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Tips for Marking

(Source: TA Training & Development Program: Survival Guide, University of Guelph, 2003.)

There is no correct system for grading papers.  These criteria are meant to give basic guidelines for the marker, and will not produce infallible results.  You should revise the method so that it works for you.

Assignment Explanation
  • Be prepared to give students very clear instruction for the assignment and make sure that everyone is clear regarding your expectations.
  • Give them the assignment well in advance of the due date.
  • Invite students to come to your office hours to discuss their ideas before they write and to review first drafts.
Marking Scheme
  • In developing marking criteria consider your expectations and what value you are assigning for each aspect of content and form.  Recall that many authorities advise against splitting the grade between content and writing because students then believe that they could write an excellent paper even with frequent errors in style and mechanics.  Instead, reinforce, through one overall grade, that innovative ideas and an understanding of the material are meaningless if they cannot be communicated effectively.
  • Use the marking scheme: provided by the course instructor. This allows you to be consistent in your grading and will make it easier for you to justify the grades that you awarded if any disputes arise.
  • To ensure consistency it may be useful to have each AAV pick particular questions and grade all the students’ responses to those particular questions.
Getting Organized
  • Use “Range Finder” papers: Read a few papers to get an overview of your students’ grasp of the assignment.  Select “good” and “not so good” papers to guide your grading.  If the papers don’t reach your expectations meet again with the instructor to see if the expectations should be revised.
  • Skim all papers without marking and tentatively sort into piles for each letter grade. Keep in mind the criteria for each grade described in the section “Nipissing University’s Grading Guidelines”.
  • Read the entire paper before you begin to mark:  this gives you a general impression of the student’s work.  When you re-read the paper you can evaluate it in more detail and include your comments.
  • By marking all papers in one letter grade at a time, you will be better able to decide where each paper fits into the range by comparing it to others you have just marked.  You may also realize that your first impression was not accurate for some papers.  If so readjust the grades accordingly.
  • Use post-it notes to assign tentative grades.  Record permanently once you have ensured over all consistently.
Giving Feedback
  • Choose the appropriate level of feedback for the task.  As comments should be future oriented, it may not be necessary to provide extensive feedback on a final assignment.
  • Use short comments throughout the paper.  Elaborate the reason for your grade in remarks at the end of the paper.  Don’t forget to highlight the positive aspects of the assignment.
  • Do not write your student’s papers.  Focus on particularly effective or problematic passages.  Note consistent problems with sentence structure, grammar, diction and spelling, but avoid marking or correcting all the errors.  If there are significant grammatical or content issues encourage your students to visit you during office hours for assistance or clarification.
  • Read through quickly for overall focus and organization, then read more carefully to consider paragraph structure, coherence (and transitions), introduction and conclusion.  Think carefully about what specific and general comments will be the most valuable before you make them, then be selective.  If you overwhelm the student with abundant comments on the first page he or she may not even want to look at the rest of the paper.
  • You will probably find that you make fewer comments on an excellent or extremely poor paper than on mediocre one.  However, always remember to include some comments.  Sometimes it can be frustrating to a student to be awarded an “A” as it is to be awarded a “D” of there are no comments included.  Students need feedback to help them understand what criteria you used in awarding their grades.
  • After you have made both your general and specific comments, try to distance yourself and think about the paper in terms of overall effect and how it compares both to other papers and to assignment expectations
  • Assign the specific grade. (You will probably need to translate your letter grade into a specific numerical grade.  Or so you want to assign a range of grades between 60 and 69%? Can you distinguish and justify a grade of 61% versus 63%)  If you need to give numerical grades on a question or part of a question out of fewer than 100 points, decide on the letter grade and then calculate that grade out of the value assigned (i.e., for a C answer, 60% translates into 9/15).
Keeping Your Sanity
  • Divide up your time accordingly. Keep to your allotted time per paper.
  • Remember to take breaks! You will be more efficient if you give your mind a rest and reward yourself at regular intervals.
  • The time required to mark essays will decrease as your experience increases.
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