Marking and Grading: 5 Alternatives to Essay Assignments

Are you stuck with those numerous essays you have to complete in a week or two? College marking criteria can be unreasonable. The issue with so many written assignments is that you may quickly run out of ideas and sources of inspiration. 

Students often give themselves up to burnout and pay for an essay when they feel like they are not able to produce something worth a decent grade. Yet, you still can come up to your teacher and ask to modify the assignments used for grading. Although not all of them have the authority to do so, there is still a chance that you will be able to influence the situation.

However, be ready to give constructive criticism, which presupposes having some examples you can share with your teacher. So, what alternative can you suggest?


Although it’s something most students don’t adore, it’s one of the most effective ways to engage students. The latter is especially relevant when participation in recitations isn’t obligatory but can earn you some points. 

When your grade is in your own hands, it’s more about responsible choice. You can skip the class or just sit through it silently and end up without valuable points, or, you can prepare at least a couple of questions to participate. 

However, in this case, students do not only prepare to present material and answer some questions orally. They also listen to other students, gain more knowledge, debate, and improve their critical thinking. Finally, you get to break free from that boring routine presupposing listening to the teacher and writing something at home. Learning can be much more engaging.


Not everyone likes writing, but a lot of students would rather spend an evening choosing the style and animations for a presentation rather than writing a 5-page essay, again. Just make sure you do not present a wall of text on a white background. All of us have seen those presentations that bore you to death with theory. 

Show them how it should be done, think about the format that would excite you and your classmates. Make it fun. You can even invite your audience to participate and answer the questions. But be ready that you will be asked some too. It’s an integral part of presenting your ideas.

Don’t forget that you still need to make your presentation informative and smooth, it’s not only about a pretty picture with different animations:

  • create handouts for important references;
  • avoid reading your notes;
  • include charts or graphs;
  • do not repeat what is said on slides;
  • work on timing settings;
  • and, of course, rehearse.

Lab Class

This can be a good alternative to theoretical classes and assignments for such subjects as chemistry, biology, or physics. Although essays on these subjects are not something you can see frequently, yet, they do exist. And let’s admit, they’re pretty useless most of the time.

It’s hardly possible to complete a critical analysis essay on a tech subject. Written assignments on these subjects are of great use when it comes to research papers. They help the researcher arrange information in a logical way and describe the methodology in detail. You can’t do that in an essay. 

So, tell your teacher about it. Instead of rewriting theory on paper, you can have a lab class where you can replicate what books say. Even if it’s about safety measures and the teacher isn’t ready to entrust students with equipment, the teacher can still show some experiments themselves. It will definitely help get more attention and awaken students’ curiosity. The assessment can be completed based on the level of engagement or how many guiding questions a student answers.

Team Project

Working in a team is a hard but rewarding task. The amount of knowledge you get is immense and various soft skills get honed in the process.

 You learn how to:

  • find common ground;
  • communicate your ideas;
  • compromise;
  • manage your time;
  • take responsibility for your task that will be a part of something bigger.

Team projects can be given both as homework and in-class tasks. There is even a specific format for such classes that presupposes having so-called stations with different tasks. The participants can start anywhere they want and move on from one station to another to earn as many points as possible.


This one would be good for those who struggle with communication in a team or in front of the class. Although it’s quite important that students are prepared for oral presentations, the variety of assignments may at least give them a break sometimes. One can’t just write essays all the time or prepare presentations. 

Mind mapping is a useful thing that helps students summarize content in a condensed form. It also helps establish meaningful connections between concepts and sift through huge amounts of information. This kind of assignment can also be a homework team project. It doesn’t presuppose much interaction. Yet, it still can build a team spirit and reduce the workload for each student.


The list given above isn’t exhaustive, but it gives the basis for bigger ideas. The activities and assignments can be combined or modified using technology. So, it’s not only essays and research papers that can be given to college students, is it?