Many postgraduates who are involved with teaching or demonstrating will be required to undertake some form of marking and assessment. Marking can be one of the hardest aspects to teaching, requiring a great deal of patience and time. However, it doesn’t always have to be challenging! In fact, marking can be both beneficial for the students affected and an efficient use of your time as a teacher. This article offers ten top tips for postgraduates undertaking marking and giving feedback for the first time, based on the experiences of the author.
1. What do you want students to achieve in this process?
Verify the aims of the exercise and keep this in mind as you begin marking. The objectives will be very different based on the students’ level: a first-year assignment will have different expectations to a final-year exercise.
2. How do you want students to feel?
Overly negative feedback can have a detrimental effect on the way students react to the exercise. Maintaining a balance between identifying mistakes and offering constructive comments to support students’ learning is crucial. While marking the exercise, keep in mind the impact you want your feedback to have.
3. What is the timescale?
Marking assignments at the last minute puts pressure on you as a teacher and can lead to feedback which is simply not helpful to students. Find out the timescale required for returning feedback and begin marking well in advance. Universities and departments sometimes have their own timescale which must be followed, so ensure that feedback is returned ahead of this deadline.
4. What are the marking criteria?
If there are specific marking criteria for the module or unit, keep to this throughout your marking. However, sometimes, especially in the Arts and Humanities, there can be a lack of specific criteria for marking. In this case, consult the general university mark scheme to get a broad idea of the expectations for different categories.
5. Is there a document that should be completed?
Sometimes departments provide a pro-forma document which should be completed when marking an assessment. Check with your departmental administrator or with colleagues whether this is the case. While these documents can at times be restrictive, they do provide a helpful structure for giving feedback.
6. How would colleagues approach the same exercise?
It’s always helpful to take on advice from more experienced colleagues. How would they mark the exercise or assignment? What sort of feedback would they give? Can they give you an idea of what would represent the most common categories (2.2, 2.1, 1st)?
7. Take notes and keep them.
In any assignment, it’s important to take notes throughout your marking. This makes it explicit that you have thought carefully about the students’ work and provides you with the evidence required to support your feedback. When marking an essay, remember that students will read these comments, so ensure that these comments are relevant and informative. It may help in this case to take copies of the essay to support your own professional development.
8. Provide feedback which is easy to follow.
Whether this is oral feedback following a demonstration, or written feedback, comments should be easy to follow and should allow students to identify areas in which they could develop and in which they have succeeded. The feedback ‘sandwich’ of areas of success, followed by areas of weakness, and then by ways to develop, works extremely well and provides a clear structure.
9. Make feedback a ‘dialogue.’
It can be very tempting for students just to glance at their mark and not consider your carefully-chosen comments. By providing areas for development in the future, and by offering some time to discuss your comments either in person or via email, the feedback process can be more informative for the student, and make the process feel more personal.
10. Keep track of student results.
It can be very gratifying for you as a teacher to see an upward curve in students’ results: keeping a record also enables you to offer some insight on student attainment when speaking to colleagues. If you are required to complete student report forms, such records can also help to compile these forms.