Essay-marking, live! (Part 1 of several)

Posted by September Blue Sunday, 26 October 2008

*Pause to hunt down interestingly-coloured pen.*

Essay 1 - Two sheets of paper. One of which is the cover sheet. For a 2000 word essay. Huh. Oh, no, it's just in REALLY tiny font. I'm putting this one back in the pile, my eyes can't deal with that at 11pm.

Essay 2 - What is it with students inventing their own paragraphing system? Loads of mine do this two-tier thing, where a blank line means an actual new paragraph while a line break means, I don't know, a change of subject within the paragraph or something. It's really curious. But this is an interesting essay - no real argument, no clear train of thought on anything, but clearly written by a student who really likes poetry and wants to talk about how it sounds. This is the kind of student whose grade could go up a lot in essays to come.

Essay 3 - This one worried me. It's a close-reading of a poem in which the student's chosen the most negative, bleak, life-is-nothing interpretation of everything, to a point beyond misreading (e.g. the poem mentions 'a town', and the student writes that not naming this town contributes to the apathetic and boring feeling of existence the poem describes... and on, and on, for a whole essay). Yeah, this one goes into the Discuss With A Colleague pile.

Essay 4 - Wow, this one can write. I am so impressed by how confidently some of my students write when it's their first university essay; I don't think I was anywhere near this brave. (Although, here's a frightening thought - I was having lunch with the person who taught me first-year English as an undergrad the other day, and he remembered which short story I'd written on for that first essay. ERK.)

Essay 5 - CONGRATULATIONS STUDENT for getting every single presentation category ticked in the 'unsatisfactory' box! This takes real dedication. Ignoring the stylesheet and all my advice risks getting one right by accident; this, my friends, is skill.

Essay 6 - I feel a little sorry for students who've spent however many years at school being taught how to write a book report, and then get to university where their book report is going to get the same grade this one will. It's a pretty good book report, too.

Essay 7 - This is odd. It starts off without an argument, it continues for a long time without an argument, and then it sort of picks up an argument without realising it on page 3. Your subconscious already wants to write literary criticism! Trust the Force, Luke!

Essay 8 - This was brilliant. Really brilliant. But so cautious! Half an essay written in the form of "Possibly this is going too far but it occurred to me possibly that in my opinion maybe it could be argued that [really insightful point here]." Whoever this is (all our marking is done anonymously), I wish they'd start sitting next to the student who wrote Essay 4.

Essay 9 - If you're not sure what the question means, then adding "This proves how [question here] is true" every fifth sentence is probably not the way to go.

Essay 10 - Oh, the dreaded essay written by the exchange student whose English really isn't up to essay-writing level. I feel mean telling them off for this as if it's something they can just Work Harder At - it's truly not their fault that the language-proficiency tests done with some of the exchange universities are really not up to scratch - but, all the same, I can't even understand what this one's saying half the time.


  1. rachel Says:
  2. thanks for bringing some humor to the onerous task of grading! i'm a phd at an american university, teaching an introductory writing class to first year students. after grading their first papers, i had to devote a good portion of a class to formatting. some of their paragraph spacing ideas were rather creative! one student couldn't even tell where her paragraphs ended or began.

    how goes grading anonymously work? are you grading for another class, or one you're teaching?

  3. Thank you! And oh, there are more to come. I wanted to have some record that 'ARGH' wasn't the only thing that went through my mind during marking.

    Grading anonymously means students putting their registration numbers rather than names on their work - we don't get to find out who's who until the end of semester (although it's often easy to tell, anyway). Depending on who you speak to, it's either a genius idea to eliminate conscious and subconscious marker bias, or it's yet another sign that the administration wants the university run like a depersonalised production line.