There are a million reasons to hate marking. It’s time consuming. It’s non-rewarding. You need to read the same material (and even give the same comment) for hundreds of times. You don’t get to interact with the students and they get dehumanised, so it just seems like they are making the same mistakes over and over again. This blog post cannot change that.
I have been marking 1st-years’ lab reports for two years, and I’ve encountered one problem in particular. That is, it is difficult to keep the standard consistent. I’ve tried the stupid way (i.e., mark them one by one, and re-mark the first couple in the end); I’ve tried to put students in batches, or rank them in order and give them marks in the end. One problem is I tend to forget what I’ve read, especially after ready 30 reports of the same experiment. This year, I’m trying something new. Maybe I should’ve done this long time ago. Hey! Learning by doing, right?
The solution I’ve come to at the moment is to make a marking template like below. It does not eliminate subjectivity, nor does it keep your standard impeccably consistent; but it does control the problem to a certain extent.
Column A contains the sections of the report. Column B is a list of requirements provided by the module coordinator of the department. As you can see, it is already quite detailed. As a GTA (graduate teaching assistant), I realise a lot of the times I am not an expert in the area I’m marking. Therefore, it helpful to have a list of points that students need to hit. Column C, which is the tricky part, is the full mark that students can obtain with regards to each point. I try to make each point worth 1 mark, unless it could be divided into two subpoints. For example, in this report, students need to discuss the limitations of questionnaires and the benefit of using catch questions, so I gave 0.5 to each subpoint. In Lancaster, the full mark is 24 so I try to make the points add up to that too.
You’ll see that the final section (Rows 27-28) is General, which divides into Format and Style. Both points take 2 marks. This is where I give a mark to the general presentation of the report. Format concerns the layout and referencing style of the whole report, i.e. whether it abides by the APA style; and Style concerns things like spelling, grammar, flow of arguments etc. Assigning marks to each point is tricky because it does depend on your philosophy and you need to make a call of judgement at some point. My judgement is that I value content more than presentation. For example, I only gave 1 mark to spelling and grammar. Thus, if a student had typo and grammar mistakes all over the place, but they hit all the points and presented logical arguments, it’s still possible for them to get 23, therefore an A. I need to admit that this is very unlikely, because bad presentation does affect comprehension. Students can indeed be marked down if they cannot express themselves clearly. But the flip side is, if a student has brilliant presentation and poetic language, but did not manage to produce anything useful or informative, they will be severely marked down, which is what I believe a lab report is assessing.
A characteristics of a marking template like this is that the marks are spread out. It could be an advantage as well as a drawback depending on how you see it. It can be good because I don’t get to penalise some points disproportionally just because I think they are important. Students get some recognition for what they have done. However, I do find it inflating the marks sometimes because some trivial points are hit. For example, in the Results section, students need to state clearly that they used a pair-wise t-test. This is one simple sentence but they still get 0.5. On the other hand, they need to discuss the response bias of questionnaire and also only get 0.5. This might be something I get to solve in the future. But so much for it for now.