A question that is often asked is How fair is the marking process for exams? The reason is that in subjects or units, there can be more than 300 students, and to achieve marking consistency policies are needed. This post here attempts to describe how marking is done according to the policies in place.
Please note that the opinions expressed here are my own and I am in no way representing the University. I am merely stating facts about how it is done based on my experience.
Based on my experience working as both a Sessional Lecturer and Teaching associate since 2016, the process of marking is almost always the same for each unit within the faculty. However, the process and methodology might differ depending on the size of the class and the people who are involved.
This post describes the marking of paper-based exams, these days e-exams have simplified the marking process to a very high degree with human errors unlikely to occur.
The process of marking exam papers generally takes place as soon as the teaching team obtains the paper. This can be a few days or up to a week before we receive the papers. Depending on how the unit is structured and if the university has campuses overseas for distance learners, all exam papers are marked at the same location without fail. This ensures the marking quality is consistent across the different campuses.
Depending on the unit and the size of the class, there might be multiple people involved in the processing of marking. Generally, everyone who is teaching the unit and the person who prepares the exam paper would be involved in the marking process.
This is how the process normally starts.
Let’s assume the scenario of, a unit that has 300 students and 5 teaching associates that would be involved in the marking process. Depending, on the structure of the exam paper, often time it would consist of multiple questions and these questions would be divided among the teaching team to be assessed.
For instance, the “Introduction to Programming” exam consists of 10 major questions. These will be a breakdown of how these questions are marked and by whom
- Teaching Associate A - marks questions 1 and 2
- Teaching Associate B - marks questions 3 and 4
- Teaching Associate C - marks questions 5 and 6
- and so on
The reason this is needed is that, if multiple different people mark the same question, it would be considered consistent. Most of the time, the teaching associate are people who are doing their PhDs but they could also be from the industry working in that specific field. Thus the allocation of the question to the correct person is very important as well. The main reason for this is because, in the dawn of the internet where knowledge is widely available, it is an accepted fact that there are times, certain answers can be better than the accepted answer.
Besides that, for each question, there will be also a marking rubric. The marking rubric outlines the number of marks given for each answer. This is a complicated process as each answer and the following description can be in a range of how many are allocated. The construction of this marking rubric which outlines the accepted answer for the questions is generally constructed by the person who prepares the exam paper as well as the teaching team. If the marking rubric goes through a drastic change for the marking process, there might be a need to remark all the papers to ensure the process is fair.
This marking rubric will then be updated; if a student answers with an accepted answer which is determined by the team during the marking process.
So, in summary,
- each question in an exam is allocated to a single marker. (no matter how many papers it is, even if there are 500 students)
- a marking rubric created by the teaching team is used to evaluate the answers, this marking rubric can be updated if an answer is accepted and not found in the marking rubric itself
- if the marking rubric is found to be inconsistent or incorrect, all papers will need to be remarked to ensure fairness
Besides that, there are also strict policies on the colour of the pen that is used to mark the paper. The first marking is always done using a certain colour. The reason for this is that if there is a need for a remark, a different coloured pen will be used.
Is my paper anonymous?
Most of the time, the exam papers come to the teaching team in the form of bundles. Each bundle can consist of 10 or 20 papers depending on how it is packed. These bundles are also numbered. On top of the bundle, there will be a list of student IDs as well as their names. So, depending on how you view it, your bundle is anonymous but we do know your student ID number. The majority of the time, this is not a concern of us as it would be too troublesome and tedious for us to look up your name while we are marking the papers, and more importantly, knowing your name has no impact on the marking process at all. So, in short, you can say; it is anonymous to a certain extent. (Of course, we can look you up using your student ID; unless there is some sort of mapping system in place)
Don’t spill coffee on my exam paper
Normally, we would avoid taking the exam papers home unless it is also absolutely needed. The reason for this is; there have been incidents where members of the teaching team as well as the professor end up losing the bundles and needing an exam resit to happen. So, it is much more secure for the exam papers to be handled by the University and stored in a safe place.
Once the marking for a specific question is done, we would “transfer” the marks from the bottom of the question itself to the front of paper. (The place where you see boxes and the marks for each question). Here is probably one point where errors could happen as well.
Depending on how long each question would take the mark, the marking would normally complete within less than a week of receiving the papers. However, this is not the end of the process, as we still need to calculate the marks and make sure there are no human errors.
For each question, a different marker would now calculate the marks that are tallied up and make sure it is transferred correctly to the front of the question. The reason this is needed is that; each question has many sub-questions and more often than not, there will be a mistake during the counting of marks. This step is to ensure, the previous marker did not make a calculation mistake or a mistake during the transfer of the mark to the front of the page. So it is
- Teaching Associate B will check questions 1 and 2, to make sure the marks are calculated and transferred to the front correctly.
