It was the middle of the spring term that I announced my decision to my department: “I am going to mark GCSE scripts."This was met with cries of “Oh you’re so brave!” and “It’s amazing that you can fit it around your teaching!”
You may be sat there thinking that marking scripts really isn’t that big a deal; it’s no different to the marking we already do in school, right? That’s true to an extent. But our in-school marking doesn’t dictate whether a pupil will be accepted onto their chosen college course or apprenticeship. The importance of an examiner’s accuracy is paramount.
Therefore, examiners — and I speak largely from an English examiner’s perspective here — can find themselves deliberating over one script for a long time. And, when there are 300+ scripts to mark alongside full-time teaching, examiners must ensure that they are efficient in their marking and particularly resourceful with their time.
Below are my top tips for fitting in exam marking around your teaching.
Design a rota that works for you
Most exam boards send out a visual timeline for the marking of scripts that breaks down your marking into smaller periods (training; standardisation; marking period; deadline, etc.) Use this to plan a rota for your marking. Sit down and block out any essential commitments on your calendar, then count up how many days you have free for marking in between the standardisation and deadline. Use this number to work out roughly how many scripts you can mark per day. You don’t have to stick to this religiously, but it will give you some idea of whether you are falling behind and will give you a helpful goal to aspire to each week.
Early on, when you realise that it’s taken you nearly a whole hour to mark one script, you will undoubtedly be questioning your will to continue. Trust me, though, you will soon be able to recite the mark scheme word for word, and as a result, the time it takes to mark each script will decrease. Marking progressively for the whole marking period will be the most efficient and resourceful use of your time.
Regularly submit your marked papers
Most electronic marking systems allow you to download a certain number of scripts to mark in one go. There are two effective ways to make the most of these systems. You can download only the number of scripts specified on your rota for each given day, marking them over the course of the day and submitting together in bulk. Or, you can download the maximum and submit marks every time you complete a single paper. The second option is my personal favourite; seeing the number of scripts marked rise incrementally as I submit them fills me with a sense of personal achievement and spurs me on when I’m at my lowest points.
Keep in close contact with your team leader
It may fill you with a sense of foreboding every time you see their caller ID on your phone (“Argh, I knew it was a Level 5, not a 6!”), but team leaders are absolutely vital in supporting you through the marking period. Their expert guidance, especially in the wake of the new GCSEs, will ultimately help you to develop your examining skills, and consequently, reduce the amount of time that you waste pondering over particularly difficult papers. If you want to be time efficient, pick up the phone and talk to them. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
Take regular rest breaks
If you’re sitting marking for a long period of time, your body and mind will tire quickly. It is important to take a 10-minute break every hour or so. Boil the kettle, mow the grass, clean the loo. Whatever it takes to get you away from that screen and out of your seat. Adding frequent rest breaks will save you time in the long run; your efficiency levels will be significantly higher and you will get more done. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you can mark for four hours straight — you will end up phasing out and slowing down. As a result, your accuracy will decrease. Do yourself and the pupils whose work you are marking a favour and take a breather.
Laura Thorne is assistant head of English at Redbridge Community School in Southampton. She tweets @lauthorne
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