Marking is often one of the first tasks undertaken by graduates in the academic world, and also one of the most fraught. I was lucky – the first time I marked undergraduate essays, I’d already had marking experience as a high school teacher. For most though, there is no training provided – just jump in and get started.

So I wanted to expand on a few points that Tegan originally raised in her blog post Tutoring for the first time and/or outside your subject area in Classics and Ancient History, with a few tips from my own experience. Hopefully, these will give you confidence, reduce your stress, and maybe even help you save time!

1. Understanding the task

Getting a good understanding of the assessment task is important for marking it – you need to know what you are looking for in the submissions. Identify what skills are being assessed (what the students need to do), as well as what knowledge needs to be demonstrated (what the students need to know).

Talk to the course or unit coordinator – they are usually the person who wrote the task, so they can clarify for you what their expectations are of how it should be completed.

I’d also recommend looking at any student queries in forums – often the instructions they don’t understand are things that you don’t get either! How these are clarified will help you figure out what to look for in their responses.

2. Using the Rubrics

Marking criteria are really important for saving you time in the long run – it should clearly outline what you need to look for in a task. So, for example, if the referencing isn’t included in the marking criteria, you can pay minimal attention to the referencing.

Similarly, if one of the criteria is worth fewer marks, spend less time looking for it in the student’s work. Staying with referencing, for example, if it is worth only 5% of the overall mark, skim through the references.

Sometimes, the marking criteria will not have been written down, and this is where talking with the unit coordinator about what they are looking for in the assessment is really important – from that conversation, you can create a list of criteria for yourself to focus on when you mark.

Using marking criteria – in rubrics or marking guides – is also really useful for your imposter syndrome. When I first started marking, no guides were provided and I felt like I was arbitrarily awarding marks. I couldn’t see that I was actually making an informed judgement on the quality of the work, and felt guilty anytime I gave a low mark. With a marking guide, however, I can justify to myself the marks I give – it doesn’t feel like I’m making it up as I go along!

3. Writing feedback

Feedback is, without a doubt, the most time-consuming part of marking. We all want to be encouraging and help students do better next time. You may want to identify:

  • what they did well and should keep doing (positive feedback),
  • what they didn’t do well and need to change (negative feedback),
  • things they should start doing in future assignments (positive feedforward), and/or
  • things they should avoid doing in future assignments (negative feedforward)

This feedback tends to take a couple of forms – there are the annotations that are added to the assignment as we read, and then the comment we provide at the end. So, how can we save time and still provide useful feedback?

  • Keep your annotations brief – they should be very quick notations of problems or praise.
    • Note: when you are identifying a problem, you don’t always need to offer a solution.
  • Don’t repeat yourself in the annotations – note a problem once and then ignore it when it recurs.
  • Keep an annotation bank – a document with common issues that you can copy and paste into your annotations as needed.
  • Research indicates that feedback is more effective when it includes both compliments and criticism, although the order in which this is delivered doesn’t matter. Many people, though, use the feedback sandwich – praise, criticism, praise.
  • Final comments should be clear and specific – identify one or two of the most important areas that the student can work on to improve, and tell them how to solve their problems.
  • Links to academic support services are really great for saving you time explaining an issue – instead, identify it and send them to where they can solve it themselves.
  • A feedback bank can also be useful – the common issues and praise you use in final comments are ready to be personalised for each assignment.

The more you mark, the more you will develop strategies for saving yourself time when it comes to providing feedback – including having your annotation/feedback bank ready to go!

4. Moderating your marking

Moderation of assessment is about ensuring that marking is fair and equitable. There are three levels of moderation:

  1. Pre-marking moderation – where you meet with the other markers and unit coordinator before you start marking, to agree on what you are looking for and what the process will be for ensuring you are all marking in the same way.
  2. Self-moderation – this happens when you double-check a few of the papers you have marked. For example, you might decide to double mark any that you give high or low marks, or any that you mark after a certain time in the evening. You should definitely double-check anything you marked after that second glass of wine!
  3. Post-marking moderation – this is when you double mark two or three assignments marked by other markers, to check if you have all been consistent in your marking. This might be a formal or an informal process.

While this does add time to your marking, it is an important process for building up your confidence in the accuracy and fairness of the marks you are awarding. As you get more confident, you will mark faster.

Trust your judgement

Ultimately, remember that you have the skills and experience to assess the quality of someone’s work. Trust yourself and your judgement. And if you need help, reach out – there is always someone available to help.

– Aimee