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Grade for Learning Objectives Response to Writing Errors Commenting on Student Papers Plagiarism and Grading
Information about grading student writing also appears in the Grading Student Work section of the Teaching Guide. Here are some general guidelines to keep in mind when grading student writing.
Grade for Learning Objectives
Know what the objective of the assignment is and grade according to a standard (a rubric) that assesses precisely that. If the purpose of the assignment is to analyze a process, focus on the analysis in the essay. If the paper is unreadable, however, consult with the professor and other GSIs about how to proceed. It may be wise to have a shared policy about the level of readiness or comprehensibility expected and what is unacceptable.
Response to Writing Errors
The research is clear: do not even attempt to mark every error in students’ papers. There are several reasons for this. Teachers do not agree about what constitutes an error (so there is an unavoidable element of subjectivity); students do not learn when confronted by too many markings; and exhaustive marking takes way too much of the instructor’s time. Resist the urge to edit or proofread your students’ papers for superficial errors. At most, mark errors on one page or errors of only two or three types. One approach to avoid the temptation of marking every error is to read or skim the whole essay quickly once without marking anything on the page – or at least, with very minimal marks. Some instructors find this a useful method in order to get a general sense of the essay’s organization and argument, thus enabling them to better identify the major areas of concern. Your second pass can then focus more in-depth on a few select areas that require improvement.
Commenting on Student Papers
The scholarly literature in this area distinguishes formative from summative comments. Summative comments are the more traditional approach. They render judgment about an essay after it has been completed. They explain the instructor’s judgment of a student’s performance. If the instructor’s comments contain several critical statements, the student often becomes protective of his or her ego by filtering them out; learning from mistakes becomes more difficult. If the assignment is over with, the student may see no reason to revisit it to learn from the comments.
Formative comments, on the other hand, give the student feedback in an ongoing process of learning and skill building. Through formative comments, particularly in the draft stage of a writing assignment, instructors guide students on a strategic selection of the most important aspects of the essay. These include both what to keep because it is (at least relatively) well done and what requires revision. Formative comments let the student know clearly how to revise and why.
For the purposes of this guide, we have distinguished commenting on student writing (which is treated here) from grading student writing (which is treated in the Teaching Guide section on grading ). While it is true that instructors’ comments on student writing should give reasons for the grade assigned to it, we want to emphasize here that the comments on a student’s paper can function as instruction , not simply as justification. Here are ten tips.
- Use your comments on a student’s paper to highlight things the paper accomplishes well and a few major things that would most improve the paper.
- Always observe at least one or two strengths in the student’s paper, even if they seem to you to be low-level accomplishments — but avoid condescension. Writing is a complex activity, and students really do need to know they’re doing something right.
- Don’t make exhaustive comments. They take up too much of your time and leave the student with no sense of priority among them.
- Don’t proofread. If the paper is painfully replete with errors and you want to emphasize writing mechanics, count the first ten errors on the page, draw a line at that point, and ask the student to identify them and to show their corrections to you in office hours. Students do not learn much from instructors’ proofreading marks. Direct students to a writing reference guide such as the Random House Handbook.
- Notice patterns or repeated errors (in content or form). Choose the three or four most disabling ones and direct your comments toward helping the students understand what they need to learn to do differently to correct this kind of error.
- Use marginal notes to locate and comment on specific passages in the paper (for example “Interesting idea — develop it more” or “I lost the thread of the argument in this section” or “Very useful summary here before you transition to the next point”). Use final or end comments to discuss more global issues (e.g., “Work on paragraph structure” or “The argument from analogy is ineffective. A better way to make the point would be…”)
- Use questions to help the student unpack areas that are unclear or require more explanation and analysis. E.g.: “Can you explain more about what you mean by “x”?”; “What in the text shows this statement?”; “Is “y” consistent with what you’ve argued about “z”?” This approach can help the student recognize your comments less as a form of judgment than a form of dialogue with their work. As well, it can help you avoid “telling” the student how they should revise certain areas that remain undeveloped. Often, students just need a little more encouragement to focus on an area they haven’t considered in-depth or that they might have envisioned clearly in their head but did not translate to the page.
