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How to Grade Assignments Faster

Kymberly has taught in music, programming, and natural languages for over 15 years. She is crazily passionate about learning!

Correcting essays can take a lot of time and energy.

Correcting essays can take a lot of time and energy.

When teaching large classes at university, or multiple secondary classes, you have to grade assignments fast and consistently!

Students are guaranteed to compare their results after receiving their work back. If there are obvious differences, the assignments might need to be re-graded.

Good preparation and some grading techniques can make marking sessions faster and more consistent.

A paper mountain

I was faced with a mountain of weekly marking when teaching technical writing and computer science at Monash University, Australia.

However, this weekly marking didn't come close to the semester exam periods, where I graded and reviewed well over 1000 papers in various computer science subjects.

At times, it felt like I was chained to my pen and desk!

Tip: Make the assignment requirements clear and detailed

Detailed assignment requirements guide students to provide you with good answers.

  • Describe what type of evidence and research you require the students to include.
  • Perhaps limit research sources to ones that you choose, or provide students with data to use in their answers.
  • Consider giving examples of good partial answers.

Ask a colleague to read your assignment to discover any areas that are unclear or ambiguous.

Review drafts

Requiring drafts to be submitted ahead of the assignment is a good way to prevent plagiarism, and catch problems or misunderstandings early, before you are faced with the pile of papers to be marked.

Tip: Have firm late-submission and plagiarism policies

Attach your late-submission and plagiarism policies to the assignment description.

Simple late-submission policy

Make your late work policy relatively simple to avoid calculation headaches later - taking away a number of marks per day late is the easiest. Of course, you need to give consideration to students who were legitimately sick, and can provide a doctor's certificate.

Use a cheater checker

Automated tools are available to check digital submissions for cheating and plagiarism. Running the assignments through electronic plagiarism detection software flags problems quickly. is one of the more popular online tools, and can be used by students to check their own work before submission.

No-nonsense plagiarism policy

We had a strong plagiarism policy at my university - students with work that was too similar to each other, or to something on the web, initially received zero marks, then were interviewed to check their understanding of the assignment and to discover the source.

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All cases of plagiarism were reported to the academic board.

Both students who plagiarized and students who share their work were considered equally guilty.

The pile of marking shrinks faster with a good marking guide and rubric.

The pile of marking shrinks faster with a good marking guide and rubric.

Tip: Prepare a marking guide far in advance

Preferably, give the marking requirements to the students at the same time as their assignment task. This lets them know exactly what you are looking for.

At the beginning of courses, students were taught how to properly acknowledge and cite references, so if work was incorrectly cited (unintentional plagiarism), then a number of marks were deducted from their total score.

Changing the marking guide

  • If you need to change the marking guide part-way through marking, you'll need to remark those you have completed.
  • When marking in a group, discuss changes to the guide before you re-mark to ensure consistency.
  • An answer key (sample answers) can be helpful when more than one person is marking, and is best developed within the group of assessors.
  • Developing a rubric (a set of criteria for each grade level) speeds up the marking process, and can help students better answer the assignment questions.

Ask a colleague to check your marking guide or rubric to discover gaps or errors.

Peer grading in class

Give a detailed answer key and rubric (with examples) to students, then they can review and 'mark' their co-students' work and provide feedback in groups.

On releasing solutions to students

The success of workplace projects is often measured against requirements set at the beginning. If you give the marking guide to students at the same time as an assignment, they will be able to structure their submission to meet the requirements.

A sample assignment may also be useful for more complex tasks, but students will be tempted to summarize or paraphrase the sample answers in their submissions.

Providing a solution, sample and rubric when returning graded submissions, can encourage students to revise their work. However, this can limit you from re-using the assignment the next time you teach the same class.

Tip: Develop your standard correction style

Don't feel you have to write correct sentences for each mistake. Use symbols, circle mistakes, use underlining, highlighting and arrows to quickly note your feedback.

Don't forget to give students a key to your symbols so they can understand your feedback.

