occur in the assessment, teachers should prepare a list of criteria prior to scoring the essays. Consider, for example, the following question and scoring criteria:

Sample Question (10th Grade Social Studies)

Consider the time period during the Vietnam War and the reasons there were riots in cities and at university campuses. Write an essay explaining three of those reasons. Include information on the impact (if any) of the riots. The essay should be approximately one page in length.  Your score will depend on the accuracy of your reasons, the organization of your essay, and brevity.  Although spelling, punctuation, and grammar will not be considered in grading, please do your best to consider them in your writing. (10 points possible)

Scoring Criteria (for the teacher)

  • Content Accuracy -- up to 2 points for each accurate reason the riots ensued (6 points total)
  • Organization -- up to 3 points for essay organization (e.g., introduction, well expressed points, conclusion)
  • Brevity -- up to 1 point for appropriate brevity (i.e., no extraneous or "filler" information)
    No penalty for spelling, punctuation, or grammatical errors.

By outlining the criteria for assessment, the students know precisely how they will be assessed and where they should concentrate their efforts. In addition, the instructor can provide feedback that is less biased and more consistent. Additional techniques for scoring constructed response items include:

  • Do not look at the student's name when you grade the essay.
  • Outline an exemplary response before reviewing student responses.
  • Scan through the responses and look for major discrepancies in the answers -- this might indicate that the question was not clear.
  • If there are multiple questions, score Question #1 for all students, then Question #2, etc.
  • Use a scoring rubric that provides specific areas of feedback for the students.

Detailed information about constructing checklists and rubrics for scoring is provided in the Performance Assessments lesson. 


Try This

One way for teachers and students to become more proficient at writing and scoring essay questions is to practice scoring the responses of other students. Select one of the three programs below (the one closest to your grade level) and practice applying the rubric to score the constructed responses. Feedback is provided, as well as links to the corresponding rubric.



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This course was developed in partnership between the Pinellas School
and the Florida Center for Instructional Technology at USF.

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