Essay (auto-grade) question type

To create a Essay (auto-grade) question you will first need to add it to the Question Bank and add it to the Quiz afterwards. Information on how to do this can be found on the main Quiz page.

After the quiz is set up, you will have to edit it to add the Essay (auto-grade) question.

The essay (auto-grade) question type allows an essay question response to be given a preliminary grade that is generated automatically based on one or more of the following characteristics of the response.

  • the number of words in the response
  • the number of characters in the response
  • the presence of one or more target phrases in the response
  • the presence of one or more common errors in the response

The automatic grade can be overridden by the lecturer later.

Additionally, the lecturer can set up grading bands that offer a non-linear grading scheme. In such a scheme, the grade awarded is that of the grading band in which the word/character count falls.

The lecturer can choose to provide a sample response and/or a glossary of common errors (typos or plagiarized sentences).


Question type

Moodle Essay (auto-grade) activity choice button

  • Select the Quiz from the module homepage and select Edit Quiz.
  • Click Add and select a new question.
  • Scroll down and click the radio button next to Essay (auto-grade).
  • Scroll down and click Add.

General settings

screenshot of sample general settings

  • Add a Question nameThis example shows "Types of circulatory shock".
  • Enter the full question Question text field, including anything that is expected in the answer. For example:

"Write a short paragraph of 50 words or more about the different types of circulatory shock. You must also write your source for this information. Try to include the following phrases:
- Low volume OR hypovolemic
- Cardiogenic OR heart
Distributive OR isovolemic
You will get special bonus points if you use ALL of the above phrases.
You may fail this activity if you get your information from an unreliable source (as described in the course outline)."

  • General feedback is optional, it is not dependent on whether the answer is right or wrong. It could be used to provide an example of the answer, links to further information or an explanation of how the question will be graded.
  • ID number, usually left blank, is another way of identifying questions. It must be unique with each question category.
Combined feedback

screenshot of sample combined feedback settings

Combined feedback is optional. Examples could include:

  • correct responses: "Your essay has been marked as correct. Your lecturer will review this mark later."
  • partially correct responses: "Good try. Please check to see if you have written enough words. Please include all the target phrases."
  • incorrect responses: "No essay was received. Please ask your lecturer about how to input and submit an essay."

Response options

screenshot of response options settings

  • Response format options:
    • HTML editor: text that can be formatted e.g. titles in bold
    • HTML with file picker: to accept attachments
    • Plain text: text without formatting
    • Plain text, monospaced font: characters in font occupy the same amount of horizontal space e.g., Courier.
    • No online text
  • Require text: text input can be mandatory or optional 
  • Input box size: the number of lines, from 5 to 40, which determines the size of the text box where answers are typed in.
  • Allow attachments: No, 1, 2, 3 or Unlimited depending on whether the essay is expected as a document
    • Require attachments: If "Allow attachments" is enabled a minimum number can be stipulated for the response to be graded.

Response template

screenshot of response template settings

The Response template is optional.

  • Response template: Any text entered here will be displayed in the response input box when a new attempt at the question starts. 
  • Sample response: Any text entered here will be displayed when the student clicks the "Show sample" link in the question text

Grader information

screenshot of grader information settings

Grader information is optional. It may be important to include anything that impacts on the question's grading. Take this grader information for example:

"As there may be many acceptable answers here, be sure to check carefully all answers, as it is very likely that many students will include valid answers that are not yet included in the target phrases. If so, please add the new valid answers. After all the new valid answers have been incorporated in the question target phrases, re-grade all student's attempts and inform them about their new grades. Be sure to hear all student's complaints about their answers not considered as valid (even though they might have been actually wrong). You can (maybe you should) include the feedback for the wrong student's answers in your glossary of common errors for the question (so that the students will see why their answers were marked as wrong)."


screenshot of Auto-grading settings

  • Enable automatic grading: Yes
  • Show student feedback: If enabled, a table of actionable feedback will be shown on the grading and review pages. Actionable feedback is feedback that tells students what they need to do to improve. Choose from students or teachers or both.
  • Show grade calculation: If enabled, an explanation of the automatically generated grade will be shown on the grading and review pages. Choose from students or teachers or both.
  • Show text statistics: If enabled text "Statistical Items" selected will be shown. Choose from students or teachers or both.
  • Statistical items: Select the items that you wish to appear in the text statistics that are shown on grading and review pages. Choose from:
    • Characters

    • Words

    • Sentences

    • Paragraphs

    • Unique words

    • Long words

    • Characters per sentence

    • Words per sentence

    • Long words per sentence

    • Sentences per paragraph

    • Lexical density

    • Fog index

    • Common errors

Grade bands

screenshot of Grade bands settings

  • Show grade bands: If enabled, details of the grade bands will be shown on the grading and review pages. In this example, this option has been disabled.
  • Award partial grades: If enabled, grades will be added for partially completed grade bands and two grade bands will appear by default. In this example, this option has been enabled.
  • Grade Bands: Add two grade bands for a question that is graded as a pass for containing 50 gradable items with the following settings:
    • Grade band 1: For 0 or more items, award 0% of the question grade
    • Grade band 2: For 50 or more items, award 60% of the question grade

Target phrases

screenshot of Target phrases settings

  • Show target phrases: If enabled, details of the target phrases will be shown on the grading and review pages. In this example, this option has been disabled.
  • Target phrases: Add the number of target phrases required. Specify the word(s) and grade that will be awarded if this target appears in the essay. The four target phrases that have been added in this example are:
    • Target phrase [1]: If [low volume OR hypovolemic] is used, award [10% of the question grade.]
    • Target phrase [2]: If [cardiogenic OR heart OR cardiac OR pump] is used, award [10% of the question grade.]
    • Target phrase [3]: If [obstructive] is used, award [10% of the question grade.]
    • Target phrase [4]: If [distributive OR isovolemic] is used, award [10% of the question grade.]

Common errors

screenshot of Common errors settings

If you have previously written a Glossary of common errors, choose that glossary and choose a reasonable penalty per error.

Save changes and Preview the question to test that all the settings are working correctly. 

Make sure to check the students' responses and make comments or change grades if needed:

Setting nameDescription

Review attempt

screenshot of Attempts table with link to Review attempt for each student

When the students have taken the quiz, look at the Attempts link and check them one student at a time, one question at a time, by clicking on the Review attempt link under the student's name.

Override mark

screenshot of Auto-grade breakdown and link to Override mark

The Review attempt will show the auto-grading items which were selected for the question. In this example, 'Text statistics' for 'Words', Unique words, Long words, and Lexical density are shown. The Feedback includes the 'Grade for this question', the number of 'Words' from the expected total, whether 'Target phrases' are present, the 'General feedback' and combined feedback for correct responses.

A link to Make comment or override mark can be found under the 'General feedback'. A screen to manually grade the question will pop up.

screenshot of Comments and override mark form

Type in comments and change the mark on the manual grading (pop-up) screen.

Make sure that you click on the Save button at the bottom of the page when you have finished. Verify that your overridden marks have remained as you set them.

Inform your students about their changed grades and the feedback comments once all quiz attempts have been regraded. 

Make any necessary changes to your questions and to your glossary of common errors in preparation for the following term.

For more information, please see the MoodleDocs guidance on the Essay (auto-grade) question type.