E-Rater Tips and Tricks

Who needs teachers when you can let a robot do the grading? Some colleges have recently started using robo-graders to score English assessment tests and students already know how to "beat" the system.

Students who have taken the test, offer the following advice: use big words with lots of syllables, spell every word correctly, and write at least a six-paragraph essay.

The New York Times recently ran an article entitled "Facing a Robo-Grader? Just Keep Obfuscating Mellifluously". Here's the advice they gave students when writing an essay scored by E-Rater (not really, but this is what the studies found):

Write your own subjective truth. Don't worry about whether your prose is factual or not, it seems that Robo-Graders can't tell the difference between whoppers and facts.

Write really long and seemingly complicated sentences because E-Rater does not like short sentences; not even dramatically short sentences.

Do not begin sentences with "or," or "and."

Beware of the sentence fragment.

Furthermore use "however" and "moreover" often.

Use big words. Don't write "bad" when you can use "egregious." Three syllables are better than one.

Don't worry about what you argue "as long as it looks to the computer as if it’s nicely argued." In other words, give evidence (any kind of evidence) to prove your point.

Don't be poetic. E-Rater does not appreciate poetry, not even Shakespeare.

Don't stop writing. The longer the better, so use up all the time you are allotted and just fill, fill, fill.

Use these tips and tricks when taking your English assessment test graded by E-Rater, you'll be glad you did. However your future professors may consequently end up with pseudo-scholarly solipsistic academic essays permeated with malapropisms and other gratuitous ineloquent purple prose.


  1. When I signed up for my English assesment test, I expected something to be hand written. but instead, i walked into rows of computers. Once I realized i had to write an essay, I mean type, I didn't understand how they were going to grade it and place me in the "proper class" just 5min after I finish the test. Apparently no person actually grades it, a computer does. So once I found out that i was placed into a lower English class, i wanted to go and start something. It just doesnt make any sense how a computer knows how to properly place students into the proper English class. If it was Math, then i guess that seems reasonable, but not English.

    When I told my mom that I got placed in the lower level english, she said I could take the placement test again. But, I got the same results. Probably should have brought my baseball bat with me for the computers. So into English 116 I went....

    My english 116 teacher after reading our essays even said, "Why are you guys all in here? You don't need this class. You guys know how to write." Yea duh. Good job DVC.

  2. I think having a robot grade students' papers will not give accurate results. I remember taking my placement exam, I simply wrote a standard five paragraph essay. I didn't worry much about using a beefy vocabulary, but focused more on keeping the paper organized. Based on the prompt, I threw in personal experiences and feelings that i'm sure the robot didn't care much about. Having a timed exam also added to the pressure but I was still somewhat surprised when I got my result and found out that I needed to take English 118 before moving onto freshmen english. I don't exactly agree with the system that DVC is currently using, technology can be used in grading multiple choice and true or false questions but when it comes to something that has answers that will vary it should be left with a person to grade.After reading these tips, I will be sure to apply them next time I get graded by a robot.

  3. The whole concept of having a computer grade papers is a little ridiculous, but I agree with the article. Once you figure out how to "cheat" the computer, it becomes pretty easy. When I was taking the placement test for English here at DVC, I just used a lot of polysyllabic words and made sure each paragraph had more than eight sentences. There were so many times that I had just digressed from my topic and jumped around, but I knew that it wasn't really going to account for that. If an actual teacher had looked at it, I probably wouldn't have been placed in 122, but because I knew it was a computer I just didn't try very hard. I think I just repeated myself constantly throughout the whole thing.

    It's a really stupid system and we probably shouldn't have computers grading essays since that doesn't really make sense. But as long as we do have that, we might as well just figure out how to work it to our advantage, right?

  4. I have to admit that the computer grading threw me off quite a bit when I took my placement test for English. In the end I was placed in English 122 so I really can't complain but for anyone that hasn't taken it yet then here is some advice. I didn't have a clear thesis or purpose in my essay, it was rushed and messy and not well thought out. What I did have was an extensive vocabulary, flawless spelling, and prefect punctuation. What the computer system picks up on isn't so much the subject matter as it is correct punctuation, the use of polysyllabic words, and correct spelling. The more multi-syllable words you have, the smarter you become to the computer. When you add in “advanced” forms of punctuation like semi-colons and hyphens then you really begin to standout. Perhaps the most important thing to pay attention to is spelling. Incorrectly spelled words seem to put a large damper on scores and is a large problems with people today since spell-check has become commonplace. The computer doesn’t care about your ideas, or opinions, it just cares about how “pretty” you can make your essay sound, and not whether it actually makes any sense.

  5. I think that this way of grading our essays is absolutely ridiculous! The fact that just using big words and long sentences, even if it doesn't make sense, is the way to pass makes me angry. They are not looking for somebody who can actually write a well thought out, creative essay that is well organized, they just want to see if you have a fancy vocabulary. That shouldn't be what it is graded on at all. A lot of good writers probably don't pass because they know that using complicated fancy words all the time is exactly what you shouldn't do. Nobody wants to read an essay like that. I think they should change how they are graded or have somebody actually read them.

  6. This concept of some colleges using "robo-graders" is ridiculous and stupid. It isn't right for any student taking a placement test with a "robo-grader" grading your results because it is not accurate results. Every student writes differently and has their personal word selection. Some students can explain something in a short sentence and some can explain it in many sentences. Everyone has their own style in writing. It's not about the length of the paper; it's about what’s in the paper. But after reading this blog, it's time to take advantage. I'm definitely going to use these tips and tricks in the future.

