Grading sucks. I hate grading. I guess even the best job in the world has its downside.
I hate grading because it makes me think about all of the less un-fun things that I could be doing at that moment. And I often do those things (like laundry, or dishes) instead of grading. Which only makes grading worse.
I’ve never actually given a scantron exam in a class that I’ve had the freedom to teach how I wanted. I haven’t had a massive class that’s required this approach (or a small army of student graders). I’m not inherently opposed to multiple choice exams, but I’ve mostly been in places where they were not appreciated, at least not in the kinds of classes I have been assigned.
One of the reasons I haven’t liked multiple choice exams is that writing a good one takes a lot of time. (And, even when I’ve used some of these questions on a paper exam, I find that they can contain a lot of hidden cultural biases that only come out when talking with students afterwards.)
If your exams aren’t multiple choice, then how can you do spare yourself grading hell?
You can’t. But you can lessen it.
This is just a working hypothesis. It’d be interesting to really know. But not interesting enough to delve into the education literature.
On one extreme, you could write an exam in ten seconds. It would ask:
Explain in detail the five most important ideas that you learned while studying for this class in the past month.
Very easy to write, very hard to grade.
When underthinking exam questions, then we could be in for a world of hurt when we have to grade the responses. You can’t necessarily create a perfect rubric up front, because you might get correct but unanticipated answers.
Students can put all kinds of crazy stuff down when you ask questions on exams. Sometimes, this crazy stuff is actually factually correct and directly answers your question. Even if the answer is not addressing the content that you were expecting the question evaluate?
Badly Worded Question: When the earth had more oxygen in the atmosphere, would the sky appear orange or not? Explain your answer with a sentence.
Correct answer: Yes. The sky would either be orange, or it would not be orange.
I have a really hard time marking points off a question which is fully answered correctly, even if the correct answer isn’t what I anticipated. (In fact, I promise I won’t do this to my students, as a part of a policy of transparency and fairness.) The onus is on me to write questions that directly get at what I need to know to assess their content knowledge and the ability to process it (Blooms taxonomy, yadda yadda…)
So, if you make sure your exam is airtight going in, then grading it should be easier.
But writing exams is no fun either. So we don’t write the best exams in the first place. Maybe the memories of painful grading are enough of a stick to make us write tighter exams.
hat tip to Prof-Like Substance for venting about grading.