Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Marking exam scripts

I am in the middle of marking a bunch of exam scripts and continuous assessment - it is the highest amount that I have had to do since I joined NCI. This is due to having two large classes (85 and 150 each)  - I mostly have had smaller classes. It's very busy, and marking has to be done in a short time (why is this?). I have been doing this now for eight years, and it doesn't get any easier.

Image form Tshui Yee's Blog.
One of the toughest things to do is award a fail mark to a student. Even when this is the only option available, for example when an answer given does not match the question, or the answer is a blank, or very little effort is made - I always find it tough to write a mark such as 25% beside a student's name. Obviously I can't go into any details about my current marking efforts - but suffice it to say that there are the usual high, medium, and low marks.

I was a student once myself, and had a tough time getting through the first two years in Trinity. In fact I had to repeat 2nd year - I have every sympathy with students whose summers are ruined by having to repeat exams. I did this two years in a row.

Why do we fail exams? When I look back on my exams in 1978 and 1979 - there is no question that I could have worked (a lot) harder to prepare for the exams. With hindsight I know what went wrong - the fact that I passed the repeat exams with flying colors, went on to get a 2:1 honours degree, and a PhD, proves what I was a little tosser I was in my first two years in Trinity. As I go through my students' exam papers right now I have to wonder if those that are going to fail know what they have done and what they are doing (as I'm sure someone once wondered about me). Our standards are (rightly) high - we cannot hand out sympathy marks. It's not easy knowing that a fail mark awarded by me will force a student to come home early from a summer in America, or cut a world trip short.

There's one thing a former colleague in NCI once told me when I mentioned to him that I had failed a student. His words - "we don't fail the students, they fail themselves". 

But I still find this tough to do.

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