An Update on Streamlining Exam Marking

I really hate marking exams – it’s mind-numbingly boring. I find that one of the most frustrating aspects of this tedious task is the time I waste just hunting for the answers. Consequently, I am always looking for new types of exam questions and new exam formats that can make the answers easier to find.   A while back I posted some advice on setting effective exams – which included suggestions for streamlining the marking process.  I was planning to try the idea of using a summary sheet at the front of the exam where the students could put their answers, making it easy for me to find them.  I’ve actually had some time now to refine that idea and test it out on a couple of exams, and here’s what I’ve come up with.  I think it works pretty well.

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Dealing with Troublesome TAs

This post came out of a recent question posted on this blog…

“Do you have any advice on how to deal with TA or grader? Students are always complaining and frustrated about how their work [is] being graded (the TA takes off too many points, the TA doesn’t read their entire assignment carefully, the TA picks on minor items etc.). I always provide the TA with the solution and try my best to set the grading criteria for the TA, but at the end, unless I personally grade all the assignments, it is quite difficult to specify all the details and mistakes in advance. Given in most practical situation[s], TA won’t spend more than 5 minutes per assignment, any suggestion on how to make sure the TA grades properly and effectively.”

This is a frustrating problem – one that I have faced more than a few times over the years. Unfortunately, it’s not always an easy thing to fix – it depends upon whether the problem is due to inexperience, poor judgement, or a bad attitude. Keep in mind too – it’s not always only the TA’s fault – we professors can sometimes be partly (or totally) to blame. ;-) However, I can say for sure that the solution is not for you to be remarking the assignments. That’s just not an appropriate use of your time and it will mean that you can’t get your own work done. In this post I’m offering some strategies both for avoiding this problem, as well as some ideas for dealing with it when it occurs.

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Using Your First Years Efficiently: What I wish I’d known…

A few weeks ago I was asked to come to a “New Faculty Forum” and give a talk on this topic. Always keen to follow my own advice, my initial reaction was to Just Say No – after all it takes time to prepare these things, and the timing of the actual session was right in the middle of my office hours for undergraduate students. However, it was a friend that asked – the friend who originally suggested that I write this blog, in fact – so it took me only a microsecond to decide to say “yes” instead.

Attending the forum was instructive for me, as there were two other speakers in addition to me (the old fart): one was a fairly new prof and the other a more mid-career level person. Their advice was very different from mine – in fact they mentioned (more than a few times) how they approached things differently than me – which just goes to show you: we never stop learning in this job – even an old prof can learn some new tricks.

Here’s the advice that I offered to the group…

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Have an ‘effective’ summer!

With any luck, by now your exams are long since marked and your grades are all submitted.  My guess is that you’ve spent the last two weeks catching your breath after the eight months of insanity that typically accompanies the fall and winter teaching terms.  And no doubt as summer approaches, you’ll be hearing this question from all of your family and friends, “So, are you off for the summer now?”

Probably that question irks you as much as it does me – since summer typically means just dropping down to a 40 hour work week (and that actually feels like a rest!)  Here’s a much more relevant question about your summer – one you should be asking yourself actually, “How can I use the summer months most effectively?” Continue reading

Chasing the rabbit – how much is enough?

Treadmill_womanA question that frequently haunted me when I was a new professor was, “How much is enough?”  More specifically it was a series of questions,

“How much research money is enough?”

“How many graduate students are enough?”

How many evenings and weekends of work are enough?”

And the biggie…

“How many journal papers per year are enough?” Continue reading

Tips for Setting Effective Exams

I don’t know about you, by my least favorite job as a professor is marking exams.  I’m always keen to give students as much credit as possible for their knowledge, but sometimes finding a correct answer can be like finding a needle in a haystack.  Consequently, it’s wildly time consuming, not to mention discouraging and frustrating. Setting an effective exam can be a challenge, as well – it’s not too informative if the exam is so easy that everyone aces it.  On the other hand, if everyone fails, you’ll be left wondering whether you’re a terrible teacher, they’re terrible students, or it’s just a terrible exam.

Over the past 23 years I’ve given my share of all types of exams – from WAY too easy to brutally difficult, and everything in between.  I’ve learned to do some things well and managed to do some things terribly wrong.  I’ve kept lots of notes on what worked and what didn’t, and I thought I’d come up with some pretty good methods.  However, I recently attended a seminar on setting effective exams and I got some new and cool ideas from that, as well.  So I guess that means I’ll be learning new things about this until I retire.  Nevertheless, I think I might be able to save you some time and energy by telling you what I’ve learned so far. Continue reading

Reviewing Journal Papers 101

As a graduate student you might not have been invited to review any papers and so chances are that, as a new professor or post-doc, your only experience of this process is what you’ve seen from the receiving end.   Recently a couple of new colleagues asked me to give them some advice on reviewing papers and so I’d thought I’d share with you a bit of our discussion.   Continue reading