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Tips of the trade: 29. Marking

What is the worst thing about teaching? Ask any teacher. It's the amount of marking and the time it takes. Here is a way of marking more efficiently and effectively with minimal stress.

Instead of aiming to mark each and every piece of work from your pupils, designate a few specially chosen pieces of work each term as "diagnostic exercises". Mark these with particular consideration.

Instead of marks, write short statements to track each pupil's achievement in the area you have designated. It is more meaningful to have a few well-chosen statements than columns of marks out of 10. You will develop a better insight into the pupils' progress. You will also be building up a bank of statements on each pupil which could serve as the basis of a future report to parents.

The weekly homework exercises will still require attention, but you can save time by organising students to peer-check or self-mark. This allows for more discussion in class of contentious issues. It's an "all win" situation. You win time, the pupils gain from detailed discussion and your bank of comments will save you time again when it comes to writing reports.

Newly qualified teachers I have mentored tell me they feel liberated by the concept of "diagnostic marking". At a time when staff retention is once again making headlines, it could be good news for the whole profession.

Marlene Griffin is head of biology at Hitchin girls' school, Hertfordshire. Have you any useful tips for new teachers? We pay pound;50 for all tips published. Send yours to

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