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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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

Just Say No!

A few years ago, I called a colleague at another university to get the inside track on one of his former students who had applied to our graduate program.  Our conversation went something like this…

ME: “Hi there – how are you doing?”

HE: “Good thanks, insanely busy. You?”

ME: “Yep – the same.  I won’t keep you; I just wanted to ask you a quick question.”

HE: “Okay, but beware – I’m in my ‘No!’ mood today.”

I was floored…  his ‘No!’ mood?  I had never heard of this before but I knew exactly what he meant the minute he said it.  Thankful that I hadn’t called to ask him to ‘do’ anything (other than tell me a bit about a student), I quickly concluded my business and let him go.  After I hung up the phone I leaned back in my chair and stared into space, contemplating the earth shattering implications of this amazing revelation.  He has a ‘No!’ mood, I thought.  Absolutely brilliant, I definitely gotta get me one of those. Continue reading

Avoiding Time-Wasters

Last night I had a terrifying nightmare – I dreamt that I wasted an hour waiting for a cab. How weird is that? When I woke up I was so relieved to realize it was just a dream – it was almost as good as waking up from the ‘missed my exam’ nightmare! Then it hit me – after 20+ years as a professor, my worst fears have evolved. Now the scariest thing I can imagine is not failing a course or even missing an exam – it’s wasting an hour of my time. In fact, nothing stresses me out more than the prospect of wasting time – so much so, that I have developed an arsenal of strategies for effective time management. Continue reading