Marking and giving feedback

Tips for marking written work

Marking written work can be a time-consuming and nerve-wracking task, particularly for new staff. The support of more experienced colleagues can be invaluable, particularly when marking work for the first time or for an unfamiliar module.

Use these practical tips to help you.

  1. Before even setting the assignments, make sure that you and the students know exactly what the expectations for the assignment are, what marking criteria you’ll use, and what these mean. The criteria should give guidance about what constitutes a particular grade/percentage. Ask a mentor or colleague in your School for clarification if you need it.
  2. If possible, look at the ways in which others in your School have marked and fed back on similar assignments, using the same criteria.
  3. Make sure you know what kind of feedback is expected on this batch of assignments (e.g. on a Feedback Sheet, and/or on the assignment itself, and/or oral feedback), and when the deadline for marking is.
  4. Check whether the assignments will be second marked, second blind marked, or moderated; make sure that students know that any mark you give is provisional and subject to the usual procedures of second marking and external examining.
  5. Once you’re left with a batch of assignments to mark, especially with longer written assignments such as essays, read through them all very briefly if you possibly can first, to get a sense of the range of responses and the ‘highs’ and ‘lows’ of the batch. This is especially useful if you’re new to marking.
  6. Then take one assignment at a time, and mark against the criteria. For longer assignments, apply a ‘best fit’ principle: which grade band does this assignment fit best into, even if it’s not a perfect match? If you’re marking short answer questions rather than a longer written assignment, you can work consistently through each assignment in whatever way suits you (some tutors like to mark all of the Section A answers, then all of Section B, for example).
  7. Use a pencil to start with, when applying numbers or grades, so that you can easily amend your marks later if you need to.
  8. Depending on the size of the batch of assignments, give yourself stopping off points, when you can take time to look back and check that your latest approach to marking seems congruent with the way in which you started marking (this is especially useful if you are marking over days – or weeks!).
  9. When you’ve finished your provisional marking, put the assignments in rank order, from best to worst according to your marks. Compare assignments with similar marks – do they still seem similar? Adjust marks by comparison where you feel you need to do so.
  10. Don’t be afraid to use the full range of marks: if you have work which is very poor and/or excellent, that should be reflected in your marking.
  11. Make sure that when you give feedback you start with a positive comment, then give specific guidance about what the student could do next time to raise their grade, then finish with a positive comment: this is the ‘feedback sandwich’, which helps prevent students from feeling negative about their marks.

If in doubt at any stage, ask for further advice from a mentor or colleague in your School.