- Maintain a catalogue of positive end comments: “Good beginning for a 1B course.” “Very perceptive reading.” “Good engagement with the material.” “Gets at the most relevant material/issues/passages.” Anything that connects specific aspects of the student’s product with the grading rubric is useful. (For more on grading rubrics , see the Grading section of the Teaching Guide.)
- Diplomatic but firm suggestions for improvement: Here you must be specific and concrete. Global negative statements tend to enter students’ self-image (“I’m a bad writer”). This creates an attitudinal barrier to learning and makes your job harder and less satisfying. Instead, try “The most strategic improvement you could make is…” Again, don’t try to comment on everything. Select only the most essential areas for improvement, and watch the student’s progress on the next draft or paper.
- Typical in-text marks: Provide your students with a legend of your reading marks. Does a straight underline indicate “good stuff”? Does a wavy underline mean something different? Do you use abbreviations in the margins? You can find examples of standard editing marks in many writing guides, such as the Random House Handbook.
- The tone of your comments on student writing is important to students. Avoid sarcasm and jokes — students who take offense are less disposed to learn. Address the student by name before your end-comments, and sign your name after your remarks. Be professional, and bear in mind the sorts of comments that help you with your work.
Plagiarism and Grading
Students can be genuinely uninformed or misinformed about what constitutes plagiarism. In some instances students will knowingly resort to cutting and pasting from unacknowledged sources; a few may even pay for a paper written by someone else; more recently, students may attempt to pass off AI-generated essays as their own work. Your section syllabus should include a clear policy notice about plagiarism and AI so that students cannot miss it, and instructors should work with students to be sure they understand how to incorporate outside sources appropriately.
Plagiarism can be largely prevented by stipulating that larger writing assignments be completed in steps that the students must turn in for instructor review, or that students visit the instructor periodically for a brief but substantive chat about how their projects are developing, or that students turn in their research log and notes at intermediate points in the research process.
All of these strategies also deter students from using AI to substitute for their own critical thinking and writing. In addition, you may want to craft prompts that are specific to the course materials rather than overly-general ones; and you may also require students to provide detailed analysis about specific texts or cases. AI tools like ChatGPT tend to struggle significantly in both of these areas.
For further guidance on preventing academic misconduct, please see Academic Misconduct — Preventing Plagiarism .
You can also find more information and advice about AI technology like ChatGPT at the Berkeley Center for Teaching & Learning.
UC Berkeley has a campus license to use Turnitin to check the originality of students’ papers and to generate feedback to students about their integration of written sources into their papers. The tool is available in bCourses as an add-on to the Grading tool, and in the Assignments tool SpeedGrader. Even with the results of the originality check, instructors are obligated to exercise judgment in determining the degree to which a given use of source material was fair or unfair.
If a GSI does find a very likely instance of plagiarism, the faculty member in charge of the course must be notified and provided with the evidence. The faculty member is responsible for any sanctions against the student. Some faculty members give an automatic failing grade for the assignment or for the course, according to their own course policy. Instances of plagiarism should be reported to the Center for Student Conduct; please see If You Encounter Academic Misconduct .
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The next step is to take each of the other criteria and define success for each of those, assigning a value to A, B, C and D papers. Those definitions then go into the rubric in the appropriate locations to complete the chart.
Each of the criteria will score points for the essay. The descriptions in the first column are each worth 4 points, the second column 3 points, the third 2 points and the fourth 1 point.
What is the grading process?
Now that your criteria are defined, grading the essay is easy. When grading a student essay with a rubric, it is best to read through the essay once before evaluating for grades . Then reading through the piece a second time, determine where on the scale the writing sample falls for each of the criteria. If the student shows excellent grammar, good organization and a good overall effect, he would score a total of ten points. Divide that by the total criteria, three in this case, and he finishes with a 3.33. which on a four-point scale is a B+. If you use five criteria to evaluate your essays, divide the total points scored by five to determine the student’s grade.
Once you have written your grading rubric, you may decide to share your criteria with your students.
If you do, they will know exactly what your expectations are and what they need to accomplish to get the grade they desire. You may even choose to make a copy of the rubric for each paper and circle where the student lands for each criterion. That way, each person knows where he needs to focus his attention to improve his grade. The clearer your expectations are and the more feedback you give your students, the more successful your students will be. If you use a rubric in your essay grading, you can communicate those standards as well as make your grading more objective with more practical suggestions for your students. In addition, once you write your rubric you can use it for all future evaluations.
