I am in grading Hell. I expect to be here until at least Memorial Day (Monday), and possibly through Tuesday. (Does that mean I’m actually in grading Purgatory? Please advise.)
Anyway, in a private communication, PhysioProf asked,
As you get grumpier from grading, do you grade harsher?
If I did, that would be an unfortunate situation for those whose papers I get to last, wouldn’t it?
Thankfully for my students, I make serious efforts to apply a uniform level of harshness (or leniency) across the whole pool I’m grading. Here are some of my strategies:
- Invest some time in formulating good rubrics. To the extent I can, I want to give credit (including partial credit) uniformly. Working out which details are essential to a good answer, and how many points each of those details is worth — before I start looking at the actual responses — helps ensure that the first paper I grade and the last paper I grade get points awarded on the same basis.
- Re-evaluate rubric design after looking at a range of actual responses. Sometimes a question isn’t as clear as I thought it would be, or there’s a sensible way to answer that I didn’t anticipate, or there’s a common mistake that is common enough that it suggests some problem in my transmission of information during the term. Tentatively marking about 10% of the papers on the basis of my original rubric, then revisiting the rubric to adjust it before assigning real grades lets me be humane without being more humane to later papers and less humane with earlier papers.
- On exams, grade one item on all the papers (rather than one paper on all the items), moving on to grade the next item after getting through all the papers. Doing a single question in one sitting makes it more likely that there won’t be a “drift” in how I evaluate the answers against the grading standards.
- Shuffle the deck so different papers are at the top of the stack for different items. To the extent that I might drift toward being more harsh or more lenient at different points in the stack, I try to make sure each student is near the top of the stack for some items, near the bottom for others, and near the middle for the rest.
- Take frequent breaks. If I’m noticeably tired or grumpy, my grades will be suspect. Time to take a break and do something else, then come back refreshed. It certainly beats having to go back and regrade in remorse.
- Accept that students are surprising. It’s impossible to predict with certainty which students will wow you on a final exam and which will be having bad days. Coming to the grading table with no firm expectations one way or another makes it more likely that the marks will reflect their actual performance.
What do the other denizens of grading hell do to ensure fairness to their fellow-sufferers (student division)?