Making managing and marking assessments go smoothly

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If you are new to lecturing, the end of term tends to be a tough time. Somewhere between the giant pile of papers or projects to mark and that moment when you can finally wave them goodbye is a lot of hard work. It’s definitely a task that can be minimised with good preparation.

Get ready, get set…

One of the most important things you can do in advance is make sure that your marking criteria are pre-set. Whether you use a formal matrix, a set of ticks based on learning outcomes, or another system, it helps students know where to aim. It will also help you avoid spending hours deciding where a 2:2 ends and 2:1 begins.

Make sure you have an up-to-date student list, on paper or online, with all assessments and their weights towards the final grade included. Most VLEs can be set up to do the maths for you; some lecturers use a spreadsheet; many of us still use a piece of paper and a calculator (it isn’t difficult—just multiply each assessment mark by the assessment’s percentage of the total mark, e.g. .95 x .20—then add up the results to get the final figure).

Don’t get trapped into offering end-of-term extensions unless they are truly warranted. Ask for documentation, and check that the situation meets university criteria. It will be much easier for you if work isn’t trickling in over a period of days.

Now go!

If you use a VLE, there’s usually a facility for either downloading all submissions as a packet or marking them on screen one by one. Turnitin and similar plagiarism-checking tools can help flag up problems, but be prepared to give all work serious scrutiny. It can help to have past submissions on hand in case you need to check style and quality against the student’s previous work.

Many lecturers still prefer to read and mark on paper—and it’s a fact that you will catch more errors this way than on-screen. It is very helpful to type your comments, however. Not only will they be more readable for students, but you’ll have a record. Marking typos, word-use or grammar issues is simpler by hand, but make a quick mention in your typed notes of the scale of such errors.

Some VLEs have automated markup functions. They are certainly helpful when trying to get through hundreds of papers, but you’ll have to decide for yourself whether students’ work gets enough of your attention when using this method.

Wait to enter marks until you have finished each module’s work. You may change your mind as patterns emerge.

Decision helpers.

If you’re struggling to decide essay or project marks, especially borderline cases or potential fails, ask a colleague to mark alongside you. If your university has a formal second-marking scheme, it really does make a difference—but departmental teams can also get together informally to discuss the term’s papers, compare notes, and help each other with tricky decisions.

One way to sort ranking issues on your own is to group papers together subjectively by quality before final marking. Once clear high and low points emerge, you can then use your marking criteria more easily to decide where the numbers fall.

For large exam cohorts, it’s sometimes possible to rope in a postgraduate student to help. Check with your assessment office first regarding security issues, and consider paying—money if the department budget allows, coffee and/or pizza if not. Make sure criteria are crystal clear, and that you are available to answer questions.

Finally, double-check everything before releasing marks to students or submitting them to the administrative team. Mistakes by tired lecturers can be embarrassing and hard to fix.

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