What's the Difference Between an "A" Essay and an "F" Essay?

        Essay exams are subjective in nature, which means that there are no fixed rules for determining an exam grade.  Instead, essays are graded based on their overall quality, on the effectiveness of the analysis, and on organization and presentation.  Generally speaking, essays fall into the following broad categories:

        AN "F" ESSAY has little factual information and no analysis whatsoever.  It is short and poorly written, often using lists or short sentences instead of paragraphs.  This essay will contain major factual errors; for example, listing the first three Presidents of the United States as Washington, Jackson, and Lincoln, when they were in fact Washington, Adams, and Jefferson.

        A "D" ESSAY contains only a few salient facts and little analysis.  Major details are omitted.  The essay is not well organized; using one long paragraph for the entire essay is common.  There is no real sense here that the student understands how factual information relates to the broad issues addressed in the question; for example, not realizing that the Alien and Sedition Acts were a crucial component of the Adams presidency.

        A "C" ESSAY is typically considered average at the college level.  It contains quite a bit of factual information, but this information is often not well organized.  This essay is a competent listing of facts, but not a solid overall analysis. Such an essay may say that during the Adams presidency there was a fear of France and that there were the Alien and Sedition Acts and that there were the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions without showing how these events were linked together in a cause-and-effect relationship.

        A "B" ESSAY is of superior quality.  It contains a good overall analysis, and is well organized and well written.  It is substantially complete with regards to factual information, and uses facts to support an argument, rather than merely listing them, one after another.  It shows how events are linked together in cause-and-effect relationships, alludes to broader issues, and has some sense of the overall significance of people and events; for example, demonstrating that the pervasive fear of France that existed during the Adams presidency persuaded Congress to pass the Alien and Sedition Acts (which went against the Bill of Rights), and that this in turn led Jefferson and Madison to draft the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions.

        AN "A" ESSAY is of the highest quality.  Typically, no more that 10-15% of essays are at this level.  The organizational structure is superb.  All relevant facts are included, and used properly to support the overall argument.  The essay shows cause-and-effect relationships, significance, and an appreciation of the link between the essay topic and the broad themes and issues of the course.  Most importantly, this essay shows evidence of independent thought; that is, thinking independently and not merely regurgitating material presented in class; for example, understanding that the Virginia and Kentucky resolutions were a crucial states' rights issue and therefore part of the ongoing confrontation between state governments and the federal government that eventually led to secession and the Civil War.