  7. Using a robot to grade student's papers I think shouldn't be done but rather have an actual person asess them. Even though the technology with computers has become so advanced in the past couple of years, I don't think they can accuratly convey what the writer is trying to say. For example, if the writer wants to use some sentences in their essay and it so happens to be effective, then they are already at a disadvantage.

    After taking the assesment test at DVC for English two times I yielded them same results; I was placed in 116 instead of 122. To be honest, I though that the essay that I wrote was pretty good. Anyways, the 116 class I had to end up taking, was one of the easiest classes ever. The teacher was really nice but the material was not even as close to being as hard then what I had in highschool. I ended up getting a really good grade in that class, even though i was 45 minute late to the final.

    Kyle D. McKinnis

  8. Is Robo-Grader Really Fair?

    Throughout all four years of high school, I was in Honors and AP English classes. I passed all of those classes with A's but I knew that my writing skills were not great. Sadly, even though I passed the classes, I did not pass the AP exams. My teachers told me that my writing contains very poor grammar and sentence structures but I am very good at reading comprehensions.

    When I signed up for the DVC English assessment test, I was really nervous. I knew that my weakness was writing essays. Once I stepped inside the assessment room, I was really surprised to find myself surrounded by computers. "I thought we have to write an essay. Do we print it out for you to grade it?" I asked the assessment lady. After talking to the lady, I found out that my essay was going to be graded by a computer.

    I was really nervous about being graded by a robot. I was worried that the robot will place me in a lower division English class. At the end of the assessment test, I was placed into a lower division English class for my reading comprehension but I was put into Freshmen English for my writing skills. How did that happen?! After reading this article, I found out the reason. The essay I wrote was long and I did not have any sentence fragments.

    I think that it is not fair for the robots to grade our assessments. Sure, it can save a lot of time and is convenient, but it does not grade us accurately. I wished that I was put in a lower division writing class than a lower reading comprehension class. In my English 116 class, I barely did anything! We read only one book throughout the semester, got tested on the materials, and did book reports. I easily passed that class with an A! Vice versa, when I attended English 122, I realized that English 116 did not prepare me for anything. My writing skills were horrible as always. I practically wasted one semester for English. I am glad that I actually learned in English 122 and improved my writing. Robots are not accurate graders and they should not be used.

  9. Stephanie RomeroMay 14, 2012 at 10:20 AM

    I do not think it is a good idea for teachers to rely on a computer program like E-Rater to grade student’s papers. I know technology is advancing and schools are trying to implement them into the educational system, but that should not mean teachers should not grade their student’s papers. Teachers should not rely on a computer to grade an essay and expect the computer to give an accurate grade. I think teachers should use such programs, but for grammar and sentence structure mistakes. They should actually read the essay to grade the student’s paper on how well they wrote the essay. Computers are a great help to educators and students, but educators and students should not rely on a computer to read and score essays or any other essay assessment. When more and more educators start using E-Rater to grade student essays, students then will not have to try hard to actually write a paper because if they are lucky, the can cheat the program. Like the blog suggests, students will learn “how to beat the system”. It will be just one more thing that students can get away with when their grade depends on a computer. Teachers need to grade their student’s essays, so they can help their students improve their writing. If a teacher decides to use a grader like E-Rater, how can they know if their students are writing according to state standards? They probably won’t if they just rely on a computer program to grade their student’s essays and essay assessments. The E-Rater might over score or underscore an essay.

  10. Of all the subjects that should not have an automated grader, English is easily in the top three, at the very least. When a student writes something, they put their thoughts and feelings and energy into creating something that expresses how they think or feel, or how they responded to something, or even just exercises their ability to fully think about a topic and delve into its deepest depths. So in order to be fully understood when submitting a paper, whoever is grading the paper should be just that; a WHO-ever, not a WHAT-ever. In order to fully grasp what someone is trying to say, a person has to be able to think in many different ways from many different angles, and be able to look at something with more than a set number of meanings. A word could be just a word to one person, but to another could be a way of life, or a description of something else. Words are something that can be used to create that which has an endless amount of meanings. And this is not something that can be graded by a robot. Especially considering robots can be defeated, teachers can only be persuaded. If I had to choose between writing what I felt about something, or making sure I used enough syllables and argued the proper way, I would rather take a bad grade, because all of the personal expression would be gone and any interest in the topic would disappear entirely.

  11. I personally believe this is a terrible idea, for robots are only going to be concerned about grading grammer and punctuation rather than actually reading the detail of a paper. When I write my papers I like to relate to either the audience or reader, but if a robot is grading my paper, I will not be able to do that. robots do not understand the sentimental value behind a well written paper. The work will be easier for teachers, but unfair to students.

  12. This article provides you with good tips just in case your essay is graded by a computer. Till this day I do not believe that I have been graded by a computer and if I have I don’t believe that I did any of these tips. I would have liked to know these tips because they can be very helpful. I do not think is a very effective way to grade essays because it is not the same things as having an actual person reading the essay. The grading may be different I believe a person grading a paper is more effective because the computer can be programed to grade a certain want and may be looking for a certain things. While a person grading it may look and correct EVERYTHING. A computer might grade easier than a person but what counts is what is most efficient. College should not use the computer to grade papers because when a student is graded by a professor one day they might not do so great like they have been doing when a computer grades their essay.


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