Tips from the McMaster Community

There is inconsistency among the marks different tutors give to students assignments and exams.
Carolyn Ingram, School of Nursing

The small-group, problem-based approach to learning used in the Faculty of Health Sciences actually seems to enhance this problem for two reasons. First, a single classroom course may be broken down into as many as 14 or 15 groups, each with a different tutor. Second, the fact that the parameters for each course are quite flexible and that there is a choice in the cases which students may study means that no two groups are studying the same thing at the same time. This, in turn, makes the idea of standardized exams impossible, and we must therefore rely heavily on alternative methods of evaluation, particularly essays and other projects.

In an effort to establish some uniformity in grading these assignments our faculty members have instituted several techniques:

  • The individual grading criteria for assignments are spelled out as clearly as possible in the student and tutor manuals for each course, along with the weighting for each criterion. Guidelines for global assessment of assignments are also included. These are reviewed with tutors during orientation, and in turn, tutors review them with students during the first or second class session.
  • Several weeks prior to the due date for an essay, we will distribute a "mock" copy of the assignment and ask that all tutors in the course grade it. Approximately one week later, a tutors' meeting is held in which the grading criteria are reviewed and the grades given to the mock assignment are discussed. The tutors' meeting is held prior to submission of all assignments, and if a non-written project is involved, an effort is made to provide a "simulation" for the tutors to discuss and grade on the spot. This method of sharing ideas allows faculty to see aspects of a piece of work they may otherwise have missed, helps us examine and agree upon the aspects of an assignment we believe are most crucial, and helps establish consistency in grading.
  • To further assist in the process of grading essays, an informal network is set up among the tutors for each course. A tutor who encounters difficulty or uncertainty in grading a paper, or who believes he or she has received a failing paper may ask another tutor in the course to read the paper and fill out a separate grading sheet, in addition to his or her own, before deciding on the final grade and returning the assignment to the student.
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