Nothing looks less professional than a grade that has been corrected multiple times in pen. Grade first in pencil, before calculating the final grades.

Tip: Make your grading decisions as objective as possible

Objective criteria allows for relief teachers or assistants to mark in the same way as you, and reduces disputes from students.

A marking nightmare

One of my tutors was sick, and unable to concentrate during exam marking.

When tallying the marks after all papers were graded, I found full marks given to blank pages, and zero marks given to perfectly correct answers. Grades seemed to be assigned randomly, not following the marking guide.

I had to re-grade all the papers myself, within a very tight deadline.

Obviously there are written assignments which need subjective criteria - a well-formed argument in an opinion essay, is one example.

Reduce disputes further

  • To lower the risk of bias, cover all students' names, and shuffle papers after marking one question in all submissions.
  • Double check all submissions after you finish marking.
  • Make sure the points add up correctly, and have been correctly transferred to the class-marks list.

Tip: Read 3-5 random assignments before you start grading

Check that the grading guide and/or answer key is appropriate - sometimes you need to tweak the marking criteria to cover gaps or an angle you had not thought of. For more complex assignments, you may want to skim all submissions.

Find examples to serve as standards for each level of marks

It is important when more than one person is marking to ensure a consistent grade is given to assignments with the same quality. Collect one or two papers or answers for each level - perfect, average and poor.

Tip: Mark one aspect at a time, in all submissions

Consistency is improved when one question is marked fully before moving on to the next question. It can become monotonous, but it is faster!

A technique for ensuring consistency and marking essays faster is to grade all submissions for content first, then return to assess structure, supporting material, clarity, consistency and writing quality.

Too much feedback on assignments slows marking down.

Too much feedback on assignments slows marking down.

Tip: Provide just enough feedback

Try not to over-mark, it takes too much time! Only provide feedback when the students can make use of it, or when it explains the given grade to a second assessor.

Exam papers are often not seen by students, so don't waste time writing unnecessary comments.

Collect common feedback

Note down common problems and, instead of writing the same feedback on each student's paper, cover it in class.

  • Annotate your rubric with the common problems and marks assigned, to form a quick reference for later papers or to remain consistent with other assessors.
  • Ask questions in comments - "How is this connected to ..." instead of writing negative statements "Not clear". Constructive comments help students to reflect on their writing and improve.
  • Don't forget to give positive feedback too!

Even faster: If you are marking documents electronically, have a file of common comments, then copy and paste as appropriate to provide feedback.

Tip: Look after yourself

Pace yourself

Don't try to do all the marking in one stint - it's a recipe for a pounding headache and inconsistent grades. Take regular breaks, get some exercise, eat and drink, and do the marking over a period of a few days.

Arts building at Monash, Australia. So many stay late to work through the night.

Arts building at Monash, Australia. So many stay late to work through the night.

Be aware of burnout

Avoid letting assignment marking pile up - procrastination can create an unmanageable mountain of grading.

Too much marking both long term and within short periods, is a key factor in leading to burnout in teaching careers.

Grade in good conditions

Marking when hungry, ill, sad, angry or upset will result in biased, inconsistent and lower grades. Grading takes energy, and is best done when in a good (or at least neutral) mood.

Get enough sleep

It's no good pulling all-nighters to grade papers - the marking will be inconsistent and it has a nasty impact on your health. When this occurs often, it leads to burnout and chronic ill health.

Make sure you get enough sleep at night, spend time with your friends and family.

What are your tips?

How do you power through your marking?

Let us know in the comments below!


georgia on September 20, 2019:

Im a lecture for International Masters students who have come to NZ and this is new for me, even though it is where I wanted to go as a career focus. I liked this blog and comments Kymberley taught me something...marking is insightful about how a student thinks, how prepared and committed they are to good writing and expression of their thoughts and ideas. YOu have given me some things to consider when I mark assessments.

