10 Tips to Get You Through Marking Season

It’s that time of year again.

Office doors are closed.

Heads are bowed.

Music plays gently.

No, not exam time, marking time.

It’s a time of mind-numbing toil, when the fruits of teaching are harvested. Will your students surprise and delight you (well yes, some probably will)? Or will you be bitterly disappointed, flailing around for a reason as to why no-one seems to have understood the concepts you carefully tried to imbue.

But before you get there, and graph the results, you’ve got to make it through the marking period.

Sharpen that pencil, dig out the red pen and turn on ‘Track changes’. Here are the top 10 tips to get you through marking.

1. Motivating music:

I like to use music without lyrics, much the same way as I did when studying as an undergraduate. Lyrics make it difficult for me to concentrate. A nice mix from your favourite music provider can keep you in the chair for longer.

2. A well-tested rubric/marking key:

Although this shouldn’t be a ‘tip’ and should be simply part of good educational practice, it is worth ensuring your marking key is developed and updated prior to sitting down to mark. There is nothing more frustrating than having to head back to question 2 in the past 50 exams to remark it due to an inaccurate or out-of-date marking key. Make sure you make notes as you go along, in case it requires changing for next year. This will make updating it quicker next time.

3. An awesome holiday:

Plan an amazing holiday that you can’t go on until the marking is done. Once I had 135 mid-term exams to mark in only two days. I was leaving for an overseas trip early Wednesday, and the exam finished on Monday at 11 am. Did I get them done? Why yes! I was a marking machine.

4. An extremely important date that simply must be adhered to:

If you are cavalier, you could deliberately leave your marking until the last minute, meaning you have to dash to the line to get it done. While this can be painful, the pain will be contained to the time allocated. Of course, this can go wrong if you misjudge how long you need to mark (and don’t we all!).

5. An inviting workspace:

Make sure you are comfortable. You’ve adjusted your desk, overhead light, and ideally have a view outside, so you can rest your eyes from close work by focusing on distant objects regularly. If you are embarking on hours of marking for days at a time, you will feel it physically.

6. Regular breaks:

These are recommended to students when studying, but remember, they are reading and learning different things, whereas you may be marking the same information over and over again. You may need more regular breaks than you are used to. Marking can become extremely tedious and you will need mental breaks, and physical breaks in which you change position.

7. Captive audience marking:

I have been known to hide in the library to get away from the shared office (with its attendant noise), the phone calls and the emails. In the, at that time of the year, deserted library, I can put my head down and get it all done without any distractions. Just beware you don’t get locked into the library at closing time!

8. Early morning starts:

Along the lines of eating the frog, get up early and get into it. A little bit of marking every day can make you feel like you’ve achieved your marking, but not wasted the day.

9. Alternate work with a reward:

A common technique in getting things done, make sure you reward yourself after you’ve done some hard marking. It is mentally challenging, and often can be quite tedious, so make sure you reward yourself once it’s done.

10. Celebrate with your colleagues when it’s all done:

Another year down, heading for the Christmas period. There surely will be some down time before it’s grant writing season … won’t there?

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