Giovanna Pasquariello

The fact that many PhD programmes – in the UK and not only – allow doctoral students to gain teaching experience as tutors is praiseworthy. It is an opportunity to build a teaching portfolio, gain confidence and improve one’s outreach skills. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Not to mention that teaching can be one extremely rewarding activity to enrich a PhD with.

However, as exciting as it is, it also comes with a good dose of responsibilities: one amongst all, marking. May it concern essays, open-answer questions, quizzes, translations or any other type of exercise – marking is most certainly a huge part of a tutor’s job. And a tricky one, as it requires time committment and dedication, as well as meeting the expectations of the course organiser(s) – which may well differ from one course to another. In the meantime, all this carrying out one’s own research.

Along the lines of my previous post on teaching (Teaching Tutorials – How To Make The Discussion Flow), here are some tips to help you mark those assignments efficiently, consistently and (almost) effortlessly.

1. Prioritise your own research

As pointed out in one of our blog posts on surviving marking season (Marking! Gesundheit!), your thesis is a priority. This is point n.1 of the list for a reason: don’t make marking – or any other teaching committment – take the most of your time. Even though it is tempting to do so, in particular as novices, it is extremely important to give marking just enough time it needs, aka the closest possible to the hours scheduled for it in your appointment letter. It is true that it may require much longer than that, but try to reduce the most you can.

2. Ask for precise guidelines

Each course organiser will have their own expectations on how to mark assignments. Make sure to gather all the questions you may have, and ask them. These may go from grading scales, to contents, to the form of feedback. Do ask them all. Furthermore – and most importantly – feel free to ask for fair copies, if you have not been provided of those already.

3. Make your own marking guide

Before you start marking, prepare yourself a marking guide. Set your expectations on the assignments – some key points that you consider the core for a good work. Then, grade comparatively to them. Imagine types of assignment (with different levels of inaccuracy) and situate them within your marking scale. This should not take more than five minutes, before you actually start marking.

4. Take notes, assignment by assignment

It’s time to read the assignments. Make a document and list the assignments. For each of them, make notes while you read. Think of: strengths, weaknesses, improvement suggestions, provisionary mark. This is often the feedback form required by the course organisers as well, so you may want to make good use of it yourself. It will exponentially speed up the process of assigning marks.

5. Mark in blocks

Try not to spread your marking over too many days, as this will make you lose focus. Devote one/two full days to mark assignments for a single course. Marking in blocks will avoid you forgetting the criteria you have previously used, and allow you to have a picture of all the assignments and of how they compare to each other. In this way, chances of giving fair marks are higher.

6. Proof-read your marks

At the end of the process, give another read at that document you have made at point 4. Compare the assignments closer to each other, their strengths, their weaknesses and their marks. See if you can mark down or higher any of them. Then save the document, and exit.

Marking done.

Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

Giovanna Pasquariello is Chair of “Pubs and Publications: the PhD experience”. She is doing a PhD at the University of Edinburgh, studying something old, very old: the vocabulary of ancient Greek inscriptions on the Celts. Apart from this, she swears she is a fun person.