Marking marking marking

I’ve been asked to give the PGCE students in school a seminar on how to mark effectively and how to manage a marking workload.

Here’s my PowerPoint and below are the main tips I am giving, which are mostly about how to manage the marking. They are generic and not specific to history but I feel they should be useful to some but especially new teachers.

1.Plan to mark

We all plan our lessons extensively thinking about what we want to achieve and how we are going to achieve it. Do you plan to mark though? Do you think about when is the best time to mark and how much you are going to do? I didn’t but now I do. I look at the term and think about when are the low points and when are the crunch points and plan around it making sure that Year 13 don’t hand an essay in at the same time as Year 8. I plan so that one group might hand in one set of essays whilst another is doing one in timed conditions so I can mark whilst the other group works. Basically use your time effectively.

2.Choose your battles

You can’t mark everything and no one expects you to so choose your battles. Below is a selection of things kids do in my lessons:

choose battles

Which of these should I mark? Simple answer, the one that will have an impact on their learning. Marking notes is probably a total waste of your time, unless you are checking the low ability kid has got the right content. Marking an extended piece of writing is probably far more beneficial as you can give solid feedback.

3.Think about who to mark first

You will naturally tail off with marking. If you have 30 books and decide to mark the lot (why that’s bad later) by the 30th you’ll just be ticking without reading. With this in mind mark those that matter first. I have 26 in my Year 11 group. 6 are underachieving. I mark these 6 first, then I do the others. This way they get me when I am fresh and awake.

4.Think subject specific

Generic comments on the whole don’t have much impact. If you want kids to improve in history you need to give them a history comment. If you want them to improve in geography you need a geography comment. You get the idea. Basically your comments MUST reflect your subject. Here’s one of mine (it’s a bit long but you get the idea).

subject specific

5.Phrase it so they can respond

Kids don’t really read the comments you write in their books. They are inherently lazy beasts and will skim over it. If you want them to read it and really take it in phrase it as something they can respond to. If you do this you are essentially forcing them to absorb it. I’ll be honest I don’t care about this is what Ofsted are looking for, I just think it’s good practice.


6.Get them to do some of the leg work

Marking is hard but there is lots you can get the kids to do themselves. If it’s a simple task where they will be able to spot the good bits and the points for improvements get them to do. Either get them to do themselves or get their peers to do it. You’re mad if you think that a kid can do this properly on a four page A2 essay but a short 5 mark question at Year 10 of course they can. Additionally get the kids to lay the foundations for your marking. I think kids find it very difficult to actually spot where they can improve (if they can surely they’d have done it already) but they can spot what they’ve done well. Get them to underline the best bits in a different colour and then in the margin explain why it’s a good bit. Then all you have to do is tell them how to improve.


7.Little and often

I can’t mark a whole set of 30 books at once. If I do I get exponentially slower with each book. Here’s a rubbish graph to show this! It’s scientifically proven and made.


As a result I don’t ever mark a whole set of books at once. I normally do just five. But I do five a lot of the time. Five before school. Five at break. Five in a free. Five after school. Five in the cafe on the way home. That’s the set done. It takes me half the time and means I give better feedback as I am not permanently grumpy about it.

8.Location, location, location

Linked in with point 7 location matters. I can’t mark in my office, it’s cramped full of people and has rubbish light. I mark in the library, in the Post-16 atrium, in the canteen, outside when it’s nice. Anything to relieve my boredom at the task and get me a bit more focused. Also doing five books in one location and then moving to a totally different scenario to do another five speeds me up. Finally my favourite place to mark is the cafe near my house. With a coffee I am even quicker.

9.Save time

Finally find any ways, no matter how small to save yourself time. I get kids to hand their books in open on the exact page I need to mark. That way I don’t have to open each book and find the work before I mark it. I know that sounds pathetic but across a set of books I reckon it saves me five minutes. That’s five more minutes of Netflix and is therefore a winner. Find your ways of saving time.