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Marking Assignments and Exams

Rationale: Although TAs perform many different duties in different departments, one task that is common for nearly all is marking assignments, tests, or exams. The purpose of this exercise is to explore the complexity of marking papers and assigning grades. In particular, the exercise focuses attention on the purposes of setting and marking assignments, establishing grading criteria, the difficulty of achieving reliable and valid grading procedures, and providing helpful feedback to students on assignments and tests. The experience of working in pairs shows that, when it comes to reliable grading, two heads are usually better than one.

Method: IN ADVANCE OF THE WORKSHOP one of the course instructors prepares a sample assignment question and a sample answer. (This can be an essay question, book report, problem set, etc. Multiple-choice tests are less suitable for the exercise.) In principle the assignment task and the answer could be genuine (i.e. they were completed by a real student), but it would be ethical and sensible to seek the permission of the student concerned, which may in practice be difficult to do. The assignment/question should be typical of what a TA for the course might be expected to mark, and the answer should be a reasonable one - not excessively good or excessively weak.

IN THE WORKSHOP ITSELF each participant is given a copy of the question and the sample answer. They are asked to assign a mark out of 100 and add whatever comments they feel would be appropriate. It is important that for this part of the exercise participants work alone. (Depending on the nature and length of the assignment, this part will take up to 20 minutes.)

Working in pairs, participants exchange marked assignments, reading the grade and comments. They then list the grading criteria they used to arrive at their mark, and give their reactions to the comments. (This takes at least 10 minutes.)

On a chalkboard, flip-chart, or overhead the facilitator tabulates the marks assigned by each participant, makes a list of criteria used to arrive at the grade, and invites views about the ways people differed in the marks they assigned and the type of comments they provided. Finally, participants are asked to offer any principles they might recommend to ensure better marking of assignments. These might include:


Variation: It is also possible to have prepared versions of the marked assignments, showing examples of good marking (e.g. helpful comments), and bad (e.g. few or insulting comments). These are distributed after participants have themselves marked the assignment and can be used to initiate a discussion of what comments might give feedback to students ("If you were a student and you got back your assignment marked like this, how would you feel . . .?")

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Last updated June 24, 1997

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