Master Student Qualities Essay Outline

Essay Characteristics - an Example Guideline for Marking

Characteristics of an "A" Paper:

Excellent, with perhaps, one forgivable flaw.

  • Challenging thesis and clearly developed.
  • References used intelligently in argument.
  • Correct sentence/ grammatical structure.
  • Sophisticated writing style.
  • Appropriate documentation.
  • Subtlety and complexity in approach to subject.
  • Independence of thought.

Characteristics of a "B" Paper:

Good overall (i.e., does many things right).

  • Some minor errors in factual content OR
  • Some errors in terminology or general writing skills OR
  • Some lapses in clarity (i.e., vagueness, incompleteness, flaws in structure).

Characteristics of a "C" Paper:

Generally correct, with more than a few flaws.

  • Inconsistent or superficial.
  • Weakness in line of argument.
  • Dull thesis.
  • Mechanical approach to argument.
  • Lack or support.
  • Problems with basic grammar or matters of style.
  • Simplicity of thought, structure, or expression.

Characteristics of a "D" or Failing Paper

  •     Does not make its case.
  • Severe difficulties in logical structure or mechanics of expression.
  • Illogical, unsupported thinking without a line or argument.
  • Inadequate thinking about the topic.
  • Incoherent writing.

Rubrics and Marking Sheets

If you expect to be a TA an essay course it is worth your while to develop a thorough grading rubric. Although this activity can be time consuming it will save you time in the long run.

A rubric based marking sheet is a quick way to give detailed feedback in less time. It also provides quantifiable information for specific characteristics that are normally subjective and challenged by students. The sample rubric shown below was used in a third-year required course the the improvement of academic writing was a secondary course objective. The appropriate descriptor for each category would be circled and a numeric grade given for the entire paper. Rubrics should be provided to students before they begin work on an assignment or essay.


Depth/20Surface, book-report, no depth.Lacking depth in one or two areas.Appropriate for a 3rd year course.4th year or graduate level.
Clarity of ideas/15Confused interpretation of most points, or several major ideas.Confused interpretation of some minor points.At expected levels.Beyond expected levels.
Adequate sources/15Uses & and cites less than six sourcesUses & cites at least 6 sources.Minimum of 10 sources used & cited.Uses & cites more than 10 sources, or uses sources of uncommon quality.

Organization and mechanics

APA citation/10Frequent or severe errors in APA citation practices.
Minor errors in APA citation practices.All sources referenced correctly.Sources used to strengthen argument, nested referencing.
APA style/5Inattention to fundamentals of APA style.Minor errors in APA style.Reflects understanding of APA style.Utilizes APA style
conventions not addressed in class (charts, tables, diagrams, appendices, etc.).
Themes/20No thematic organization.  
Discusses 2 or 3 main themes, but uses sources sequentially
within each theme.
Integrates sources to discuss 2 or 3 themes which are clearly related.Integrates sources to
discuss one main theme,
perhaps with explicit
Correct English usage/15Frequent or severeerrors in grammar, sentence structure, or word usage.Minor errors in grammar, sentence structure, or word usage.

Appropriate for 3rd year course.


Exceptional fluency and language capacity supports communicative purpose.



Master Student Possesses Traits

We often speak of a master student, a professional, or a pro. What do these people possess about being a student that the rest of us could emulate? Why would Ellis say we are out of our minds when we want to covet these traits? Dave Ellis in his many editions of Becoming a Master Student details the qualities of such a person:

  • Inquisitiveness

    Comment: I think of an inquisitive person as one who wants to explore. The inquisitive person asks questions. This person wants some answers or, at least, ways to find the answers. For example, you want to get value out of a lecture you recently heard.

  • Ability to focus attention

    Comment: You need time on the task. You want attention, and you obtain attention. Nothing is more important than what you have to learn at that moment. Ellis wants you to have amazement at what you discovered with your attention.

  • Willingness to change

    Comment: Nothing is harder to achieve in this world than accepting and embracing change. As a person beyond middle age, I have trouble accepting all the new gadgets that bombard us everyday. You have to welcome change. Ellis tells us we need to be open to change.

  • Ability to organize and sort

    When I first read this idea in Ellis, I became a little puzzled. You don't think of a master college student as a filing machine. Yet, we all need a little organization. I would call planning the most important part of the organization. Ellis wants us to discover relationships in a large body of knowledge. We need to sift through facts and ideas. This sifting allows us to organize and place information where it belongs. Information should be useful, and this organizing allows that process to happen.

  • Competency

    Comment: What is a competent student? You become a master at something. Ellis encourages us to apply what we learned to new situations.

  • Joyfulness

    Comment: I never thought of a pro student as joyful. Yet, a smile can turn away wrath. You should enjoy learning and smiling about it.

  • Energy (energetic)

    Oh, do I enjoy reading that trait. You should LOVE what you do, including being a student. According to Ellis, it improves our physical and spiritual health. You should enjoy getting up in the morning because of what you can learn.

  • Responsibility

    Comment: No more important trait or characteristic crosses our desk. We have to be willing to risk. We may not achieve success. The very act of trying means we are becoming responsible.

  • Willingness to participate

    Comment: Life represents a participation game. You want to be in the game. Therefore, you need commitment.