Reem on December 10, 2017:

I teach translation, and each response sheet takes five minutes to half an hour to mark, if the language is really poor. What I usually do and found to be really helpful is that I reward myself after every five papers. I get up, eat and drink, and chat with my children or watch TV for 15 minutes, then go back to my "misery". I feel good that my comments on the sheets are clear and useful, but I need to make a conscious effort to forget that some students won't bother to read my comments. It is depressing, but then I have to remember that I'm working hard for the sake of the few hardworking students who appreciate my help and make good use of it.

Paul Richard Kuehn from Udorn City, Thailand on November 29, 2012:

This is an awesome hub on grading written assignments. Since I have lately been teaching lower grades, I haven't had many long written assignments to grade. Your ideas are all excellent, and I agree that a rubric communicated to the students before the assignment is necessary. Voted up, shared with followers on hubpages and Facebook, and also Pinned.

Kymberly Fergusson (author) from Germany on September 14, 2012:

Zubair - Discussing mistakes with students works better than only giving them written feedback - so many don't even read the written comments! Thanks for adding your thoughts!

Zubair Ahmed on September 07, 2012:

Thank you for sharing this info very useful. I find it useful technique to highlight or underline mistakes. I also take time to discuss certain mistakes directly with students that need some help. It then allows them to understand what it is that they can do to improve.

Kymberly Fergusson (author) from Germany on August 27, 2012:

CC - I must be strange - most of the time I didn't mind marking (except for the huge number of copied/plagiarised assignments). Once I got into a rhythm, it was almost meditative. But then, I also love indexing (which many people find horrible). I hope more teachers also find this useful!

Teresa - Staggering submission dates certainly helps keep the piles lower!

iheartkafka - the 'grade matters' behaviour doesn't change at university - very few students would look at the feedback (and then make the same mistakes in the following assignments). I found reviewing the common (and especially the stupid) mistakes in lectures to be much more worthwhile than writing tons of feedback. Thank you!

iheartkafka on August 18, 2012:

Great tips! My first few years as a high school teacher, I spent hours giving a ton of feedback. I noticed students would look at the letter grade (give a quick glance at the notes) and then stuff the paper in their bags. I was working harder than them. Rubrics have been such a time saver for me! Thanks for the useful hub!

Teresa Coppens from Ontario, Canada on August 16, 2012:

Informative article. I also found that staggering due dates of tests and assignments helped relieve the workload and stress.

Cynthia Calhoun from Western NC on August 15, 2012:

As a teacher, I couldn't STAND marking papers. It was the one thing that kept me from ever really liking teaching. I did it for six years, but I would always look out the window and see the world passing me by - making me resent grading papers. I almost wish I had seen this when I first started teaching - I might have spent a lot less time grading. :) Thanks for sharing and I"m sorry you had some of those nightmarish stories!

Kymberly Fergusson (author) from Germany on August 15, 2012:

sriparna - thank you! I find electronic marking much faster too. I used to use MOSS (for checking code) and a 'home baked' checker from Monash for the written assignments. I was always amazed at the number of direct copies, same spelling mistakes and grammar problems!

Kymberly Fergusson (author) from Germany on August 15, 2012:

Dan - staggered submission times do work well to prevent feeling overwhelmed. My tech writing classes handed stuff in over a week. But being a master procrastinator, I had my weekends full of marking, until I forced myself to mark on a daily basis (and even in class if students finished their pracs early).

Discussing the rubric before and during the assignment period helps the students enormously, and linking common problems to the rubric nudges the students who didn't pay attention the first time.

Sriparna from New Delhi on August 14, 2012:

Excellent hub, a lot of teachers will be benefitted from this hub! We also use in our school to grade extended essays for IB students. Since last year, I have been using track changes in microsoft document, that really worked well and went faster and having a rubric is very useful.

Dan Human from Niagara Falls, NY on August 14, 2012:

I agree that an objective rubric helps when grading papers. It is always a good idea to review it as a class when discussing the assignment. Something that I have also done was to stagger the turn in days for papers by class period. This way I was able to concentrate on a smaller stack of papers and not feel so overwhelmed.

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