A-*sigh*-ment time? Make it a little easier for everyone

I’ve just spent the last fortnight, in between my own studies, marking first year assignments. At times, I’ve seriously wondered about the future of Australian science, but then one wonderfully written piece arrives on my desk and I stop trying to design drinking games (a student wrote something unintentionally rude because they didn’t proofread – one drink). I feel like I need some particular comments on a rubber stamp, I had to say them so often. So from a tutor who isn’t quite so bitter and twisted yet, I’d like to offer my general advice as the end of semester approaches.

There seems to be a prevailing attitude that students start off with full marks and lose them for doing things wrong. I have only met one academic who marks this way. In fact, you generally start with zero and earn marks. If marking an essay or report, my method is to scan it once to decide which mark bracket it sits in (e.g. a credit or a distinction) and then read again more carefully to check what you’ve actually written and give you marks for both content and style (of the writing, not the aesthetics; unless we’re talking graphs). If it is an assignment comprising short answer questions, there will usually be marks allocated to specific phrases or concepts and then a few extra for stringing it all together in some kind of intelligent way. If you can, have a look at the value of each question and approach it accordingly – this is as relevant at university as it was in the HSC.

Seriously, I feel like this when I repeat myself over and over... I now have so much more respect for my school teachers...

Seriously, I feel like this when I repeat myself over and over… I now have so much more respect for my own school teachers…

If you would like me to spend my time on a Friday night reading your assignment instead of going on a hot date, I expect you to have put time and effort into completing it. It is really obvious when you haven’t. Read the assignment brief and then make sure you answer the question, the whole question and nothing but the question. Seriously, if you miss parts you can’t earn marks and if you drivel on about irrelevant rubbish, you are wasting everyone’s time. This is a fine line, as you do want to show that you have done your research and offer some insights, but keep the storytelling in check.

In terms of your research, consider what constitutes an appropriate information source. If you have been asked to write a scientific paper, you want to go to academic journals, government sources and textbooks well before you start hitting newspapers and blog posts. Go to the Bureau of Meteorology for your weather data, not the Sunrise forecast. Use Wikipedia for a quick overview, but move on – don’t ever use it as your final source.

Once you have your resources, cite them correctly, for goodness’ sake! Find out what referencing style you are expected to use (e.g. Harvard, APA, Chicago or as per a specific journal) and USE IT. Consider referencing software like Endnote or Mendeley if you are doing a giant piece with lots of references, as doing it all properly can be tedious. Remember, it is very easy for your examiner to check your references and citations, so make sure you only include references you cite in the text and reference everything you cite. It is also important to acknowledge other people’s work instead of plagiarising, as this could see you booted out of your institution.

Before you hand in, proofread! Then, once you’ve reviewed it yourself, hand it to someone else and have them proofread as well! Family members and housemates who are not familiar with the technical aspects of your work can still make great proofreaders, as they tend to pick up more grammatical, spelling and logical errors. My poor best friend, who is a professional artist, feels that she’s done a geology degree by proxy through me, reading over everything for me over the last few years.  It’s worth it – I had a student recently write a biography which said “E is a girl in which you can thrust”. (Yeah, pretty sure that last word was meant to be trust.) Spell check doesn’t pick up everything, especially if it is in the wrong language – make sure you set it to Australian English.

Finally, when you are doing your assignment, consider how it fits into the broader concepts of the course. Are you doing some simple calculations after another assignment about significant figures? Then round correctly or you won’t get full marks. Are you giving a seminar in a unit about oral presentation skills? We gave you an entire workshop on slides for a reason, guys. Assume you tutor is marking your work last in the pile and is sick of picking up the basic things and sounding like a broken recorder. Make your work the one that stands out and gets 90 just because you followed the guidelines properly and gave us something nice to read at the end of a long night.

If you have any sure fire study tips, let us know! Send us a tweet or drop us a line on Facebook.

Advertisements

2 Comments

by | May 22, 2013 · 8:23 am

2 responses to “A-*sigh*-ment time? Make it a little easier for everyone

  1. Ranting Student

    A Student’s Rant in Response to a Marker’s Rant

    “If you would like me to spend my time on a Friday night reading your assignment instead of going on a hot date, I expect you to have put time and effort into completing it.”
    Students Response:
    “If you would like me to spend my time on Friday night completing your assignment instead of going on a hot date, I expect you to have put time and effort into actually formulating a assignment task that is worth doing and understandable or even better don’t ask me to do an assignment on a Friday night.”