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How to Grade a Paper
Last Updated: January 11, 2023 Fact Checked
wikiHow is a “wiki,” similar to Wikipedia, which means that many of our articles are co-written by multiple authors. To create this article, 15 people, some anonymous, worked to edit and improve it over time. There are 8 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been fact-checked, ensuring the accuracy of any cited facts and confirming the authority of its sources. This article has been viewed 80,846 times. Learn more...
Anyone can mark answers right and wrong, but a great teacher can mark up a paper in such a way as to encourage a student who needs it and let good students know they can do better. As the great poet and teacher Taylor Mali put it: "I can make a C+ feel like a Congressional Medal of Honor and I can make an A- feel like a slap in the face."
Going Through an Essay
- These designations obviously depend upon many things, like the assignment, the grade-level of your students, and their individual concerns. If you're in the middle of a unit on comma usage, it's perfectly fine to call that a "higher" concern. But in general, a basic writing assignment should prioritize the higher concerns listed above.
- Does the student address the prompt and fulfill the assignment effectively?
- Does the student think creatively?
- Does the student clearly state their argument, or thesis?
- Is the thesis developed over the course of the assignment?
- Does the writer provide evidence?
- Does the paper show evidence of organization and revision, or does it seem like a first draft?
- Marking essays in pencil can suggest that the issues are easily fixable, keeping the student looking forward, rather than dwelling on their success or failure. Pencil, blue, or black pen is perfectly appropriate.
- Be as specific as possible when asking questions. "What?" is not a particularly helpful question to scrawl in the margin, compared to "What do you mean by 'some societies'?"
- ¶ = to start a new paragraph
- three underscores under a letter = to lowercase or uppercase the letter
- "sp" = word is spelled incorrectly
- word crossed out with a small "pigtail" above = word needs to be deleted
- Some teachers use the first page as a rule of thumb for marking later concerns. If there are sentence-level issues, mark them on the first page and then stop marking them throughout the essay, especially if the assignment needs more revision.
Writing Effective Comments
- Use marginal comments to point out specific points or areas in the essay the student could improve.
- Use a paragraph note at the end to summarize your comments and direct them toward improvement.
- Comments should not justify a letter grade. Never start a note, "You got a C because...". It's not your job to defend the grade given. Instead, use the comments to look toward revision and the next assignment, rather than staring backward at the successes or failures of the given assignment.
- If you struggle to find anything, you can always praise their topic selection: "This is an important topic! Good choice!"
- When you give your first read-through, Try to determine what these three points might be to make it easier when you're going through the paper and writing comments.
- "In your next assignment, make sure to organize your paragraphs according to the argument you're making" is a better comment than "Your paragraphs are disorganized."
Assigning Letter Grades
- Thesis and argument: _/40
- Organization and paragraphs: _/30
- Introduction and conclusion: _/10
- Grammar, usage, and spelling: _/10
- Sources and Citations: _/10
- A (100-90): Work completes all of the requirements of the assignment in an original and creative manner. Work at this level goes beyond the basic guidelines of the assignment, showing the student took extra initiative in originally and creatively forming content, organization, and style.
- B (89-80): Work completes all of the requirements of the assignment. Work at this level is successful in terms of content, but might need some improvement in organization and style, perhaps requiring a little revision. A B reveals less of the author’s original thought and creativity than A-level work.
- C (79-70): Work completes most of the requirements of the assignment. Though the content, organization, and style are logical and coherent, they may require some revision and may not reflect a high level of originality and creativity on the part of the author.
- D (69-60): Work either does not complete the requirements of the assignment, or meets them quite inadequately. Work at this level requires a good deal of revision, and is largely unsuccessful in content, organization, and style.
- F (Below 60): Work does not complete the requirements of the assignment. In general, students who put forth genuine effort will not receive an F. If you receive an F on any assignment (particularly if you feel you have given adequate effort), you should speak with me personally.
- Some teachers like to hand out papers at the end of the day because they fear discouraging or distracting students during class time. Consider giving the students time to go through the papers in class and be available to talk about their grades afterwards. This will ensure that they read and understand your comments.
