This semester I was assigned as a TA to a Class that I am not very familiar with. As a result, grading takes me too much time. For example, for a class of 74 people, it took me 24 hours to grade their assignments (7 exercises per person). One of the reasons it takes me that much time is that I have to study in order to refresh the content in my head before grading.

What should I do in order to make the procedure more time-efficient? Should I tell my concerns to the professor I am TA for and as well as my PhD supervisor ? I fear I might seem lazy or unproductive.

To cope with workload whenever I have grading to do I make sure I finish it within one day so that I can focus on the other stuff I have to do in the next days of the week.

-----------------------Edit with answers to questions-----------------------

Since people asked more questions about my situation here are answers: I keep office hours for 2 hours per week. I have to grade 3 packages of these assignments for the whole semester. The first package was for 91 people the second was for 74. The was provided with indicative solutions but the answers are open-ended

  • Is this for a whole semester, or one thing you were grading that had 7 items? For a whole semester you are doing fine, but if this is supposed to be done weekly then you have a big problem
    – BrianH
    Oct 20, 2016 at 16:03
  • Has your professor provided a grading rubric, or just said, "Here... grade these!"
    – Bob Brown
    Oct 20, 2016 at 16:21
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    How many of these problem sets will you be grading over the course of the semester? How many hours per week are you working for your TA contract? If you're on a 20 hour per week contract, and its taking you 24 hours to do your week's work, then you're putting somewhat more time into this than you should, but not a lot more. Oct 20, 2016 at 16:48
  • 4
    The fact that you're only grading three "packages" for the whole semester makes a big difference. It's the difference between spending very roughly 3 times as much time grading as you probably should and spending very roughly the amount of time grading you probably should! Oct 20, 2016 at 18:08
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    Possible duplicate of What are some ways to increase grading speed?. Also see academia.stackexchange.com/questions/19112
    – adipro
    Oct 20, 2016 at 19:48

3 Answers 3


One thing I might do in your shoes is to grade all the answers to the problems one at a time.

That is grade problem 1 on the assignment for all 74 students, then grade problem 2, and then add up the scores for the seven problems at the end.

That way, you can "prepare" for one problem, grade it on an "assembly line," and then forget about it after you go on to the next problem.

  • 1
    Right. This also improves the uniformity of the grading process. Oct 20, 2016 at 23:27

Given the details you have provided 2 hours of office hour a week plus 3 24-hour grading tasks comes out to around 8 hours a week (assuming a 12 week semester). Adding in another 3-5 hours a week attending the lectures and a couple of hours of prep time, puts you at maybe 15 hours. Often TA contracts are for 20 hours a week. If that is the case, 24 hours to grade these problem sets is not unreasonable. If your contract is only 10 hours a week, then it might be too long and they might need to hire additional TAs.

Another way to look at it is you are grading 518 (7*74) problems. That is under 3 minutes a problem. If you are expected to provide feedback beyond a score, it is going to be hard to grade much faster than that. If you are expected to spend less time grading, then you should discuss alternative marking schemes with whoever is in charge of the class.

  • This answer assumes the TA has no deadline for grading. This is not often the case in my experience. Professors usually expect me to have the grades up within 7-10 days of the hw being assigned. If that is also the case for the OP, it would lead to working over 20 hours per week when grading. Oct 21, 2016 at 0:52
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    @Hadi maybe 24 hours over 10 days, which could span 3 weeks, wouldn't even be over working. Most faculty are not going to be sympathetic to a complaint that you had to work more some weeks and less others. Contractually, I am not sure it matters either. Would need to read the TA contract carefully to male sure the time commitment is not nominal.
    – StrongBad
    Oct 21, 2016 at 1:01
  • I understand it probably wouldn't be too bad only going over a few hours every few weeks. In my university that would be a violation of the contract. Faculty should not be able to "save" TA working hours for later. Oct 21, 2016 at 19:03
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    @Hadi consistently going over is clearly unfair. I am not sure to the extent that the hours can be saved. Legally, I think that it probably depends on the specifics of the contract. Practically speaking, I would be a little disappointed if a TA didn't have the flexibility to work 15 hours one week and 25 hours the next.
    – StrongBad
    Oct 21, 2016 at 19:11
  • agreed. I think there should be some flexibility. I actually just looked up the contract at our university and I was wrong. It permits some flexibility and this case would not be a violation. The topic is a bit touchy for me because the faculty I TA for this term tends to drop 40 hours of work on me without notice after several weeks of 2-3 hours a week and it's really disrupting my research (I'm on a 10 hr/week contract). Oct 21, 2016 at 19:25

Definitely, you should discuss this with the professor teaching the class, since 24 hours to grade a problem set is almost certainly more time than they want you to spend on it.

What makes sense depends on how the timing works out. For example, you say you have to study the material yourself before grading. If you are spending an hour doing that, then that aspect sounds reasonable, and the issue is just whether the overall workload is too high. If you need to spend five or ten hours a week on that, then you probably aren't the right person to grade for this class, although it could be a worthwhile experience if you want to put in that much time.

Aside from time spent studying, the big question is how much time it should take to grade a single problem. Anything takes a long time when you multiply it by 74, so it could be that the class is just too large and they need to hire a second grader to help. 24 hours for 518 problems averages out to about 2.8 minutes per problem (including study time). For some problems, such as lengthy proofs where the students try diverse approaches and need personalized feedback, 2.8 minutes per problem would be quite efficient. For routine calculus exercises, it would be painfully slow. It could be that you are putting more effort into this than the professor actually has in mind, so it's important to have a conversation about expectations.

Don't worry about disappointing the professor. It's much better to find out about these issues early on, and nobody puts that much weight on grading anyway. (Nobody thinks it's the most important thing you should be doing as a grad student, or a true test of your abilities, so nobody will judge you too harshly.) I'd bet the most likely outcome is that you'll be told you are too conscientious and just need to do what you can in a reasonable amount of time, rather than doing a perfect job. But the only way to find out is to have the conversation.