Holistic Scoring: Everything You Need to Know

A method of evaluation that assesses a written piece of work as a whole, based on a standardized scoring format. With holistic scoring, an examinee receives a single score based on his quality of work (i.e., performance) as a whole. Also called single-impression scoring, global grading, and impressionistic grading, such a scoring strategy is commonly used to evaluate writing samples. 

However, it may also be employed to judge any performance task, for instance, debate, acting, dance, or athletics. When raters score an essay holistically, they neither write constructive comments in the margins nor mark errors on the paper, like punctuation, paragraphing, etc. Instead, they consider the quality of the whole paper, or, in other words, try to get an instantaneous ‘sense of the whole,’ and then give a holistic score.

Often, holistic grading is employed in large-scale assessments like college placement tests. The ACT, SAT, and Advanced Placement tests use a 6-point holistic scoring rubric to evaluate their respective writing sections. Before the raters start their evaluation, certain criteria are agreed upon, which act as the basis of their judgments. Holistic grading works effectively as a time-saving move. Since trained raters can consistently apply the holistic rubric, they can help increase the reliability of this evaluation strategy. Another advantage of holistic scoring is that it focuses on what the students are able to exhibit rather than what they can’t. But there are some disadvantages too.

Holistic scoring doesn’t provide students with comprehensive feedback. This is in contrast to analytic scoring, where students get at least a rating score for each element or criterion that helps them spot areas needing improvement. When a class has student assignments at different levels spanning the criteria points, it could become tricky to choose a solitary description that best fits the assignments. Another problem could be when the evaluation criteria can’t be weighted. Despite these drawbacks, holistic scoring is favored by many.

Typically, a holistic scoring rubric uses a 1 to 4 or 1 to 6 point scale, where an entire piece is matched to a solitary description on the scale. For instance, the highest point on the scale can indicate variety and proficiency in grammatical usage with no more than two errors, broad command of vocabulary, and strong control over the language. In contrast, the lowest point on the scale could stand for a complete lack of vocabulary resources, multiple grammatical mistakes, and little or no sense of style and idiom, thus rendering the assignment unacceptable.

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