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How to mark hundreds of exam papers quickly and efficiently


Updated 26th Oct 2012

Due the hunger for education and the attendant benefits of a good education, many youths proceed to tertiary institutions for certificates, diplomas and degrees. Even adults who are already in the job market are opting for extra papers as a guarantee for upward mobility in the job market. Due to this demand in higher education, tertiary institutions continue to enroll more and more students every year. Unfortunately, in most cases, the employment of new teachers does not match the increase in the student population. This is especially so when the teaching fraternity appears to cope well with every additional student. A career teacher may find that his or her charges have increased from 40 to 100 in a short period.

Marking 40 scripts with essay type questions may take you three hours at the very least. Marking more than 100 scripts could be draining both mentally and physically. This is aggravated by the fact that the teacher still has to prepare for classes and actually teach besides marking continuous assessments and end of semester papers. Some lecture halls are known to sit up to 500 students at a time!

The teacher must also ensure that the marking is just and that the final tally will not attract disputes. The following points will help you to make the process efficient and bearable, while leaving you time to follow your other pursuits.

1. Prepare a comprehensive marking scheme

You will need to have all the answers to your examination down on paper. The only way to achieve a comprehensive scheme is to answer each question as fully as possible. If a question has 10 marks, list the ten expected points. Note also any alternative answer that is partly or fully correct and decide whether you will allocate a full mark or half a mark. The advantage of a comprehensive marking scheme is that any other teacher can help with marking regardless of their area of specialization – A sociology teacher can help psychology teacher for instance. Am not so sure about an English language teacher helping a mathematics teacher though.

2. Mark one question at a time

Let us assume that in a specific examination, the students have to answer only five questions. Take each script and mark question one only with reference to your marking scheme. By the time you have marked 10 scripts, your brain will have absorbed the marking scheme to the extent that you will not need to refer to it as far as question one is concerned. Your brain will engage ‘autopilot’ so to speak, and you will find marking question one smooth sailing; taking a shorter time with each script as you progress. In a long essay, your eye will be scouting for key words rather than reading the entire text. This method will allow your brain to specialize briefly on each question, thereby saving you time. Total up the marks for that question and indicate them on the margin in red or other loud colour.

Repeat this process with question 2, 3, 4 and 5. Of course some students may have chosen other questions as long as they answered only five, but this does not pose a problem to this marking method.

The opposite of this simple method would be to take each script and labour through it to completion with the marking scheme in one hand. This method will not allow your brain to specialize briefly on each question.

3. Consider requesting for help

Teachers are encouraged to form strong bonds with their colleagues and to work as a team. If you are a team player, you will easily find a teacher willing to help. Make a copy of your comprehensive marking scheme and offload a fraction of your burden. If you can find two teachers willing to help you, so much the better. You will be expected to help them in their hour of need some day.

Note that when others help you to mark, they will not be responsible for any disputes that may arise with your students. You will therefore scheme through the finished marking to ensure that the marking scheme was followed accurately.

4. Put totals to your marking and get on with other things

Now that you have a bunch of marked papers with the marks for each question neatly in the margin, proceed to do the addition, one script at a time. Put the total mark boldly on the first page as a percentage. Again, if you can get help to do this, by all means take advantage. A trusted sympathetic friend or spouse who is not necessarily a teacher will come in handy since this is just simple addition.

5. If pain persists…

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If your institution continues increasing student numbers without taking the student/teacher ratio into consideration, it may be time for you to speak out. You will know you have reached breaking point when you start needing a break from normal classes to finish the marking; or when your friends start complaining that you seem to be marking throughout the duration of holidays as well. Some teachers are known to mark late in the night instead of catching up with sleep. If things do not change, you may consider looking for another employer.

All in all teaching is a calling and I hope you can creatively use the above points to your advantage.

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    A good teacher prepares Work Plans at the beginning of the term or semester... prepares Lesson Plans for each month (week, or day)...arrives on time...has a sense of humour...understands the individual limitations of the as a team pl
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Emmanuel Kariuki (author) from Nairobi, Kenya on April 18, 2013:

Most welcome cuttler. I hope your scripts do not rise to a bunch several inches high. Mine used to average 8 inches! Happy marking next time!

Thanks for visiting my hub.

Cuttler from HubPages on April 18, 2013:

Very good tips. As a teacher it gets hectic when it is marking time and you have to go through hundreds of scripts, and analyse the results. I think we can all benefit from your tips. Thanks for sharing with us

Emmanuel Kariuki (author) from Nairobi, Kenya on January 22, 2013:

Thanks for your visit to my humble hub DDE.

Emmanuel Kariuki (author) from Nairobi, Kenya on January 22, 2013:

Thanks DDE - teachers need all the encouragement they can get.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on January 21, 2013:

Good tips here will be useful to many teachers thanks

Emmanuel Kariuki (author) from Nairobi, Kenya on August 25, 2012:

Thanks for your comment Paul. I have never done that because I was teaching Art and Design, where all question in the theory papers are supposed to be essay type as governed by the Examination council - outline, explain, discuss, state and so on. Multiple choice, in my opinion should be used very sparingly in a tertiary institution in spite of the 'marking benefits.' Fill in the blanks seems like a good variation though.

Paul Richard Kuehn from Udorn City, Thailand on August 24, 2012:


As a teacher, I find this hub very useful. I especially like your idea about marking one question of an essay exam at a time. I always dread marking exams because my tests usually have 60-90 marks with 3-5 different types of questions such as multiple-choice, matching, true or false and fill in the blank. Perhaps I should be like most of the local teachers and have mostly mutiple choice questions. By doing that I could create a special answer sheet for the students, and then put a grid template over the answer sheets to quickly mark papers. Have you ever done this? Voted up as useful and sharing.

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