Recently, I have graded exams (50 pcs.) together with a colleague from another department. I felt like my colleague was awarding too many points for wrong/incomplete answers. For example, awarding points for just writing information of the question (value and units of parameters) on the answer sheet; or awarding points for copying one of the formulas on the formula sheet to the answer sheet while not specifically described in the grading template

During the grading of the exams I have discussed this with my colleague and decided to mostly follow his 'point awarding system' so that it does not create an unfair grading between sub-groups of the total population. Afterwards, I have discussed this again, but I feel like my colleague is not keen to change his grading style.

What are the next steps that I could take? Is it necessary that the whole university should have the same grading style?

ps: The course is given by their department and I have helped since this year because it overlaps with my expertise. It has a pass rate of ~50%.

ps2: It's not that his point awarding system is so loose that students with a 3/10 will suddenly be awarded a 6/10 but it will certainly change the outcome of passing the course for some students.

  • 2
    Why do you feel like your colleague is giving too much points? People will dissagree, that is just a fact in life, and unless you can provide sound, objective arguments for him being too 'lose' (which I imagine is impossible when grading since different people value different parts in an answer differently), it sounds like you will just have to agree to disagree
    – Joren Vaes
    Oct 24 '18 at 8:01
  • Examples are: Awarding points for just writing information of the question (value and units of parameters) on the answer sheet. Or awarding points for copying one of the formulas on the formula sheet to the answer sheet while not specifically described in the grading template.
    – Bollehenk
    Oct 24 '18 at 8:12
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    @Bollehenk - what level study is this taking place? Awarding partial marks for identifying the correct techniques (formulae) doesn't necessarily sound unreasonable, though extracting the values/units may be debatable depending on the amount of work that would be required to extract them and the level of study.
    – kwah
    Oct 25 '18 at 0:00
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    Is it just as valid for him to come on here and ask the same question but say that you are "awarding too few points for wrong/uncomplete answers" ? Oct 25 '18 at 13:00
  • It would help to know what field this is in. Subjectivity is very much higher in some disciplines (Classics, Philosophy) than others (Mechanical engineering... etc).
    – J...
    Oct 26 '18 at 16:08

Have each person grade different questions, not different students.

Consistency in grading is important, and it is unfair to the students if their grades depend substantially on the allocation of their work to a grader. For this reason, if you must split grading duties with another colleague for a particular assessment item, it is best to split the grading duties for the questions rather than splitting the grading of the students. So, for example, one person grades Q1-3 on all papers and the other person grades Q4-6 on all papers. That way each student is graded by the same person for the same question. (Logistically, each of you should grade your questions on half the papers, then swap.)

It sounds like this ship has already sailed, and you have made the rookie mistake of splitting grading for the students, with different people marking different students. It also sounds like you have tried to discuss this with your colleague, but you have exhausted attempts to change his grading. In that case, even if your own grading style is superior to your colleague, adapting to his grading level for this assessment is probably a reasonable second-best option, simply to maintain consistency of the level of grades awarded. In future, try to avoid the problem all together by splitting grading over questions instead of over students.

  • 55
    Have to agree here, splitting questions is FAR better than splitting students, and tried both in the past.
    – Solar Mike
    Oct 24 '18 at 12:21
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    It is actually a wonder that this method is not mandatory/ enforced by the university
    – EigenDavid
    Oct 24 '18 at 14:31
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    In the first math exam I wrote, grading was done in under 24 hours using an "assembly line", with each TA grading one question. Once the first TA has graded the first question of the first exam, the second TA can start working on the second question of the first exam, turnaround time is minimized and no exam slips through anywhere in the swapping process. The prof's personal assistant then only summed up the points, and the prof signed the exam.
    – Alexander
    Oct 24 '18 at 14:45
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    @damian Thank you for finally making me realise why I had to write my name/ID on every page of (some of) my exams.
    – mbrig
    Oct 24 '18 at 22:13
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    @mbrig it's not necessarily just because of many people marking separate pages, putting your name on each sheet ensures that if a page gets loose for any reason it can still be matched to the correct student. Oct 25 '18 at 1:25

It's the instructor of record who is ultimately responsible for the conduct of the course, including grading*. As it sounds like you're not the instructor of record, but rather just someone who is helping grade, it's not really your place to determine what is or is not appropriate grading.

