How to rate philosophy essays?


I might end up teaching philosophy in Finnish lukio/gymnasium. I will not get an opportunity to practice teaching it - I do get to practice teaching mathematics a fair deal, though. (The situation is somewhat unfortunate.) I have taken subject studies in philosophy at university. They amount to around 60 credits (ECTS).

Suppose I give the students an exam, which asks them to write an essay or two. After that my task is to grade the exams in a fair way and comment them in such a way that the students can learn from the feedback.


Suppose the task was to write an essay on the problem of universals - nominalism and realism, say. Let us say 6 points is the perfect score for this task.

I would expect the students to define nominalism and realism (2 points, maybe?) and explain the problem (2 points). Remaining two points for taking some stance and arguing for it - realism is more reasonable because so and so. Partial credits for demonstrating only partial understanding.


Am I missing some important aspects of philosophical thinking? Should I emphasize the different parts of an answer in a different way? I suspect my perspective is influenced by fairly extensive mathematics education - is there something particular I should watch out for?


Posted 2015-12-14T13:40:44.483

Reputation: 339

yes, you are missing an important aspect — give them points for arguing why all of the given positions are nonsense and philosophers are up to their head in confusion — — and also Wittgensteins Philosophical Investigations.

– nir – 2015-12-14T16:37:23.880

2@nir I don't disagree strongly with the linked article. Be that as it may, philosophy is part of the curriculum and people should learn something from the courses. Argumentation, providing definitions and understanding history of ideas seem all useful things one can learn. What else can one learn from studying philosophy? – Tommi – 2015-12-16T13:05:45.213



Some points regarding philosophical texts:

  • Topic and focus of the question (writing only on the question and actually answering it, no digressions and unnecessary remarks)
  • Handling of concepts (definitions and descriminations made explicit, interdependencies shown)
  • Showing insight into current discourse (paraphrasing and referencing at least the most influential contributions/papers/books)
  • Argumentation (Is it logically correct and reasonable? Any agumentational figures used? Strict argumentation or some repetetive parts?)
  • Framing the question/problem (locating the problem within a bigger picture)
  • Critical acclaim (analysing and commenting on the various arguments, anticipating objections against the argument made. Would decide between good - very good if all other aspects are met)
  • formal aspects (Paragraphs used, Introduction - main text/argumentation - conclusion, orthography, grammar, mode of expression, technical and idiomatic language)

The first three are essential, the fourth improving it very much then the other aspects making the difference between being distinguished or good. Formal aspects often do not count that much (at the University of Kent, UK, it's 3%). That's the way I handle it and the points I focus on in writing myself.

In addition, there are often school-, college-, or faculty-related grading and writing guidelines available for a particular university.

Philip Klöcking

Posted 2015-12-14T13:40:44.483

Reputation: 9 269

What do you mean by critical acclaim? – Tommi – 2015-12-16T13:04:00.603

2Very good students will be able to reflect on and point out the strengths and weaknesses of the concepts they are handling with and the position they are defending. It is the explication of critical reflection on the outcome of the argument. – Philip Klöcking – 2015-12-16T13:24:28.583