On being a “hard marker”

I am known as being a “hard marker”, apparently.

And I am coming to terms with that, not as a perverse badge of honour, as if I get some delight over punishing students with low marks. Actually, I work hard to grade consistently, in line with the rubrics I’m given, and with some eye to consistency across other markers. It’s not certain that I’m actually a hard marker, but certain student bodies certainly perceive me to be.

Good think I’m not in the States, where mark inflation means the actual marking range is about 10-15 percentage points higher than the Australian range. Here I make most assignments as somewhere between 55 and 90. 85 is my usual benchmark for amazing. 55 is a pass. Below that I usually need to mark it as a failure and make sure it’s below 47.

But all these numbers mean nothing, in the end, which is what I’m coming to terms with. If I give a 65, or a 75, does this matter, except relative to my own grades? That is, if I awarded you a 65 on one assignment, then a 75 on the next, that should mean something – that should mean that your second assignment was better. But if I award you a 65 and someone else awards you a 75 on something else, who actually cares? You do, because you put numbers on your self-worth as a student.

Most of my marking energy (and time) goes into commenting. I genuinely want students to succeed as students, to improve, to grow, and that includes the area of academic writing. So, yes, I’ll keep on commenting on every little thing you could do to improve, and I’ll keep on marking as I do, without trying to be a student-pleaser, but rather with an eye to overall consistency.

And if that means you think I’m a “hard marker”, all the more reason for you to be diligent, work hard, and earn my respect by turning in exceptional work.

2 responses

  1. I remember at an SBL a few years ago, being shocked at a US professor saying 85 was a B. In UK and Australia that would be a good A+.

    Simultaneously doing UK and US studies earlier this year, the difference was striking, although admittedly slightly confounded by being humanities vs maths/stats.

    My UK classics courses were basically 50–60 PASS; 60–70 MERIT; 70+ DISTINCTION

    If I did everything required by an assignment, I’d get around 70. I never got more than 75 except for my Beginning Greek and ended up graduating with distinction with an average of around 71.

    That would probably shock US students!

    My US educational measurement and assessment courses are basically 60-70 D; 70-80 C; 80-90 B; 90+ A.

    If I do everything required by an assignment, I get 100. 95 would mean I made some stupid mistake. I’ve never got less than 90 (and in fact, got 100% for a course last semester and am on track to get 100% again this semester).

    Uni in Australia when I was there was somewhere in the middle: 75-80 was an A; 80 and above was an A+.

    Now of course, this has nothing to do with grade inflation / what % of people get an A. But it comes down to your comment in your next post about discrimination. If the score for doing what is expected of you is 100, there’s no head room for extending yourself beyond just making fewer mistakes.

    I’ll end with another anecdote from my personal experience. When I first switched majors from physics to linguistics back in 1993, I was doing pretty much what I was expected to do for my assignments and was getting straight B+. One day I thought: I’m going to try to do the assignment the way I imagine an A+ student would do it. Lo and behold, I got an A+. Having that head room in assessment was what stretched me.


    • I think your experiences just serve as more anecdata for my belief that what students expect and get is largely related to a “scale of marks” they are enculturated into. In Mongolia, I had to scale all my marking upwards by about 10-15 marks, to fit in with local “marking expectations”. But, this is all just relative, there’s no objective weight to 85 or 95 or whatever.

      Which is why the two issues of (a) room to stretch, and (b) using the range, seem more important to me. (a) gives students somewhere to strive for, and (b) means that a marking range out of 100 isn’t really a marking range out of 50-75 (UK!).


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