21 Ways to Improve Your Chances of Getting a Better Grade

by Owen Fourie

It was a large pile of essays. It was late, and the teacher was tired. Quickly, she took another submission from the stack and began to read. Her red pen was poised in readiness for the attack.

What’s this? She had reached the bottom of the first page, and not a single red mark came from her pen. She continued reading.

The pen yawned! (Well, imagine that it did, for it had not been used at all as the teacher reached the end of the essay on the sixth page.)

She was impressed. This student had obviously taken care to check his work thoroughly before submitting it. There were no grammar, spelling, or punctuation errors.

Although the student’s argument needed more substance and support, the fact that it was free of mechanical errors persuaded the teacher to recognize his diligent effort. She rewarded him with a better grade than she would have given him if his essay had been full of mechanical errors.

The point is that if you are careful to proofread your essays, you will put yourself in a good position to receive better grades. No teacher can favor an essay where it is evident that a student has not given attention to proofreading.

Here are 21 points for you to apply in the proofreading of your essays.

  1. Don’t proofread your essay as soon as you have finished writing it. This is where it is wise not to leave the completion of an assignment to the last minute. By leaving at least two days between completing your writing and the submission deadline, you are giving yourself a chance to do proper proofreading. At completion, you are too familiar with what you have written for immediate proofreading to catch more than a few obvious errors. By letting some time pass, you decrease that familiarity, and you stand a better chance of catching most of your errors.
  2. Be a proofreader when you proofread your essay. In other words, approach your essay as though it has been written by somebody else. Look at it objectively with the intention of finding errors. Read slowly and deliberately, carefully paying attention to detail.
  3. Be prepared to read your essay several times. One reading will not be sufficient. Here, too, it will be necessary to leave some time between readings to “forget” what you have read previously.
  4. Use a dictionary and a thesaurus. These are essential tools. They should be used constantly to check and recheck words and to find new words and synonyms.
  5. Proofread as much as possible on your computer screen. This is for ease of correction. Use the spell checker. It will not catch every spelling mistake because it cannot tell the difference when you use there instead of their, for instance. Check the things mentioned in points 6 through 16 below.
  6. Check facts, names, numbers, and statistics. This is not necessarily a proofreading task; however, as the writer of the essay, you do have a responsibility to present accurate information.
  7. Check sentence structure. This requires careful reading to find faulty and unclear structure. Get rid of cumbersome writing that will confuse your reader.
  8. Be sure that you have written complete sentences. Eliminate fragments, run-ons, and comma splices.
  9. Confirm your choice of words. Be sure that the words you use will accurately convey what you mean. Consider this too: for whom are you writing (according to the assignment)? Choose words that will be understood by your readers. Of course, this does not mean that your readers should not be challenged to improve their vocabulary, but don’t overdo it.
  10. Be aware of homophones to be sure that you have used the correct word. It is easy to use a same-sounding, differently-spelled word: piece instead of peace; band instead of banned; aloud instead of allowed.
  11. Eliminate contractions. Contractions are useful, but avoid them in formal writing: use do not instead of don’t; they are instead of they’re.
  12. Be sure that apostrophes have been used correctly. If you are allowed to use contractions in your essays, be sure to place the apostrophes correctly: don’t not do’nt; and watch out for its and it’s. Normally, possessives take an apostrophe, but here the possessive is its; it’s is a contraction of it is.
  13. Replace colloquialisms. Colloquialisms are fine when spoken by characters in a short story essay, but avoid them in formal writing. Cool can be used as a description of a weather condition, but not as an adjective for some fact that fits neatly into your argument.
  14. Replace any words that seem to be used repeatedly in one sentence, or paragraph, or in the whole essay. Find a synonym, or rephrase your sentence. In point 13, I saw that I had used the adjective fine twice. I had written, “Cool is fine as a description…” To correct this, I substituted “can be used” for “is fine.”
  15. Look for spelling errors. Look also for those subtle errors that even experienced writers make, such as using you instead of your: Follow these steps and you essay will receive a good grade. That should be “your essay …”
  16. Check capitalization and punctuation. Commas are particularly tricky, and we all struggle with them.
  17. Print out your essay and proofread the hard copy, again looking for those things mentioned in points 6 through 16 above. On paper, you will see the errors that you failed to notice on your monitor. Be sure to correct on your computer whatever you find to be wrong on the printed copy.
  18. Try reading your paper backwards—from bottom to top, from right to left. This is good for finding spelling errors.
  19. Try turning your paper so that the top line of each page is closer to you and the bottom line further from you and then read it in the normal way from left to right, from top to bottom, i.e., from the actual bottom to the actual top. This will really make you focus as you look for errors.
  20. Read your essay aloud to yourself or get somebody else to read it to you. Hearing what you have written will help you to find errors.
  21. Ask someone else to proofread your essay. An impartial person, preferably, someone who is well-schooled in English, could render useful service to you to complete the proofreading task.

As you continue proofreading your essays and developing your expertise, you will find it a great help to keep a list of the errors that you tend to repeat—misspellings, wrong homophones, run-ons, and so forth. This is your proofreading checklist, and it will sharpen your awareness, even as you write, to be on the lookout for such things.

In a separate article, I listed fifteen questions that you should ask yourself. You will find these questions under the subheading, Meet the standard. Although proofreading is included, they will take you beyond this task and further increase your chances of a better grade.


Are there any points about essay writing and proofreading for which you would like some clarification? If so, please ask here. Your comments, observations, and questions are welcome.

Here are more articles to help you with English words, grammar, and essay writing.

Copyright © 2012 by English Essay Writing Tips

1 comment

2 pings

    • Liza on October 16, 2017 at 10:07

    Get a proofreader –

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