Gradescope and the Time-Saving Benefits of Horizontal Grading

The traditional practice of grading exams is a process we refer to as “vertical” grading. In other words, we grade one exam question at a time on each student’s exam, proceeding through the responses vertically. Taking this approach allows us to focus on one student at a time, but it may also present us with annoying challenges: our attention to the best responses to individual exam questions may become fragmented, allowing us insufficient time and focus to reflect upon and refine our grading practices based on common errors we see students making. The vertical approach also makes it more difficult to improve the feedback we offer to student responses to individual questions. 

Consider the analogy of the chores we are responsible for around the house. If you’re anything like me, you will try to focus on one task at a time, whether it be washing the dishes and putting away laundry. Imagine how inefficient such tasks would be if one were to put away a single pair of socks, and then wash and dry a single fork before returning to the next sock. This approach to chores is akin to traditional or “vertical” grading practices. 

Such chores can be completed more quickly and effectively if one attends first to all the dishes, and then all the laundry. Gradescope, the assessment tool newly adopted at UC Davis, allows one to focus on one chore at a time — or, in this instance, a single exam question at a time. We call this “horizontal” grading.  

Gradescope supports horizontal grading practices by allowing you to grade all student responses to each question before moving to the next question in an exam. Using this approach, you can deepen and refine your feedback so that all students can learn from mistakes made by other students. Additionally, this approach promotes consistent feedback for all students, for previously-graded questions will reflect your ever-evolving responses to subsequently-graded correct and incorrect answers. For example, if halfway through the grading process you decide to take off one point instead of two points for a particular mistake, the exams you have already graded will be automatically calibrated to reflect this change. Used this way, Gradescope allows us to present our most precise, fair, and helpful version of our teaching selves to our students, and the tool makes it more likely that our assessments will provide learning opportunities for all our students.

To learn more about horizontal grading practices enabled by Gradescope, I invite you to review the following resources:  In addition to these resources, instructional designers and instructional technologists are available to consult with you, individually or in groups, to help you determine the best way to use Gradescope in your classes. To schedule an appointment with an instructional designer, contact Mark Wilson at To schedule an appointment with an instructional technologist, use the ATS scheduler


Andy Jones 

Academic Associate Director, Academic Technology Services 

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