- Avoid distractions. It can seem like a good idea to grade papers while you watch Jeopardy, but it'll end up taking longer. Set a manageable goal, like grading ten papers tonight, and quit when you've finished and have a drink. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0
- Do not keep favorites. Grade everyone equally. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0
- Look for more than just grammar. Look for concepts, plots, climax and most importantly...make sure it has a beginning (introduction that catches your attention), a middle (three reasons should have three supportive details to each) and an end(recapture what the paper was about, make a good ending to let the audience remember your story). Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 0
- Always use a rubric to keep yourself safe from grade appeals. You don't want to have to defend subjective grades. Thanks Helpful 12 Not Helpful 4
Things You'll Need
- Something to write with
- A stack of papers
- A stiff beverage
You Might Also Like
- ↑ https://public.wsu.edu/~campbelld/grading.html
- ↑ http://depts.washington.edu/pswrite/grading.html
- ↑ https://phys.org/news/2013-01-red-pen-instructors-negative-response.html
- ↑ https://gsi.berkeley.edu/gsi-guide-contents/student-writing-intro/grading/
- ↑ https://sites.google.com/a/georgetown.edu/prof-william-blattner/resources-for-students/abbreviations-on-returned-papers
- ↑ https://writing-speech.dartmouth.edu/teaching/first-year-writing-pedagogies-methods-design/diagnosing-and-responding-student-writing
- ↑ http://home.snu.edu/~hculbert/criteria.pdf
- ↑ https://teaching.uwo.ca/teaching/assessing/grading-rubrics.html
About This Article
To grade a paper, start by reading it without marking it up to see if it has a clear thesis supported by solid evidence. Then, go back through and write comments, criticism, and questions in the margins. Make sure to give specific feedback, such as “What do you mean by ‘some societies’?” instead of something like “What?” Try to limit yourself to 1 comment per paragraph so you don’t overwhelm the student. You can also write a note at the end, but start with praise before focusing on issues the student should address. For information on how to assign grades to your students’ papers, keep reading! Did this summary help you? Yes No
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GradeHub is now a part of the Turnitin family. To grade assessments, including bubble sheets, try Gradescope by Turnitin.
In recent posts , we’ve discussed tips on developing high-quality multiple-choice exams. Multiple-choice questions are an efficient way to assess student learning across a wide range of learning objectives. In cases you want to know if students have a deep understanding of a specific topic, multiple-choice might not be the best answer (no pun intended). Instead, you might present a problem to solve or an essay question. Whereas multiple-choice items are challenging to write, yet easy to score, the opposite holds true for grading essays.
One of the drawbacks of essays is that humans do the scoring. First, as noted above, essay grading requires substantially more time and resources to score. Second, the grading process is subjective, to some extent. A third drawback to essay grading is that content, though it may be assessed deeply, e.g., using more depth of knowledge, it is not assessed broadly.
Of these drawbacks, the inherent subjectivity in essay grading can be lessened but not eliminated. Here are some guidelines to help improve fairness and consistency the next time you’re grading essays:
- Introduce standardized scoring criteria, such as a rubric. Standardized tests like the SAT use them to score writing samples. You can either stick with one or modify as your expectations for your students increase. And you may choose to share the rubric with your student for each paper, indicating where they are in each criterion.
- Train all graders (e.g., TAs) in using the predetermined scoring rubrics to increase inter-rater reliability. You may even want to give them a sample essay to score to ensure the outcome is the same, or at least very close to, how you would have evaluated it.
- When using a rubric, it’s best to read through the answer once before evaluating for a grade. The second time through, you can determine where it falls for each of the criteria.
- Grade a given question for all students before moving on the next essay question.
- Maintain notes while grading each question to improve consistent point deductions between students.
- After grading an essay, don’t be reluctant to go back and review assessments for consistency.
Following are examples of two rubrics.
Top picture: Rubric from St. Mary’s College School of Extended Education Bottom picture: Rubric from the el paso graigslist
In review, to assess the depth of knowledge, an essay question is an excellent choice. Essay grading can be difficult and extremely time-consuming. Grading essays are subjective, which reduces test reliability. And remember, if you are in a large class setting with multiple TAs grading essays, you should develop strategies to improve inter-rater reliability.
