Systems and methods for building a model for use in grading an essay are provided. A plurality of human graded essays are evaluated using a processor to generate a set of features. A score category is determined for each of the plurality of human graded essays. A weight is produced using a processor for each feature based on the score category for each of the plurality of human graded essays and the set of features. A model is generated using a processor based on the weights for the set of features for evaluating an essay. The set of features includes n features, where the first k features have optimized weights, and the last n-k features have fixed predetermined weights.