I have been assigned to mark student reports for an engineering coursework, which mainly involves the use of a software. The main content of each report is around 15 pages. There are 45 reports in total. I am also required to write feedback to each student. I have not been involved in designing the assignment nor teaching the course.

The professor who assigned me this task told me that the marker last year took about 4 full days to complete the markings, and yet I have spent more than two weeks doing this (and not really doing anything else), and I am not yet done. I did need to spend some time familiarising myself with the subject matter and the software in the beginning, because I have never used the software before, but it is not that difficult to use.

Since this is my first marking experience, I am wondering whether it is normal to have spent so much time marking. Is there any strategy I can adopt to complete the task more efficiently, especially in my case where I am not involved in designing the assignment?


Marking assignment is a very demanding and time-consuming task, especially if you intend to do it thoroughly (and you should). It is also a big responsibility, as you have the students' success in your hands. It might be that your supervisor underestimated the time necessary to take care of it, although it's difficult to say without knowing the exact content of the assignment.

From my experience of grading assignments and exams (topics: acoustics and fluid mechanics), 2 weeks of work for a class of the size you mention doesn't sound like a lot, especially if, as you said, you needed to get accustomed to the specific aspects of the course.

I am wondering whether it is normal to have spent so much time marking.

My answer is yes, even though it depends on the type of exam. It might indicate that you take the task seriously, and it's a good thing.

Now as for:

How to mark student reports more efficiently

Here are some of my usual approaches:

  • Make sure you clearly identify the 'gold standard' to which you will compare the answers. Is there a ready-made solution (from last year) or do you need to make your own (if it's the later, the 2 weeks time frame is even less surprising). The prof/instructor should help you with this step.
  • Grade a given section/exercise at a time, for all students and then switch to the next one.
  • Do a quick overview of all the assignments to identify the good quality ones, grade them first.
  • Take a break between individual exercises, maybe do some of your administrative or research work for a while (this to avoid overdose).
  • Don't take cases of very low quality assignments personally (student clearly didn't attend class, tried to get away with an all-nighter, don't care about the grade, etc.). Students have their reasons. It's not you, it's them.

The good news is that you will theoretically be better and quicker at doing this next term.

Good luck!


I was in a very similar situation this past term. I was also tasked with grading engineering assignments that involved the use of software and a written component for which there were no solutions (mind you they were a little shorter than the ones you are grading). I am familiar with the software so it ended up taking me 5 days to mark.

Jigg has covered most of the bases, I just wanted to add another tip for efficiency:

In an effort to give them good feedback I wanted to write thorough comments. But after I got going on the marking I found that many students were making the same kinds of mistakes and I was writing the same comments over and over again. Eventually I just created an excel spreadsheet that really helped automate the marking that looked like this example:

enter image description here

The totals for points and points available are summation formulas so I didn't need to do any totalling myself. As I graded each assignment, I just compared it to the solutions I came up with and judged how well each of them met the criteria (nothing new). When I saw something wrong I just copied a detailed comment from the comments list and pasted it in the relevant cell. When I was finished with an assignment I just copied the everything in the thick black border into the online comments section, entered their grade, and moved on to the next one. If there was something new (and incorrect) that a student was doing I created a new comment and copied it into the list. Sometimes I also wrote something like "good work" next to the assignment total, just so that there were some positive comments.

Granted this worked really well when the students were all doing the exact same thing, but if your students are writing about different topics, it might not work as well.

  • 3
    Good idea to have a small library of comments! – Cape Code Apr 9 '14 at 15:48
  • 2
    +1; while the grading that I performed as a TA was not so involved (~1 day to complete for a class of 20-30), it's certainly true that students will often make the same mistakes! Worth noting, if there is a mistake that consistently crops up, it should probably be covered in class/lecture to help clear things up, as obviously many students did not understand the concept. – Brian S Apr 9 '14 at 16:39
  • Is there a faster tool for this than Excel? I currently copy the table to org-mode and export it as HTML for posting, but it would be nice to have something that was more streamlined. – bright-star Apr 9 '14 at 20:56
  • I don't know if there is a faster tool. I think your best bet is to try to minimize your keystrokes required to grade each paper (use macros rather than clicking) and get into a rhythm. – NauticalMile Apr 10 '14 at 3:01

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