Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Exam marking

Hello. My name is Kostas Economides and I am a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the South of England (USE for short). Well, actually that is not true really as the names of individuals and institutions in this blog have been changed to protect the innocent - and the guilty!

So now it is time to mark exam papers. Not my favourite part of the job, especially as there are now so many students in the class.

The worst thing is the unreadable writing. Some students write in such small letters that they are pretty much indecipherable. Or the scrawl looks like some kind of spider's web squashed onto the paper. I suppose these days they are not used to writing. But they don't take my advice and practise these skills. Because if I can't read it I am not going to give the student the benefit of the doubt. You can see some students trying to hedge their bets when they are not sure whether the correct answer is, for example, elastic or inelastic. What they write could be either word.

Another annoying thing is when the students don't answer the question as it is posed, but instead trot out the answer to the question that they wanted to see. Sometimes there is enough overlap for marks to be given but on other occasions a failing mark is all that can be awarded. Or maybe the elements of an answer are there but it is just so badly structured that it doesn't really do the job.

Then there are simple confusion errors, for example mixing up diminishing marginal returns with decreasing returns to scale, or autocorrelation with multicollinearity. What is annoying is when you have provided feedback on errors like this that have been made in previous years only to find them showing up again.

Then there are spelling mistakes. Caines instead of Keynes, or Durban instead of Durbin. You can understand students having a problem with words like heteroskedasticity but often these spelling errors are indicative of the lack of reading. They have heard the words or names but not seen them in print, or even on the computer screen.

Another problem is the inclusion of diagrams that have been memorised without understanding and so have errors in them. Or maybe the diagram is there but there is no attempt to explain what it is about in the text. It has just been dumped on the page in the hope that it may be relevant. Bob Bunn tells the wonderful story of the student who he saw after an exam. When Bob asked him how he thought he had got on he said "Great. I made sure I had the LX diagram." Bob realised that the L must refer to the axes and the X was probably the demand and supply curves, but guessed that the student just drawn this without any understanding of what it was about.

There are also unintentional funnies. Gus told me that when he was teaching a course on Environmental Economics a student had talked about recycling toilet paper which created some unfortunate images in his mind.

Despite all of this there have been some excellent exam scripts over the years. I am hoping that will be the case this year. The better they are the easier they are to mark.

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