    “Seriously, if you miss parts you can’t earn marks and if you drivel on about irrelevant rubbish, you are wasting everyone’s time.”
    Students Response:
    “Some questions are so ridiculously worded, complex or nonsensical that of course I am going to miss parts you inconsistent education facilitator.”

    “I feel like I need some particular comments on a rubber stamp, I had to say them so often.”
    Students Response:
    “If you need to say something that often… place it in the marking criteria or even better have ALL markers/lecturers etc. gather together and decide on a way of marking and MAKE IT CONSISTENT WE AREN’T MIND READERS!”

    “Once you have your resources, cite them correctly, for goodness’ sake!”
    Students Response:
    “Lead by example… when giving student references don’t use a variety of referencing styles… pick one and stick with it!”

    “It’s worth it – I had a student recently write a biography which said “E is a girl in which you can thrust”. (Yeah, pretty sure that last word was meant to be trust.) Spell check doesn’t pick up everything, especially if it is in the wrong language – make sure you set it to Australian English.”
    Students Response:
    “Once again lead by example. I don’t want to read in my slides and handouts that “th theory was controversial sand at times polar opposites of what had goned before.”

    “gave us something nice to read at the end of a long night.”
    Students Response:
    “At the time of writing I most probably thought that my assignment was interesting and ‘nice’, it’s not my fault you have to grade 50 students assignments and are in a foul mood.”

    • bucketscientist

      Well, you did identify yourself as a troll from the outset, so let’s address these in order…
      1. Assignments are usually listed in the course outline which is available from the start of semester. If you couldn’t plan around that and effectively manage your time, I’m sorry. Student services runs workshops on that if you would like help.
      2. You’re right, I am a facilitator. You do the learning. University is an adult environment, we are not employed to spoon feed you information. If you manage your time more effectively and read the assignment when you were first given it, you could have tried to seek help in clarifying what was expected of you. The night before, obviously, is not the time to do this.
      3. I don’t know how much clearer things should be – many students have got through this before you, and indeed, even some of your colleagues this year have done well with no extra information than you had. So why weren’t you paying attention? If you have a genuine problem with an assessment, you should raise this with the course co-ordinator who actually sets the assessment, not your tutor, who is simply doing their best to help you. Many tutors are people like me – senior students trying to earn money to get by… we did the course not that long ago and the assessments were pretty much the same.
      4. Oh yes. The most common feedback we give is “you didn’t address the question that was clearly asked of you”. We don’t need you to read our minds, we need you to read the assessment questions. Certainly for the courses I have marked, we did actually gather the tutors together and go through a strict marking guide. If you feel that you have missed out unfairly, you should look at the course outline which you got at the beginning of semester and follow the channels of complaint outlined therein.
      5. Sounds like you had a bad experience there. I really can’t speak for that except to again suggest we all make mistakes. If you could identify that there was a problem, you should be able to improve on that, shouldn’t you?
      6. Wow okay if that is legit, that’s pretty bad, I will admit. Indeed, I have seen some shockers in lectures over the last few years. I would use the end-of-semester course evaluations to rate the crap out of that tutor/lecturer. If you don’t have course evaluations, I have found that course co-ordinators are usually happy to receive feedback by email – if you don’t feel confident doing this in such a manner, a typed, anonymous letter identifying yourself only as a student in the course would still be appropriate.
      7. You’re right. It’s not your fault I’m in a foul mood while marking. That’s why we have a marking guide to mark sure we don’t veer off track and disadvantage you. In one of the courses that I taught last semester, we also compared stats (range, mean and median) of marks given out by different markers for the same assignments. This helped us moderate marks. This is not to say we fit your marks to a bell curve (although I know of some courses that do that) – we simply used this as a quick check that we were indeed being consistent, and if one class was not, we investigated why and whether these needed to be remarked.

      So basically, again, be prepared and organised ahead of time. And if you feel legitimately disadvantaged after the fact, there are official channels of complaint that you can pursue to make sure you get a fair mark. Scowling from behind the keyboard is not one of them… unless, of course, you’re writing an email to the appropriate person!

      Good luck 😉

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s