Top tips for marking success!

Simi Rai

Monday, 3 December 2018

Marking essays… some love it, some dread it. When it comes to GCSE and A-Level English, there is no escaping the numerous essays you will be expected to mark and grade throughout the academic year. Every department has their own marking policy, but there are some ways to make your marking more manageable. Having juggled three or four exam classes myself, I found a few ways to speed up the lengthy process.

1. Create tick sheets

Make a list of the success criteria or assessment objectives in one column. Beside them add a tick (strength) column and cross (target) column. When providing feedback, instead of writing their strengths and targets out, simply tick the appropriate boxes in the columns. I usually tick two strengths and one target to focus their feedback. E.g. tick – you include specific textual references to support all your interpretations; cross – you should go into detail by suggesting alternative interpretations. The tick sheets save you from writing the same feedback over and over again and can be adapted for any essay question. A definite time-saver!

2. Limit your annotations

When marking our pupils’ essays, we are inclined to write specific improvements in the margins, however, this ends up taking a considerable amount of time. Pupils rarely check the margins and tend to focus on their grades and main targets, so try and limit this.

Instead, write one comment at the end of the feedback summarising your thoughts. E.g. I enjoyed the depth of your analysis in the first three paragraphs, now try to focus on your topic sentences. This is more succinct and effective than writing numerous comments in the margins.

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3. Choose depth, not breadth

When you are short for time, especially during the busy exam season, it is a real challenge to mark a set of class essays in exceptional detail. A smart way to do this is to focus on marking one paragraph carefully and scanning the rest.

Pupils tend to make the same errors throughout their essays, so rather than repetitively correcting them, highlight the error in the first paragraph. This will save you valuable time and also encourage pupils to proof-read their essays before submission.

4. Oblige pupils to respond to their feedback

According to teaching standard 6, we are required to “give pupils regular feedback through accurate marking and encourage pupils to respond to the feedback.” Marking without expecting pupils to respond to their targets can be ineffective as there is no evidence of their progress.

So, allow pupils sufficient time to understand their strengths and targets, and ask them to write their improvements below your feedback. I usually give my classes two lessons to rewrite their improvements in green and ask them to highlight where they have met their targets. In my next marking cycle, I can then see whether or not the target has been met.

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Most importantly have fun with it! I personally love marking my pupils’ essays as you never quite know what to expect. Some are charming, some are exceptional, and some are hilarious.

Whilst marking, I make a note of all the best pupil ideas and add them to my feedback lesson, so pupils can feel really good about themselves and learn from each other. Marking doesn’t have to be a chore when you have a few shortcuts up your sleeve!


About our Community Expert


Simi Rai
Community Expert

Over 5 years of experience in educational settings throughout London, Madrid and Barcelona. Whilst studying English Literature and Language at King’s College London and the University of North Carolina, she fell in love with her subject - both the study of literature and craft of writing.

After graduating, she completed the Leadership Development Programme with Teach First, whose mission is to provide equality through education, and attained her PGCE in Secondary English at Canterbury Christ Church University. She was then appointed as Deputy Head of English at one of the highest performing schools in England in a London inner-city academy.

Following this, she completed her Leadership and Management MA at University College London (Institute of Education) and became the director of an English Language company based in Barcelona.

Simi is our English Literature and Language Expert.

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