holistic grading (composition)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

holistic grading
In holistic grading, instructors aren't required (or in many cases even allowed) to mark errors on student essays. (NicolasMcComber/Getty Images)


Holistic grading is a method of evaluating a composition based on its overall quality. Also known as global grading, single-impression scoring, and impressionistic grading.

Developed by the Educational Testing Service, holistic grading is often used in large-scale assessments, such as college placement tests. Graders are expected to make judgments based on criteria that have been agreed upon before the start of an evaluation session.

Contrast with analytic grading.

Holistic grading is useful as a time-saving approach, but it does not provide students with detailed feedback.

See the observations below. Also see:


  • "Teachers who practice holistic grading refuse to break down a student's essay into separate problems like punctuation and paragraphing, but base their grade on their immediate 'sense of the whole' derived from a deliberately 'nonanalytical' reading."
    (Peggy Rosenthal, Words and Values: Some Leading Words and Where They Lead Us. Oxford University Press, 1984)

  • Holistic Grading and Peer Review
    "If the speed of grading is more important than detailed feedback, then holistic grading is more appropriate; it just means less feedback for the writer. Pairs or small groups can also evaluate one another's work using this rubric. Called peer review, it gives them practice in evaluation, helps them internalize the criteria, and relieves you of the burden of grading."
    (Nancy Burkhalter, Critical Thinking Now: Practical Teaching Methods for Classrooms Around the World. Rowman & Littlefield, 2016)
  • Inductive Holistic Grading
    "[Holistic grading] is relatively quick, efficient, reliable, and fair when backed by instructor experience, practice, and familiarity with the student performance range at the institution. In addition, it easily accommodates essays and assignments that demand higher-order thinking and have multiple respectable responses.

    "With inductive holistic grading, which is suitable for small classes, you read quickly through all the responses or papers, rank each above or below the ones you have already read, from best to worst, and then group them for assigning grades. Finally, you write up descriptions of the quality of each group and then give them to students when you return their work. To personalize the feedback, you can add comments to each student's sheet or highlight the most applicable parts of the appropriate description."
    (Linda B. Nilson, Teaching at Its Best: A Research-Based Resource for College Instructors, 3rd ed. Jossey-Bass, 2010)
  • Advantages and Disadvantages of Holistic Grading
    - "An advantage to holistic grading is that graders can evaluate many papers in a short span of time because they do not comment on or correct the students' work. Advocates of this method also propose that it makes grading more objective, since students' names do not appear on the papers and since the rater may not have had the student in a class . . ..

    "Critics of the method have questioned its validity and reliability, arguing that holistic ratings are swayed by superficial factors such as length and appearance of an essay, that holistic ratings cannot be generalized beyond the group that designed the criteria for judgment, and that the agreed-upon criteria can limit the readers' views on the merits of the writing they are evaluating . . .."
    (Edith Babin and Kimberly Harrison, Contemporary Composition Studies: A Guide to Theorists and Terms. Greenwood Press, 1999)

    - "[H]olistic grading is probably not the best tactic, even if it seems the easiest and quickest. Assigning a single score, grade, or judgment leaves the student unsure about both quality and content. One simple approach is to give a composition one grade for content coverage and a separate grade for writing quality."
    (Robert C. Calfee and Roxanne Greitz Miller, "Best Practices in Writing Assessment for Instruction." Best Practices in Writing Instruction, 2nd ed., edited by Steve Graham et al. Guilford Press, 2013) 
  • Holistic Rubrics
    "Holistic rubrics are the quickest way to score papers in any content area, requiring a teacher to read a paper only once. Teachers can develop rubrics by basing them on the content they've taught and practiced; assess papers based on established criteria agreed upon by students and teachers; and give a single holistic score that indicates the quality level of the writing, ranging from deficient to competent to outstanding."
    (Vicki Urquhart and Monette McIver, Teaching Writing in the Content Areas. ASCD, 2005)
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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "holistic grading (composition)." ThoughtCo, Dec. 25, 2016, thoughtco.com/holistic-grading-composition-1690838. Nordquist, Richard. (2016, December 25). holistic grading (composition). Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/holistic-grading-composition-1690838 Nordquist, Richard. "holistic grading (composition)." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/holistic-grading-composition-1690838 (accessed March 20, 2018).