Mark Espinola CEO + Founder of GradeHub
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Guidelines for Grading An Essay
This exercise intends to take the mystery out of grading papers. It is true that many teachers and professors have their own “style” of grading. But all follow some general rules of thumb when they grade your papers.
A Good Essay
Every essay must contain three essential elements. First, the essay must provide a thesis statement (in the introductory paragraph). The thesis statement must encapsulate the main argument for the paper. It must be clear and coherent, and it must answer the question that the professor has put forth to the class. Second, the essay must offer supporting evidence. The writer must provide the supporting evidence in paragraph (not “bullet” or list) form. Each paragraph must contain evidence that supports one idea or concept that proves the thesis statement. The writer must provide citations (in footnote, endnote, or paranthetical form) for all evidence presented. Third, every essay must follow basic rules of format and grammar. Every paper must contain a beginning (introductory paragraph), a middle (several supporting paragraphs that comprise the body of the paper), and an end (concluding paragraph). Grammar is vital for essay composition. Sentence fragments, misspellings, and improper punctuation denote a carelessly-written and poorly-conceived paper. 
Here is an outline for the paragraph above:
A. Topic Sentence “Every essay must contain three essential elements.”
This is the main concept of the paragraph.
B. Thesis Statement
- clear and coherent
- answers the question
C. Supporting Evidence
- paragraph form
- evidence supports one concept that helps prove the thesis statement
- includes citations
D. Paper Format and Grammar
- paper includes a beginning, middle, and end
- Proper utilization of grammar, including punctuation, spelling, subject and verb usage.
Now you must play the part of the professor. Here is a standard guideline, adapted from several dependable sources (see footnote on previous page), that you must follow as you grade a fellow student’s paper.
Take a record of each item missing, and subtract the total number of points from 100 (a perfect score). Not all professors grade papers by deducting points in this fashion. But for classroom purposes, we will assign point values. I have devised these point values to show you the relative importance of the different elements of essay-writing.
Grading an Essay
A. Identify the Thesis Statement. Does this paper have a thesis statement? Does that thesis statement answer the question put forth in class by the professor? Is the thesis statement clear ? Do you understand it?
No thesis statement: -15
Thesis statement unrelated to question: -10
B. Supporting Evidence. Examine each paragraph for the information below.
- Identify the topic sentence for each paragraph. This topic sentence (usually the first or second sentence of the paragraph) should resemble a mini-thesis statement . It should contain one idea or concept. The rest of the paragraph must present the evidence that proves that topic sentence (one idea or concept.) Does each paragraph have a topic sentence? If not, -5 for each paragraph .
- Does each paragraph contain just one idea or concept? –5 for each paragraph that does not.
- Does this author use evidence to support his/her argument (thesis statement)? -5 for each paragraph that lacks evidence.
- Has the author provided citations for his/her evidence? -3 for each supporting paragraph that lacks a citation.
C. Examine the paper’s format and grammar.
- Does this paper have a beginning (introduction), a middle (body), and an end (conclusion)? If it does not have all three of these, -10
- Examine grammar. Circle every violation. –2 for every single violation . If you find more than 5 violations, -15.
a. Does this paper have proper punctuation?
b. Are words spelled correctly?
c. Does the author provide full and complete sentences? There should be no sentence fragments or run-on sentences.
d. Does this paper have consistent verb tense, voice, and third-person usage?
e. Are proper nouns capitalized?
At last, you must recommend a grade for this paper. On your notecard, write a one or two sentence statement that explains this paper’s argument. If this paper is so poorly organized, conceived, and written that you are unable to determine the main idea presented here by this author, then you must assign, automatically, a failing grade (F).
Otherwise, write your statement. Then, total the points and subtract from 100. Write this number on the note card, and then paper clip the note card to the paper. This is your recommended grade. Please include your name on the note card. Do not write your name on your fellow student’s paper.