If you have a disagreement with another grader on how to mark exams, and can't resolve it using the information already provided to you (you said the grading template was insufficient to do so), then it's appropriate to take it up with the person in charge of that course (the instructor of record), and see what they say about it.

Now certainly you don't want to bother them about every little grading detail, but if it's a case of large-scale differences, where philosophical differences on how to conduct grading would substantially change students' grades, that's exactly the sort of thing the person in charge of the course should mediate.

Note that things get a little more complex when it's a team-taught course, where there are a number of "primary" instructors. However, in these situations it's normally the case where each instructor takes the lead on a certain topic. As such, they should be considered the primary opinion on issues specific to their topic. (Concerns which cut across multiple topics should be decided by mutual consent of the "primary" instructors.)

*) With the proviso that certain courses have to meet department or accreditation standards. But even in those cases, it's the instructor of record who is responsible for making sure that those standards are followed.

  • This answer seems to confuse administrative notion of responsibility with the academic notion of responsibility. In simple terms, I don't like unfair assessments and poor academic practice in my modules even if I am not a formal module leader. Oct 25 '18 at 7:13
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    @DmitrySavostyanov I'm certainly not implying that you should put up with unfair practices or that you shouldn't take academic responsibility for your actions if you're not the instructor of record. I'm just saying that the person who is ultimately responsible for how the course is run is the person with their name on the course catalog. -- The OP's question is one of two people having honest philosophical differences about how to interpret an ambiguous rubric. I was just pointing out they should consult the person in charge of the rubric.
    – R.M.
    Oct 25 '18 at 16:29

At my institution it is typical to double-mark 20% of submissions for the purposes of standardisation / moderation.

This might mean 80% gets single-marked and 20% gets double-marked, or it might mean that two markers assess 60% each (2x an overlap of 10%). For low-weight assessments this is seen as a recommended best-practice, while being mandatory for high-weight assessments.

If such arrangements for standardising / moderating marks do not exist within your institution, perhaps it is worth suggesting that this (or something similar) is implemented.

Without knowing your department, it is difficult to say whether it is appropriate (or feasible) to suggest this be implemented for your current cohort of submissions, else be part of a push for implementing broader change.

A few notes about the process, for the curious:

Where there is a difference between multiple markers for any individual submission, then it is for the markers to settle upon an agreed mark. Where an agreed mark cannot be settled upon, then it gets escalated within the department for mediation.

Where a significant difference between multiple markers across multiple submissions is identified, then the entire cohort must be double marked (and any differences in mark reconciled as described above). Our benchmark for a "significant difference" is a mean deviation (correction) of >= 7%.


The responses you've already gotten are truly excellent. I just wanted to add one small observation. You say that you've been grading these exams

with a colleague from another department

and that

The course is given by their department and I have helped since this year because it overlaps with my expertise

By your own admission, you are, more or less, a guest in their department, doing them a favor by helping out. That means that the grades are, ultimately, not your responsibility.


First, @Ben's suggestion to split grading vertically rather than horizontally - questions rather than students - is good and practical irrespective of anything else.

That being said, I suggest you consider the following:

  1. Give up the fantasy, or perhaps better put: the conceit, that grading is consistent. It isn't, due to a zillion factors: Exams not of consistent difficulty; student population distribution of capabilities not in sync with grading curve shaping; sense of severity of errors differs for the same person for the first encounters and for latter encounters; moods change; unconscious biases (for example: against people with sloppy handwriting); and so on.
  2. Try to schedule a grading policy discussion of all graders and the exam authors, before the next exam is given (next semester?). In that discussion, bring up some specific scenarios requiring finer judgement rather than simply "how many points for which question".
  3. Consider arguing for rougher-granularity grading in the course. I'm a fan of Pass/Fail (or Pass/Fail/Excellent), and dislike number scales, especially 0..100 or fractional grades. I can be confident about looking at someone and saying "Yeah, you understand what we've taught here, you pass." or "No, you don't get it - you fail." And if someone is borderline, then it's a matter of policy whether to pass or fail them (I would tend towards fail personally). But I really cannot justify why someone is a 63 while another person is a 64.7. I feel I'm only helping some arbitrary industrial mass-manipulation mechanism by assigning these kinds of numbers to people.

