Beyond Grading


What is Ungrading

Ungrading as a topic generates a multitude of definitions and just as many questions. In general, ungrading refers to a variety of methods that remove the focus of the traditional grade as the main form of feedback to reflect learning. Grades have become external motivators that often work to minimize mistakes and emphasize high-level performance rather than learning. Ungrading methods (e.g., formative feedback) reinforce a learning journey where making mistakes is acceptable and not penalized. Benefits of ungrading include reduced anxiety and stress due to grading, higher quality work, a greater internal motivation to learn, reduces competitiveness, and reduced inequities among learners due to racial, gender, and other social differences.  

How to Ungrade

Ungrading is a philosophy more so than a step-by-step approach (Blum, 2020). However, if ungrading aligns with your teaching philosophy, there are some approaches that you can apply in your classroom. First, know that most ungrading approaches are more time intensive to implement than traditional grading systems. Second, at Emory University all instructors are obligated to adhere to institutional grading policies which require the submission of traditional grades at the end of each semester. Therefore, you cannot decide to remove grades entirely from your course. However, you may choose to apply ungrading methods to a subset of assignments and classroom activities and still assign grades, as required by the university. Below are some typical Ungrading options:

  • Faculty Formative Feedback: provide feedback to learners on what they have achieved, where they have made progress and still need to grow; lead with strengths; be concrete; ask questions and use the feedback as a teaching method, don't provide all the answers; refer back to course learning objectives often; you may choose to allow several revisions and resubmission of assignments (this is the time-consuming part)
  • Self-evaluation: ask learners to reflect on what they have learned not on their performance. What was challenging for them? How did they work through those challenges? What do they still need to work on? 
  • Peer evaluation: prepare learners to give and receive feedback for the types of assignments that are relevant to your course; feedback should be formative, not summative
  • Specifications Grading: all assignments are graded Pass/Fail or Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory; you can couple this formative feedback and allow as many revisions as you wish.
  • Contract Grading: the instructor described in the syllabus the amount of work, the types of assignments that learners have to complete, and the timeline for completion in order to receive a certain grade; learners choose the grade they wish to get and contract to do the associated amount of work. 


Blum, S. (2020). Ungrading: Why rating learners undermines learning (and what to do instead)West Virginia University Press.

Center for Faculty Development and Excellence (CFDE), Emory University. (2021, November 5). From Extrinsic to Intrinsic Motivation: Ungrading, Labor-Based Grading, Specifications Grading, and Contract Grading. [Video]. Studio in Canvas.

Center for Faculty Development and Excellence (CFDE), Emory University. (2022, March 29). From Extrinsic to Intrinsic: Continuing the Conversation on Rethinking Grading. [Video]. Studio in Canvas.

Stommel, J. (2020, February 6). Ungrading: an FAQ.

Toor, R. (2021, April 26). The controversial but useful practice of ‘ungrading’ in teaching writing. The Chronicle of Higher Education.