Explanation of writing symbols on marked papers
Awk -- awkward: sentence is clumsy, difficult to read and comprehend.
frag – sentence fragment
w/c – word choice doesn’t express what you seem to mean
-- paragraph; or, you need to insert new paragraph
sp -- spelling error
cs -- comma splice
ro -- run-on sentence (2 independent clauses in 1 sentence without punctuation or conjunction)
rep. – repetitive
? -- in margin means passage is confusing or obscure; over word or phrase means I don’t understand its meaning.
p. – punctuation error
agr. -- agreement. Form of pronoun doesn’t agree with antecedent; verb form doesn’t agree with subject
vf -- incorrect verb form
-- strike out
 For more information on writing essays, see Peter Charles Hoffer and William B. Stueck, Reading and Writing American History: An Introduction to the Historian’s Craft ; and William Strunk and E. B. White, Elements of Style . Other resources for writers include The Chicago Manual of Style : The Essential Guide for Writers, Editors, and Publishers (14th Edition) ; Marjorie E. Skillin and Robert Malcolm Gay, Words Into Type; and Kate L. Turabian, Student’s Guide for Writing College Papers .
6 Tricks to Get an A Grade on Your Essay
We've all been there: gazing blankly at a computer screen, yearning for the right words to wow our teachers and nab that elusive A on our essays. But don't worry, my fellow students; I have a few techniques up my sleeve that can help you obtain that desired A on your next essay.
Writing a high-quality essay can be a difficult undertaking, but with little advice and effort, you can become a master of the written word. In this article, I will outline six strategies to help you get an A on your essay.
1. Know Your Audience
Knowing what to expect from your reader will enable you to write an essay that meets their needs and improves your grade. Look into the topics that interest your professor and, if you can, try to include them in your essay.
Additionally, think about the kind of reader who will be assigning a grade to your essay. Are they more interested in seeing you show off your subject area knowledge than they are in a more imaginative and captivating writing style? You may more effectively modify your writing style to meet the expectations of your reader if you keep these factors in mind.
2. Conduct Thorough Research and Analysis
Start by choosing a topic that you're passionate about and that you can write about with authority. Conduct thorough research to gather information, making sure to use credible sources such as academic journals and books.
Once you've gathered all of your information, take the time to analyze it and find the most relevant pieces to include in your essay. Your analysis should be informed by your thesis statement , which should be a concise summary of your argument that you will prove throughout your essay.
3. Craft a Strong Structure
Writing a strong thesis statement is the foundation of a well-organized essay. It should be clear, concise, and accurately reflect the main point of your essay. From there, create an outline that will guide your writing and help ensure that your essay is organized logically and flows smoothly. Make sure to use effective transitions to connect your ideas and maintain coherence throughout your essay.
4. Maintain Clear Language and Consistent Style
Language and style are also crucial elements of a successful essay. Using clear and concise language will help ensure that your reader can easily understand your arguments. Avoid common grammatical errors such as run-on sentences and improper use of pronouns.
A varied vocabulary can also help keep your reader engaged and interested in your essay. Finally, creating a compelling writing style is the icing on the cake that can elevate your essay from good to great.
5. Edit and Revise
Editing and revision are often overlooked but are essential to writing a high-quality essay. Take the time to revise your essay for clarity and coherence, eliminating any unnecessary words or phrases that may detract from your argument.
Check for spelling and punctuation errors, and consider seeking feedback from peers or professors to identify any areas for improvement. Editing your essay and revising it is a critical component of the writing process and can make the difference between a mediocre essay and an outstanding one.
6. Manage Time Efficiently
Avoiding procrastination and establishing reasonable deadlines might help you ensure that you have enough time to finish your essay to the best of your ability. You may manage the writing process better and prevent feeling overwhelmed by breaking your article into digestible chunks. Your essay will be polished and prepared to impress your professor if you give yourself enough time for revision and editing.
Writing an essay that earns an A requires commitment and effort, but with the tips in this essay, you can improve your writing. However, keep in mind that these tips are not a one-size-fits-all solution, so you may need to modify them to fit your particular writing style and assignment requirements.
It's also critical to remember that writing an essay is not just about getting an A. While grades are important, the true value of writing an essay is found in the process of gathering, evaluating, and synthesizing information as well as in the ability to clearly and coherently express your thoughts and ideas. You can use the abilities you develop when writing essays , such critical thinking and good communication, in both your academic and professional careers.
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