Forget the Footnotes


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I really hate marking. There is something particularly loathsome about reading piles and piles of exam scripts. Last year I read over 300 and I’ll do it again this year. It’s too much like real work, like the kind of work normal people do — like working in Tescos or answering phones.

I’m supposed to write up a motivation for why I mark a particular answer a particular way, and I do, but often it’s impossible to come up with something much to say about it. Most exam answers are good, ok, fine; it’s 63 for an MSc student and 58 for an undergrad. I don’t know why, but I feel I know a 63 when I see one. What more can I say?

I read three exams an hour — 20 minutes for each one. Afterwards I need a two hour breather to clear my head. To judge inspires dread. Coming up with reasons and motivations for one exam after another, for over 300 exams, just grinds you down in the end. It makes you wonder how God will feel the day after the Day of Judgement. He’ll probably need to take a breather too.

This is what all students should know: don’t forget the audience for your exam script is a overtired teacher on the verge of throwing up. Have pity on this poor creature: don’t hesitate, repeat yourself or deviate from the subject. Yes, and write legibly!

The scale we use is nominally from 1 to 100, but for some reason all students cluster in a very small spectrum. For MSc students it tends to be from 62 to 66. What we should do is to scrap all this accursed marking, identify the few really outstanding students and the few duds, and then randomly assign everyone else a mark between 62 and 66. It would save a lot of time and headache.

It would be interesting to read some study on the psychology of marking. I mean, why is it that we arrive at a particular mark rather than another? Of course we claim that it’s all about the knowledge and analytical skills of the student concerned, but that’s an empirical claim that might be false. It could just as well be the handwriting or the sentence structure. Why do we decide that someone is smart and someone is not? I don’t think anyone really knows.

The union is trying to convince us not to do any marking until the strike is over but I don’t think anyone does it that way. We all know that we’ll have to do the work in the end and we mark on the sly just to avoid ruining our vacations. For now we’re witholding our marks. That way we can remain loyal both to the union and to the students. The paperwork should be easy enough to sort out once the strike is over.


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