  • Generalist

    Comment: When I was going to college in the dark ages, I kept hearing about generalists and specialists. A generalist is someone who possesses a broad base of knowledge in many fields. Have you ever heard someone called a Renaissance person? That means the individual knows a little about many different subjects and can converse intelligently in many fields. Also, the person may inherit some talents. On the other side, a specialist concentrates on a limited field, such as business finance. A doctor called a dermatologist would be a specialized field. A lawyer who specializes in construction law would be considered a specialist.

  • Willingness to accept paradox

    Comment: I don't find this trait easy for students to understand. Something is expressed as contradictory, and, yet, it may be true. Para, according to Ellis, means "beyond," and "doxen" means opinion. Therefore, a paradox might be the following example: You hear about a senator who may have committed a lewd act in a restroom. Yet, the facts support the Senator may have been falsely accused. You have a paradox. Was the Senator guilty or not? We don't know, until all the evidence is presented. In the meantime, we must deal with a paradox.

  • Courage

    I never thought of a master student as being courageous. Yet, pro students have to overcome fear--fear of the unknown. One explores anxieties and tension in one's own life or others.

  • Self-Direction

    Comment: I liked this trait so much. We all have to become self-motivated. No one is going to tell us when to go to bed or when to study. Motivation comes from within.

  • Spontaneity

    Comment: You get out there and try. You exercise your creative talents. You do something no one expects, including you. You achieve spontaneity.

  • Relaxation about grades

    Comment: Have you heard the slang expression, uptight (about grades)? That describes what many college students believe when they go to college. Grades are a way of learning; they simply measure how you did at that moment. They are not the measure of you as a person. It is not your reason for study. You have value beyond grades.

  • Intuitiveness

    Comment: You sense something others don't sense. You know street smarts. You learn to seek the truth. You need to learn how to use your feelings.

  • Creativity

    Comment: How does one become creative? You think outside the box. You see relationships that others may not see. You think of new patterns. Look for opportunities to create, according to Ellis. You want to put items together in new ways.

  • Willingness to be uncomfortable

    Comment: Learning can make us uncomfortable. Learning can disrupt our comfortable lives. Still, if you want to reach a goal, you need to experience some discomfort. When I rode a tractor a friend's farm for the first time, I definitely experienced discomfort. It was worth the effort, because I learned how important that machinery is to the harvesting of the crops.

  • Acceptance

    Comment: You have to be willing to accept life as it comes. That is difficult for many people, because they want life to occur as they see fit. Life surprises us. It has good and bad conditions. If you can accept your role as a student and thrive, then you have gained a rich reward of acceptance. Acceptance can be good for the soul.

  • Laughter

    Comment: My wife always reminds me to improve my sense of humor. I like dry humor, but she prefers laughter in the little things that happen everyday. It is hard to see laughter when stress is building. Still, the experts say laughter is the best medicine.

  • Hunger

    Comment: No, we are talking about physical hunger. We are talking about hunger for knowledge. We learn for the sake of learning. We want to learn so badly that we are willing to take the time to feret out what we don't understand. We take pride in that learning experience.

  • Willingness to work

    Comment: Learning takes effort. You have to expend the energy to succeed and grow. The sweat of your brow determines whether you are willing to put forth the muscle to learn. Nothing comes easy, especially if being a student was not your first love.

  • Caring

    Comment: How can we define caring. You have heard the Hallmark slogan: Care Enough to Send the Very Best. In learning it means, according to Dave Ellis, a passion for ideas. You care about whether you get the learning right. You want to learn, because that is why you decided to go to college or seek an advanced degree. It is a win-win situation where cooperation and love for learning predominate.

    How can we summarize this profound list? Everyone has the ability to learn. You need to discover the natural learner in you. It is beyond technique; you control your learning. Ellis calls us what we just discussed a profound adaptation with well-being and timeliness. I don't think we can ever get enough of learning. Learning doesn't just come from books. It comes from the people you meet and the events you experience. It comes from being aware of one's surroundings and what can be learned from them. It is a passionate eye that looks for ways to better oneself. To paraphrase the famous chef, Emeril LaGasse, we need to "BAM" up our requirements for becoming a "pro" student. Ellis says we need BAMS: Becoming aMaster Student.

    Master Students Control Stress

    In talking about tools to succeed, we cannot forget about stress and the control of stress. I want you to use good stress: eustress. The bad stress I will refer to as "distress." You have an exam to prepare for. Use that as good stress. Read your notes every week, and keep up with the readings. Ask questions in class. Write out sample questions that might be on the quiz. You are learning to control good stress.

    In life we all experience stress that is distressful. Your best friend died in an automobile accident. Your best friend was shot in the dorm. Your grandmother died last week. All these incidents are examples of bad stress. Even the bad stress can be controlled. You don't need to commit suicide when your best friend died, or quit school. You need to recognize, once again, that life is not fair. I remember losing my next door neighbor when attending middle school. It was devastating, because that friend, whom I had played long hours with, died of lukemia. I didn't understand cancer at that young age, but I understood a friend would never say hello again over the back fence. Before you go into a cloud of woes, say STOP! and think mentally what is happening. Can you recover from the loss? Can you donate some of your life to what your friend stood for? Can you become a better person because of that experience? Can you seek professional help to cope with your loss?

    Take a deep breath and try again with your stress. Rely on family and friends to get you through the rough times. Remember that others have it just as tough as you have had. They survived, and you can, too, with bad stress. It is the mark of an educated person that you recognize the difference between good and bad stress.
    Last Updated September 6, 2007

    All Rights Copyright 2007, G. Jay Christensen


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