I'm used to a system in which all important exams or pieces of coursework are marked anonymously. (That is, papers are identified by candidate number, not by name, and the examiner does not know which number corresponds to which student, at least until the marks have been submitted.) This has obvious advantages in terms of reducing bias by making sure marks are awarded based only on the quality of the work and not influenced by the name of the student.

I was surprised when I joined my current department to find that no attempt is made to keep work anonymous -- students hand in their final exams with their names at the top and their lecturer marks them.

Are there any advantages to knowing which student's paper you are marking?

In a system where students' names are on their papers, what do people do to prevent bias while marking?


3 Answers 3


I've worked both ways and I'm unsure which way is best. There are clearly benefits to each way.

You already understand the benefits of 'blind' marking - you are more likely to be unbiased. However, by knowing the student behind the writing there are some benefits (along with the danger of bias).

One benefit is that you can authenticate more easily. That is, if you keep reading papers from one student and you see a sudden jump in quality (up or down) it can alert you to the possibility the work is not theirs (hired writers, etc.). Another benefit is that you can watch the development of each student over time. This is a little more difficult if you do not know while you are marking. Of course, you can go back over the papers after you submit the grades but that requires double reading (and not many want to do that for each student). There is the added benefit of seeing something which jumps out, like a special quote or comment you made in class. You can see who is getting it and who is not while you are marking. This last point is less of an issue because for stand-out cases you are more likely to read twice and it would be less work since it's a one-off event.

For exams, there is less of a benefit to the authenticity point above (since they were in the exam room) but it does still allow you to keep an eye on students. There is the obvious administrative benefit of not having to anonymize the exams.

As for preventing bias when papers are not anonymous, I consider each mark quite carefully and ask myself if I am being biased. When I look over all the marks and I see that I passed students I cannot stand and that I failed students I really like, then I feel fairly confident that I am keeping my bias in check.

  • 1
    +1 for that last paragraph. That is how you know you are not being biased. On exams, having names at the top can mean less work catching a cheater. If you expect a student of cheating, you only need to double check the exams of the other students sitting nearby and not every exam in the class.
    – Ben Norris
    Commented May 14, 2013 at 10:45
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    @BenNorris: one way to get around that, which I have seen, is to require students to sit in numerical order of student numbers, or assign student numbers to places (and have student numbers but no names on the exam scripts). For this to work, the institution's student numbers must not be derived from names.
    – Max
    Commented Feb 22, 2014 at 10:37

Maybe a bit different than the types of exams that you are thinking about, but notice that for some classes like for instance art classes where the exam is based on something they have worked on for a longer time in class, or acting, it is actually impossible to have an anonymous exam (unless of course if only external persons are used to give marks).

From my experience, I have always had anonymous markings on the paper bases exams I have taken, but for my practical acting exams the marks were set by both the teacher and one external person, so I guess that gave the best of both worlds.


When marking exams, I mark question by question, focusing on the requirements of the question. By doing this, while marking, don't take heed of whose exam I am marking - just the question.

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