Marking? It’ll be done in just a tick

Lecturer Emma Rees has 65 essays to mark. But first, Iced Gems, tea, more tea…

June 5, 2014

Source: Miles Cole

Alarm goes off. Allow self one hit of snooze button before leaping out of bed to Get Marking Done.

Get out of bed.

Finish checking emails. Make cup of tea.

Sit at desk looking at stack of 65 essays. Sort through them. Organise into piles according to question tackled.

Reorganise them into piles by assessment number. Ascending.

Open assessment coversheet template on computer. Fill in blanks. Copy and paste 65 times. That’s 65 x 2,200 words.

Find calculator.

Pick up first essay. Fold back coversheet. Read opening paragraph. Realise impossible to mark without fresh tea. Pop to kitchen. Dog trots in behind me. Play ball with her until kettle boils.

Miles Cole illustration (5 June 2014)

Take tea to desk. Reread opening paragraph. Correct a split infinitive, two apostrophes and a character’s name. Add a tick. Lone tick looks unkind. Add second tick.

Finish annotating page one of essay one. Each essay: around six pages long. If each page takes six minutes, essay will take 36 minutes. For all 65 essays, this is…

Find calculator.


Turn to page two of essay one. Promise self will have packet of Iced Gems when first five essays are marked.

Finish marking essay one. Go to kitchen to find Iced Gems.

No Iced Gems in house. Contemplate taking up smoking instead. Pros: would punctuate marking and get me out in fresh air. Cons: might kill me; would cost a lot of money; air wouldn’t be “fresh”; might kill me. Decide to emulate James Caan in Misery, whose Lucky Strike and bottle of Dom Pérignon wait for last line typed. Remember Misery hobbling incident. Reassess plan. But now thinking about champagne. Find bottle of Waitrose Prosecco in fridge. Put it on corner of desk as motivation. Turn to page one of essay two.

Daughter comes downstairs. Looks at Prosecco on desk. Looks at me. Walks away, muttering one of limitless stock of “I worry about you, Mother. I really do” phrases.

Miles Cole illustration (5 June 2014)

Finish essay two. It has taken me literally hours. (Not literally.) Marking is clearly feasible only if punctuated by social networking. Open laptop. Make remarkably witty Facebook status update involving Dante, circles of hell and marking. Wait for friends to “like” it. While there, worry that haven’t recently “liked” sufficient numbers of friends’ posts. Go on “liking” extravaganza: one friend’s endearing puppy; another’s book cover; the artfully close-up dewdrop on a rose petal Instagram of a third. Accidentally “like” post by friend whose cat has leg in plaster after being hit by car. Don’t want to “unlike” in case sends wrong message but “like” sends wrong message so send Facebook message explaining what message I meant to convey.


Open essay three.

Put kettle on.

Read first paragraph of essay three.

Put sympathetic tick. Turn to page two. Wonder what colleagues are doing on sunny Sunday. Watch dandelion clock drift past study window. Unplug laptop and take it and half a dozen essays into garden. This is serious. This isn’t just a place to mark. This is a Marking Station. Pleased with efforts, resolve to start properly at 3pm and to work through until 8pm. Go inside to make fresh cup of tea.

Open essay three at page two. Wait.

Begin Proper Marking. This is Extreme Marking. This is Total Marking. This is the Mother of all Marking. I am a Marking Machine. Marking doesn’t get Tougher than This.

Correct a misplaced apostrophe. Imagine Novelist Colleague sitting in his study finishing another novel. Picture him typing frantically. Reject picture: he probably writes longhand, in a Moleskine, with a fountain pen. Look at my biro. Wonder whether marking would have more gravitas were I to mark in Proper Ink. Wonder where my fountain pen is. Wonder why I don’t use a fountain pen all the time. Wonder if I’m a Proper Intellectual. Decide I need to write in proper pen. It could become a thing I do. I could be known for it in the department. Students would whisper to each other in awe at exquisite annotations. Watch another dandelion clock saunter past on warm breeze. Take moment to close eyes in Sunday sun.

Miles Cole illustration (5 June 2014)

Husband wakes me with cup of tea. Asks how long I’ve been napping for.

Say “About an hour”. Husband raises left eyebrow. I study teacup.

Kindly but firmly reprimand husband for distracting me from marking. