Marked difficulty

May 28, 2004

Lin Norton (Letters, May 21) exhorts us to be more professional in our marking. I would be pleased to be so, but one problem is that the marking scale used in most universities is absurdly non-linear. Why devote 30 per cent of the scale to "first class" when the 30 per cent range below has to resolve 2.1, 2.2 and third? And when compiling marks from different types of assessment, how is one supposed to marry that arrangement, as applied to essay-type exam questions and coursework assignments, to the linear scale used for "objectively" marked tests such as multiple-choice questionnaires?

The only solution is to mark descriptively. The public language of academia seems at least to contain a measure of tacit agreement about the meanings of final degree grades. So long as this is so, and so long as we fail to have a set of linearly distributed universal definitions of assessed performance, the most professional approach is to describe students subjectively but as honestly as possible.

Martin Luck
Nottingham University

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