I was talking to my intro NT class the other day about how I mark (or for the Americans, ‘grade’) essays, and it caused me to articulate what I have previously not expressed so clearly: I have realised that rather than moving from a filling in a matrix of competencies to determining a grade, I move from determining a grade to filling in a matrix of competencies. In other words…
- I form my opinion on whether this is a ‘fail’ or a ‘pass’ or a ‘credit’ or a ‘distinction’ or a ‘high distinction’ paper as I’m reading through the essay and making notes on it. By the end, I’m 90% sure that I’ve judged it to be in the right one of those categories. This is based on a number of things, including general intuition about the variety of competencies they’ve shown – but especially the quality of the case they have made. I am much more interested in a student making a solid and creative case for something, than I am in seeing them get referencing exactly right, or have the most items in their bibliography.
- I then fill in a marking sheet, indicating relative strengths and weaknesses of the work on a scale – this is what I mean by a ‘matrix of competencies’: it includes standard items such as ‘use of primary literature,’ ‘interaction with secondary literature,’ ‘documentation,’ etc, etc. It is possible that as I go through this, it will surprise and change my initial assessment, although this is not frequent.
- I then write a paragraph about the essay to the student, and I always try to tell them what they could have done to push the essay up to the next level. Usually, this means a sentence beginning, ‘To enhance further, you could…’ – and sometimes it’s just something brief, or sometimes it’s a series of bullet points of things that could have pushed them up from a credit to a distinction or the like.