Peer Grading FRQs using Google Forms and Spreadsheets by Katy Sturges

Implementing FRQ Peer Grading in the Classroom

Guest writer: Katy Sturges, APES teacher from Texas

In the summer of 2008, after completing my first year of teaching only Biology, I went to a mandatory APSI training as a requirement to teach AP® Environmental Science the following school year. As many of us do, we all bring home nuggets of information on not only the content, but on various methods of how more experienced teachers do things. I took away many nuggets that year, but the one that has evolved the most that I still implement today—almost 11 years later– is how to effectively peer grade FRQs. Before I explain my methodology, I think it is important to note the skeleton of this idea was first introduced to me by Courtney Masser Mayer— if you haven’t had the pleasure of being trained by her go sign up!! She is fabulous!

Before Test Day

For each unit my kids get a packet of corresponding released FRQs—they could get 2 FRQs or 10 FRQs- it just depends on the unit! These are due on test day through for a completion grade (they know this). I make sure they don’t plagiarize and I check to make sure they are describing when it says to describe, etc. and take off points accordingly. I have them do this so they are exposed to as many FRQs are possible. SPOILER ALERT- the answers are posted on the College Board website and the kids know this — in fact I tell them about it! This is why their daily grade FRQs are completion BUT they know one of those FRQs (or a conglomerate of them) will be on their test for bonus points. I emphasize to them to go through their packet on their own to the best of their ability, since it’s completion, and THEN look up the answers to see if they were correct and clear up misconceptions before their test. Your high level kids will attempt the FRQs on their own and then look up answers to check their work, your moderately high kids will attempt them on their own and won’t bother looking up answers, your moderately low kids will go straight to College Board and rework their answers and your low kids just won’t do it.

Anonymity is key—and fun!

My kids also answer FRQs on test day –they get a 33 MC test and one 10 point bonus FRQ to answer in about 45 minutes. I don’t curve tests, so this way they can earn some extra points from their FRQ.  All FRQs are written on colored paper that is specific to the class period (this comes in handy later during peer grading) so 1st period might write theirs on blue paper, 2nd period on green, etc. It isn’t necessary to ALWAYS make first period the same color for the entire school year because, let’s be honest, that’s one more thing to keep track of.

On the top of the MC portion of the test, right justified by their name, I have them write their “codename”. This can be ANYTHING their heart desires and can change every test if they want. On the first test, you have to remind them not to spend 10 minutes coming up with “the perfect codename” because they enjoy this part of test day the most. The only parameters I give for making their codename is it needs to be appropriate (if it’s inappropriate they don’t get any FRQ points) and if it’s going to be generic add some numbers at the end. You’d be surprised how many kids will use the codename “Panda” so remind them to be “Panda168” or something. Since the kid’s school lunch accounts are tied to their IDs at my school, I mention to avoid using ID numbers—besides, those are super boring!

Fun Fact: Apparently there used to be a cartoon called “Codename: Kids Next Door” and, you guessed it, every year I would get several kids that used “Kids Next Door” as their codename. Luckily, they were in different classes so they were separated by period/color… but I was very confused for a couple of years!

They will write their codename in three places– on their MC test by their name (as mentioned), on their colored FRQ sheet (ideally in the top right corner) and on a sign-up sheet I pass around:

This paper is the most important for the teacher- this is the easiest way to match the student’s grade/codename to the actual person. It is also colored coded with the class period. Make sure to label the top with the unit name/topic to keep your sanity later when looking back through these. The kids pass this paper around while they are testing without any issues. When you get the sign-up sheet back, add the names of anyone absent—this will make it quick and easy to jot down their codename as they come in to take their test on a later day. This is also why I have them write their codenames on their MC test book—I can always refer back to their original test if I can’t determine who a codename belongs to.

So why go to all this trouble? When the kids peer grade they will never grade their own class period. Color coding helps me keep things straight on grading day– “Blue was 1st period, so I shouldn’t have any blue papers being graded right now”. The codenames are to keep the kids as fair (and as nice) as possible. This way they don’t go “Oh, Bobby Sue is super smart, so this has to be correct- score:10” and on the flipside, they don’t know the names of their peers that don’t have the best writing skills or write painfully incorrect things i.e. “The depletion of ozone causes an increase in greenhouse gases” * cringe *

Peer Grading- The Buy In

I always make it a point to tell my kids WHY we are doing something. The very first time we peer grade I tell them:

  • I lose 14 instructional days for peer grading over the course of the year. I wouldn’t waste 2.5 school weeks if I didn’t find this process crucial to their success on the AP® exam.
  • They can see good writing and they can also see really, really bad writing. Also, which I think is the most important, they can see how someone seems to have a general understanding of the topic but doesn’t write their answer well enough or explain/describe enough to earn a point.
  • They can mentally compare their answers to the rubric and see what various answers College Board accepts as a correct answer. While they peer grade, I have the opportunity to clear up misconceptions and explain why something is incorrect or too vague.
  • They can get a “calibration grade”. I will explain how to do this later in the post, but I tell them if I look at how they graded an FRQ and codename “Texas Blind Salamander” has scores of 3,2,3,3,4 from their peers but they gave the paper a score of a 9, they are not calibrated with their peers and didn’t take the task seriously–their calibration grade will be a reflection of that.

Peer Grading Day- Now What?

Prior to peer grading day I print off a class set of the College Board Rubrics for the FRQ(s) I used for that particular unit. All released FRQs and their rubrics can be found at AP® Central:

When the day is over, I stick these in a manila folder so I can pull them back out next year which saves me paper (yay) and keeps me away from the copy machine the following year (double yay!).

I also build a Google Form for the kids to fill out as they peer grade. It includes their name, the codename of the paper they are grading, the paper color they are grading, the point values per subtopic and the total points earned. You can add other things for classification purposes but those basic things work for me.


Sometimes, if there is a big misconception in the rubric I will add it to the “description” part because, as we are all aware, kids don’t always listen during instructions when you say “hey guys- look at Part B in the rubric…”

At the beginning of the year, I don’t expect them to grade as many FRQs as compared to the number they need to grade at the end of the year. In a 45-minute period, kids can grade 4-5 papers at the beginning of the year, while at the end they can grade 6-8 papers. If they don’t grade the number I provide, I take off calibration points.

Variations on Peer Grading- What I’ve Done in the Past

  • Grouping kids. I used to put kids in groups to peer grade. In a utopian classroom, they would spend 15-20 minutes individually (quietly) grading a handful of FRQs and then come together to collectively discuss why a paper earned/did not earn various points. This works okay the first few times, but what ends up happening is they go through the papers as quickly as possible so they can sit and talk/play on their phones once they finish. Another issue I always had to address when grouping them is they can’t just Rock-Paper-Scissors their way to a score. The idea is if someone gave Part A 2 points and another person gave 0 points, they need to discuss WHY to determine the points earned for Part A- not just meet in the middle. The reason I don’t do this anymore is because 1. not as many papers get scored 2. The feedback I received from kids when I switched from group grading to individual grading is they liked being able to spend more time with each paper and the lower-level kids weren’t just riding the group’s coat-tails, so-to-speak.

  • Using slips of paper for the kids to write on instead of a spreadsheet: don’t do this. This is so hard to keep track of and organize. If your kids don’t have access to computers/laptops/tablets in the classroom, see if you can schedule a day for the computer lab. It’s definitely worth it to avoid sorting through slips of papers!
  • Feedback. The biggest complaint I personally have about doing FRQs this way is the lack of feedback. I don’t think the kids care all that much, but I have yet to come up with a solid method of providing feedback. (Yes, I know, I could suck it up and just hand grade FRQs with detailed notes about “more description” or “too vague” but with my enrollment ranging from 70-160, I flat out don’t have the time to do that). Last year I tried something that worked okay but towards second semester I stopped doing it for some reason. I had the kids provide “Warm & Cool Feedback” slips for at least two of the FRQs they graded (another nugget I received at APSI training!). To ensure each kid received feedback, as an FRQ paper was peer graded with a feedback sheet, it was hole punched to signify a feedback sheet had been made for that paper and no paper could have more than 2 hole punches. Once collected and sorted, I’d hand these back when the kids were working independently. I had mixed reviews- I overheard one student say “Well, this person said to write more but this person said I write too much”—maybe I will give it another try.

How to Determine Scores

The hard part is over- let’s determine scores! Below is a tutorial video I made which is WAY easier than trying to type out what to do with your excel spreadsheet. The video explains how to pull the data from the Google Form, organize it and determine calibration scores.

Click for Katy’s FRQ Grading Tutorial Video

And there you have it! Is this the absolute most perfect way to peer grade FRQs? Most definitely not, but, it’s how that little nugget of wisdom 11 years ago has evolved into a system that works for me. Hopefully you can make some part of this nugget work in your classroom!

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