Taking Notes: Eye on Education – Computer Marked Essays

Taking Notes: Eye on Education – Computer Marked Essays

This column focuses on a wide range of issues affecting post-secondary students. Students are encouraged to submit suggestions and educational topics they are concerned about, or personal experiences with courses or university situations they feel other students should know about. If suggest a topic or a course alert for taking notes, contact voice@ausu.org, attn: Debbie Jabbour


We have long been accustomed to computer-marked tests, but the forms of these tests have largely been limited to multiple choice or short answer. However, University of Missouri-Columbia professor Ed Brent has now developed computer software that he claims is capable of effectively marking essays. The software, entitled SAGrader, “counts the number of points” a professor wants included in the essay and “analyzes how well concepts are explained” (CNN.com, May 9, 2005). Brent developed the software according to his belief that students’ essays are often “riddled with the same flaws” (Makris, May 11, 2005).

SAGrader relies on semantic analysis (SA) to analyze sentences and paragraphs, searching for keywords and relationships between terms, assessing whether points made in class are coming through in the essays that students submit. It uses the technology of a general-purpose program called Qualrus, which recognizes patterns in essays and compares these to a knowledge-base of correct answers. The program determines a grade and provides feedback. It can operate in automatic essay grading mode (i.e., the computer provides detailed feedback and a score). Alternatively, it can operate in computer-assisted mode (i.e., professors view the program’s feedback, add their comments, and can override the program’s score).

Program designers recommend that SAGrader is suitable for both K-12 and college-level essays, but state that it may be less effective for “very high-level reasoning in papers with broad topics and greater length” (Idea Works, 2005). The program can also can be used to prevent plagiarism by comparing the essay’s text to others in the database.


Makris, S. (2005, May 11). Computer prof. Input/Output Section, Edmonton Journal, p. H1.
Idea Works, Inc. (2005). SAGrader: Automated essay grading with Qualrus. Retrieved May 16, 2005, from http://sagrader.com/
CNN.com (2005, May 9). Now grading your student essay – a computer. CNN.com technology news. Retrieved May 14, 2005, from http://www.cnn.com/2005/TECH/05/09/grading.software.ap/