Part 3 Assessing Your Peers’ Essays

Composite of several pieces of writing

By Pat Bowden, published December 26, 2017.

Part three of a three-part series on writing essays and peer assessments:

Part 1 Accumulating Information for Your Essay.
Part 2 Writing Your Essay.
Part 3 Assessing Your Peers’ Essays.

What is a Peer Assessment?

In Parts one and two, I went through the essay writing process. This week I will discuss assessing the work of your fellow students. This is commonly called peer assessment, peer review, or peer evaluation.

Why Have Peer Assessments?

Unlike multiple choice or short answer questions, essays cannot be assessed automatically by MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) software. Because MOOCs may have thousands of students in the class, it is not feasible for course staff to assess each essay personally, so your classmates are required to assess each others’ efforts.

Although some students find peer assessments stressful, they can be both useful and enjoyable. It can really boost your learning to firstly research and write about the topic, then read what others have written. Viewpoints from all around the world can be fascinating reading.

The Peer Assessment Process

The course materials will include an assessment rubric to assist and guide students. Some assessment rubrics are basic, others are comprehensive.

Some platforms allow you to start a peer assessment, close it, and come back later. Others do not offer this facility so if you close the window before completing an assessment it will allocate a different one to you next time you open it. The best strategy is to set aside a block of time so you are not rushing. Why not set up your Pomodoro? On the other hand, if you can only manage short chunks of time, keep the document open on your device and keep revisiting it until you submit your assessment.

First, read the submission. Can you understand what the writer is saying?

Read the guidelines and marking rubric. If they were available before the submission stage, you will have already read these several times while writing your own essay, but reading them again will keep them fresh in your mind while assessing. Occasionally, you may need to open the marking rubric in a separate window, but most platforms have it available on the same page for easy reference while you are assessing.

Re-read the submission, looking for agreement or disagreement with the marking rubric. Some marking rubrics are very simple, others are quite lengthy. Some essays are quick and easy to mark, others take more thought. You may need to read the submission several times to make a helpful assessment.

Each essay is assessed by several student peers. Most platforms use the mean or median mark so there is less pressure on individual assessments. Take care with the marks you give your peers, but there is no need to stress mightily about it because if your assessment varies drastically from others your mark will either not be used or will be diluted with the other results.


Most platforms allow space for comments. Your peers will appreciate comments, whether they are things like “This is a wonderful answer – spot on,” or “I was unable to award full marks because the question asked for three reasons and I was only able to find two reasons (x and y) in this answer.” Many students post in class discussion forums about how they appreciate feedback from others and how much it adds to the learning process. When supplying comments, think of how the recipient may feel when reading what you have written. Comments such as “This is rubbish” do not help the student understand just what is wrong with it, and can be very disheartening. Something like “This answer does not fulfil the requirements in this (example) way is far more useful.

When assessing, remember that many worldwide students are not learning in their native language. The marking rubric will tell you whether or not you should deduct marks for minor spelling or grammatical errors. If these are not mentioned, it can help students if you ignore minor issues, as long as you can understand the meaning. Another option is to help the student learn by gently explaining a better way to phrase the essay.

Many MOOC instructors encourage student assessors to be generous if they are unsure just how many marks to award an essay. The guidelines will help you in this case.

How Many Assessments?

Many courses require you to assess or evaluate a certain number of fellow students’ essays and will penalise your mark if you do not complete the required number. So, to maximise your marks, remember to complete the evaluations. This can also be a useful part of the learning process. Sometimes you will think of better ways to approach the answer after reading others’ work and often other students will think of points that you did not consider in your own essay. Many courses encourage students to do more than the minimum number of assessments, so if you have time, why not do a few extras?


In some courses you also need to evaluate your own work after you have finished looking at others’ essays. Again, if you do not complete this self-evaluation step, your own mark may be penalised. Even if this step is not compulsory, you may like to enhance your learning by revisiting your own essay after reading other students’ answers. What could you have included? What should you have left out or written in a better way? If your MOOC allows you to re-submit your essay, and if you have time, you may want to take advantage of the opportunity to improve your mark.

A Final Thought

Most students work hard at peer-assessed assignments. Your learning as well as theirs will be enhanced if you take the time to give them useful feedback.

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