How to Grade Assignments Faster
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.
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.
TurnItIn.com 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.
All cases of plagiarism were reported to the academic board.
Both students who plagiarized and students who share their work were considered equally guilty.
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.
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
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.
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!