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5 Ways To Help Make Your Stack of Exams Disappear

Staring at a towering stack of 100+ exams can be one of the most intimidating sights for any middle or high school teacher. During assessment week, I often turn into my own worst enemy and am distracted by absolutely everything while exam marking. I find myself spending more time complaining about all the grading I have to do than actually grading. Although there is still a long way to go, every year I seem to improve my efficiency in marking. Below are a few tips and tricks that have helped me become more focused on getting my exam marking done as quickly as possible in an effort to not have to bring piles of papers home.

1. Design with Marking in Mind

Efficient marking begins with designing your assessment. My main piece of advice for this would be to make a separate answer sheet where students can transfer their answers. If you plan to use multiple-choice, true or false, matching, or labeling questions, having all the answers on one sheet saves more time than you would think. If you are using a lot of these types of questions, you might also want to consider investing in ZipGrade ($6.99 a year) which prints bubble sheets that you can mark with your smartphone (like a scantron).

As for essay or long answer questions, my students do their writing on loose-leaf or on provided pages, but I add a rubric(s) to my answer sheet and label it “For Teacher Use,” and I complete all of the marking on that (see an example of a basic rubric below). This works really well because all of your grading is done on one page, and as a bonus, students can see the rubric criteria for each long question. Don’t forget to add mark values to the answer sheet for easy calculating at the end!


Exam Marking Grading Rubric Example2. Mark One Question at a Time

I think this one might be obvious, but it takes much less time to mark one question over and over again. For essays, this is particularly useful as the criteria will be fresh in your mind, and you can see the differences in writing from one student to another. If you haven’t yet, once you start doing it this way, you’ll wonder how you did it any other way. 

Marking Grading Exams Picture

3. Find a Cave

As strange as it sounds, you’ll need to find a place where people can’t find you. During exam week, you’ll inevitably have visits from teachers who have no exams that day who want to unwind and chat. You might also be interrupted by students who want extra help, who want to know if you have marked their exam, or who just want to visit.

While this might be something you usually don’t mind, it is sure to lengthen the time you spend on marking your pile of exams. Visits from other teachers end up being one of my biggest distractions, so I try to find an isolated place in the school where I can focus. Ok, it doesn’t have to be an actual cave…Try a cubical in the library or an empty classroom!

Classroom Management Resources

4. Find your Motivation

Fill in the blank to this phrase: “My biggest distraction when I am marking is _________”.  Turn this distraction is your motivation! For me, I would probably say eating or chatting with colleagues are my biggest distractions. Since marking ALL of your exams from start to finish is going to put you on a one-way street to crazy town, you need to use your distractions to your advantage. Once you know what you would rather be doing other than marking, schedule a specific amount of time for these things to keep your motivation alive.

Try one of the following:

  • Grade for an hour – Take a 15-minute snack break
  • Mark all questions 1 & 2 – Take a 15-minute break to go online
  • Mark 10 essays – Take a 15-minute break to listen to music/relax

The most important part: stick to your time frame! If you know you will have trouble with this, set a timer on your phone/watch and make yourself accountable.

5. Take Any Help You Can Get

If you have educational assistants, teachers with no exams willing to help, or supply teachers in with no classes—take advantage! Ask them to help you with the “easy-to-mark” questions like multiple-choice, labeling, true and false, and matching. If you are lucky enough, you may even be able to enlist your husband/wife/roommate to assist you with marking these types of exam questions. There is nothing wrong with taking help where it is available!

If you found this helpful, you might want to read my post Allowing Students to Resubmit or Retest. 

You might also be interested in checking out this bundle of classroom management resources!

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