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I sometimes spend too much time on grading students' homework in the class I am a TA for. I am asking if there are some ways to improve grading speed? I hope that I can learn some useful tips from experienced people here.

For example, which one do you think will be faster, grading student by student, or problem by problem?

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    I always grade problem by problem, but mainly for consistency, not speed. – JeffE Sep 16 '12 at 3:24
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    Like JeffE, I usually grade problem by problem. I think it helps with both consistency and speed. – Dan C Sep 16 '12 at 5:51
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I find it very helpful to write a grading rubric. It includes how many points I give for each part of each problem. I also include how many points of partial credit I give for various common errors. Typically, my key consists of a worked copy of the exam, and I make notes about each question on the actual exam. Generally, my rubric gets more detailed as I grade, since it's only then that I learn what are the common mistakes.

If I feel that I'm taking too long grading, I'll often start timing myself. Maybe I get at most 30 second per question (often less). This isn't a hard rule, but it helps me know what to aim for. (Recently I just graded a calculus exam, so most of the problems were pretty quick to grade.) Your mileage will vary from one subject to another.

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I have experience in grading math Olympiad papers; one principle we adopted there is to always grade in pairs, with one pair grading a single problem, or more pairs sharing a long or tricky exercise. I recommend this strategy especially for grading more important papers such as final exams, where good accuracy is important.

It may seem that this is a waste of resources; however there are several benefits:

  1. Accuracy increases much. A subtle error has to slip through two people instead of one.
  2. You do not waste so much time as it seems at first sight. Grading often follows an 80-20 law: 80% of the papers takes you 20% of the time, while grading the remaining 20% consumes the remaining 80% of it. This may be due to particularly non-standard solutions, bad handwriting, or edge cases that evade your marking scheme (as suggested by Dan C, always have a marking scheme, especially if there are multiple pairs on the same problem, and discuss together the more complicated cases). So, while you waste some time by having two sets of eyeballs looking at the easier papers, it is often invaluable to have a ready help in the more complicated cases. Your colleague may be faster than you in spotting a definition that you missed, a hidden line of reasoning, or deciphering a strangely-looking hieroglyph. This saves a lot of time on the more complicated cases.
  3. You will feel a lot less tired and find that you can go on with a steady rhythm for hours. You can chat together every now and then, share comments on good solutions, or make fun of particularly bad ones; this helps relieving tiredness.

Often we see one person trying to explain the solution to the other, or the pair spontaneously evolving a good cop-bad cop behaviour (one looks for weak points in the solution, the other defends the student). This method also doubles as training for beginner graders, that can learn from working with a more experienced partner.

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