Posted by: unlikelygrad | December 5, 2009

tips for grading

I am a fast grader. I surprise my fellow TAs (and yes, some of my professors) with my grading speed. Part of this has to do with my reading speed, but part is just experience. You see, while this is the first semester I’ve TAed, I’ve done quite a bit of grading in the past–for my dad, who was a chemistry professor for many years.

Of course there are some differences. When I was a kid, I was only allowed to grade fill-in-the-blanks assignments (both tests and lab write-ups), whereas I now mostly grade formal lab reports. I used to follow my dad’s grading scheme, whereas I now get to make my own, more or less.

Here are a few things I’ve found that help me get through the stacks of papers that grace my desk every week:

First, stay on top of the grading. If you think that this has nothing to do with grading speed, you are wrong. The less grading you have to do at any given time, the more motivated you are to finish. It’s far less daunting to tackle a small pile than a large one. The more grading I have to do at any one time, the more my grading slows down.

My personal goal is to return every graded paper within a week; I try not to let reports remain ungraded more than three days. A colleague of mine who also tries to return things within a week calculates the minimum number of papers he needs to grade per day, then tries to grade a few more than his “quota”.

Decide on a grading rubric in advance. I make a new rubric every time.

The first step I take is to decide how many points I will allot for each section. I generally like to devote almost half to the introduction and conclusion, though this varies; if an experiment requires a substantial amount of numerical analysis, for example, I will devote more points to the data/results section for that report.

Next, I decide what a complete report will contain and allot points accordingly. For example, one experiment frequently done in quant labs across the country is the determination of an acid-dissociation constant. I expect that the introduction of a report for this lab will contain the purpose of the experiment–determination of Ka of the unknown–5 points. It should also contain theory: What is Ka, and what does it tell us about an acid? (5 points) What equation is used to derive Ka, and how do we determine the components of this equation from experimental data? (10 points) I would also reserve 5 points for style/clarity/etc., making a total of 25 points for the introduction. Note that I might not give a student the entire 5 points for “checking off a box” on my grading rubric–an overly terse or disorganized explanation may get knocked down a point or two, depending on how poor the writing is.

Obviously, your grading rubrics may differ wildly depending on the subject you teach. For example, I do not mark students down for spelling or grammar; I’d love to be able to do so, but I have a hard enough time getting them to write scientifically. On the other hand, I hope that my friend the English comp TA grades people very harshly for spelling or grammar mistakes.

If possible, grade similar sections all at once. When I was grading fill-in-the-blank tests for my dad, I’d do all the first pages at one time, then all the second pages, etc. It took me a while to start doing this for more subjective work, but grading all the introductions at the same time, then all the procedure sections, etc. seems to make things go a lot faster for me. Obviously, this only works for some types of reports.

Happy grading, everyone!

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