- Teaching Associate A will check questions 2 and 3, to do the same process and so on
Once this step is done, we move on to the next step where the numbers are transferred to an Excel sheet or Google Sheets. This is done via bundle number as we already know the marks in front of the exam papers are correct.
Reconfirm and reconfirm
This excel sheet would normally have the breakdown of marks for each question. This is a very important step; because we need to understand the student’s performance of each question. Here, normally the person who inputs the value into the sheet would be a different person that did the last step. So, remember how we had bundles? A different person will check the bundles and transfer these marks to the Excel Sheet. (Basically just to confirm the marks transferred from the front of the exam paper to the Excel Sheet are right). The Excel Sheet would serve as the final student marks in the exam.
Evaluating the performance of each question
Here is what we know so far
- Each question is marked by a single person and marks are transferred to the front of the exam paper.
- The marks that are in front of the exam paper will be confirmed by another person
- The marks on the front of the exam paper are correct and transferred to the excel sheet
Now, we move on,
We are finally almost done but not yet……
We now have all the marks for each question on the Excel sheet we like to determine which questions the students are performing and which questions are not doing so well as compared to the other questions. The teaching team as a whole would need to address this issue on why this is the case. This is a very important step; there are times when the question itself is either flawed or inconsistent with the teaching material. Imagine the scenario where all students scored 0 for a question, there is an issue with the question.
Here are some scenarios if a question is found to be a flawed question
- the question will be removed from the final total, but students who scored marks there will still be given the marks. So, the final total of the paper could be less than 100 marks for instance 90, but there will be also students that have the potential to score more than 90 because, the question is removed, but the marks are still awarded for it.
- the entire question will be a bonus question, everyone gets the full mark for that question. This approach is not well-liked as students that spend time attempting the question would feel as though it was not justified and not a preferred approach
- the question will be left there and scaling of markings will be done toward the end
Once the teaching team in combination with the professor has chosen what to do, the marking process will move on. This process is normally done based on what the chief examiner thinks of how should the question should perform. (Each question in an exam would normally attempt to cover a learning objective outlined in the unit guide)
Do also note that, a question can also perform badly because the person marking the question took a very serious approach, but it would also be consistent as all answers for that question are marked by a single individual.
One of the benefits of using Google Sheets or Excel is also that we have an audit trail of everything and the changes to the sheet.
Now begins one of the more tedious processes in an exam, the remarking phase.
We now have all the marks in the Excel Sheet and we do know the number of failures as well as the near passes. Depending on the Faculty, the
P grade is given to a student who achieves a mark of 50 and above, and anything below that is considered
The process now is to evaluate everyone who is at the borderline marks to achieve a passing mark. This process is often time done by the lead teaching associate or the person who prepared the paper. So, the marking will be repeated by a different person using the enhanced marking rubric in which the previous markers were.
The remark will be done in a different coloured pen to indicate the paper has been remarked.
It is very common for a remarked paper to not get any grade change because of the entire process and the way the marking is done. There have been multiple cases where it is impossible to give a student even 1 mark for a student to pass and there is nothing the teaching team could do about it. Because giving a single mark, it would mean, all students have been marked unfairly. So it cannot just happen.
The entire process of it can be summarized into a single flowchart.
discussed amongst the teaching team) B1(Marking will happen and completed) C(Marks on the question itself will be transferred to the front page) D(A different marker checks if the marks on the
front is the same with the one on the question) E(These marks on the front will be transferred to Google Sheets) F(Marks on the front of the exam paper will be check
so that it is consistent with the marks in the Google Sheets) G(The performance of each question will be analysed
by the teaching team) H(Questions that are out of performing badly are evaluated) I(Remarks will be done for all papers that fall within the 45 to 49 range) I1(Remarks will also happen if there is an inconsistency is found) J(Examiner report will be prepared by the person in charge
explaining the reason for either spectacular performance or
under-performance by the students) K(Final marks will be submitted to the faculty using the sheets provided) S-->A A-->B B-->B1 B1-->C C-->D D-->E E-->F F-->G G-->H H-->I I-->I1 I1-->J J-->K
I think the marking processes used are very fair and consistent. With such a marking process, the high achievers are very obvious because their performance would be consistent for all questions, as all of the markers agreed that all of the questions are answered well.
Also, because of how the marking is done, a student with near pass marks oftentimes will not experience a grade change because of how everything is structured as finding even 1 mark out of sympathy and not using the marking rubric would mean All answers to that question would need to be remarked to ensure fairness for all students. So, it is a very rare occurrence it would happen.
The conclusion is, exam marking is treated very seriously and with the utmost respect. However, it would finally depend if the teaching team has followed the laid-out procedures set in place.
And also in case you were also asking Does the good-looking person always perform better?, the answer is strictly no, because if proper procedures were followed, the examination marking process is very fair and consistent.