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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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

Teaching Tips for the Absolute Beginner

Most PhD students get the opportunity to be a teaching assistant; some even get the opportunity to instruct labs, lead tutorials, or even give the occasional lecture.  However, it seems that few get the opportunity to be responsible for planning and delivering an entire course until they actually become a professor. In addition, many universities require no formalized educational training of their new professors.  Once you’ve got that PhD in molecular biology or in mechanical engineering, it seems you’ve got all the necessary qualifications for teaching students at the highest educational levels: in university undergraduate and graduate programs.

Many universities, including my own, offer a wide variety of training opportunities for new professors.  (Some of the older professors would benefit from these, as well! 🙂 )  If you’ve had no formal training on how to teach, I strongly encourage you to take advantage of these as soon as possible.  I know you’re busy, but I promise you that making time for some of these will really be worthwhile.  I’ll also try to help – in fact, teaching will be a recurring topic on this blog since ‘How to be an Effective Instructor’ is certainly not something I can cover in one post.  Not that I am necessarily an expert myself – but after 20+ years of doing it, I do have a few ideas that I hope you’ll find useful. Continue reading

Back to School Prep

If you’re like me, you hate those annoying ‘Back to School’ ads that start appearing on TV in late July.  What a way to ruin that little bit left of my summer – reminding me of the insanity that will descend on my life in early September.  But the majority rules and while many professors live in dread of the return to the 60+ hour work week that the fall term inevitably brings, the rest of the world awaits it eagerly because it means that the kids will be back in school and out of their hair.

To help you avoid the blues that these inevitable ‘Back to School’ ads tend to initiate, today’s post is all about how to prepare for fall so that you don’t end up in the teaching time-pitContinue reading