PS - These three suggestions are mostly orthogonal.

  • 1
    "Give up the [fantasy/conceit] that grading is consistent. It isn't". Indeed. This is underrepresented, in this thread but also in universities. Grading can impact years of someone's life: not everyone is either a straight A or a complete failure, so for many students those variances have an impact. It usually went fine for me personally, but I've seen so many students work hard and then fail a course while their peers passed, even though those peers were equally likely to be better as they were to be worse. Not just the grading style/biases, even studying the right pages creates variance.
    – Luc
    Oct 25 '18 at 20:44
  • @Luc: I think you're explaining how grading is not always pertinent, rather than not consistent. I was talking about the grading of submitted work which one could argue is of the same quality and represents the same command of the material.
    – einpoklum
    Oct 25 '18 at 20:58
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    Grading is inconsistent, but that's a bad thing. It's better to try to increase consistency than decrease it. Oct 26 '18 at 20:47

If a significant number complete works have been graded by different people, you may consider adding a correction so that works done by each grader have the same mean grade (and, ideally, the same variance). This doesn't eliminate all the inconsistencies, but at least makes the grading statistically fair.

  • 1
    Sounds good in theory, but how do you achieve this?
    – usr1234567
    Oct 24 '18 at 19:57
  • 4
    Statistical fairness is only good for statistical reports. For students you have to explain why points are awarded/taken off, as well as provide useful feedback and suggestions for improvements. Oct 25 '18 at 7:10

An excellent discussion and am enjoying reading the comments. As an undergraduate, I confronted bias, extreme in two cases, in grading during my first 2 years. Only through perseverance and mentoring from two professors was I able to overcome it. Thus, the governing principle in my own teaching career was to let students succeed or fail on their own merits.

Like @einpokum, I abhorred the bell curve believing it to be both antiquated and unfair. One gorilla in the room is the fact that some students on every campus, primarily through various organizations, especially Greek letter ones, have access to exams and papers than non-connected students do. As a graduate student I lost a number of papers graded by professors who left them outside departmental offices. And, as a professor, a couple of papers submitted to me I determined had been plagiarized. Protecting the fairness of student evaluation is an institutional responsibility.

In my own experience, after my 1st year of teaching at the college level, I instituted what I called developmental grading, believing that teachers are responsible for providing a framework in which all students have an opportunity for success. This is a concept I learned when in nursery school from two very intelligent teachers, and it's remained in my consciousness every since. Their application was solely environmental. The approach I used was also environmental, but focused on student evaluation, and was three-phased:

  1. Students took an exam, which was graded by me and later by others as the numbers of students in my general courses increased, from less than 20 when I began, to over 100.

  2. Once grades were known, students could apply to take the exam again for half of the points for each question that they "missed" in the initial exam. These would be added to their earlier grade.

  3. If still not satisfied, they could take an oral exam before the entire class who would then evaluate their performance.

Although there were several who opted for #2, none applied for option 3. I was hoping for at least one to determine how the students would respond.

Only after the 2nd phase was completed did the class go through the exam together to share their thoughts about each question and the expected answers. Later, this was modified for students to go through the exam with student assistants or other professors depending on the course.

A second principle in my evaluation, which students ultimately learned, was that the three previous exams had less impact on their final grade than how they did on a comprehensive final; and, that these exams and the follow-up discussion were designed to help them perform better on the Final. In fact, a student could do poorly on all other exams (barring poor attendance or otherwise failing minimum parameters), get an A on the final and achieve an A for a grade. For some students, no doubt, it appeared as a gift, but they earned a better grade. Why? I believed that finals were designed not to achieve a percentage of a grade in relation to all other criteria, but to test what they comprehensively learned overall about the subject of the course. Grading final exams was one of my base pleasures, as well as the gourmet coffee I imbibed to get me through them. :)

I might add that exams were not the only factors entering into a final assessment, but book reviews, reports about speakers or activities on campus germane to the class or quizzes which they triggered by not asking questions when prompted by my question at the end of each class--are there any questions? Like many of you, I suspect, teaching involves learning complex concepts and reducing them to an 8th grade level so that most first to second year students can comprehend what it is we are talking about.

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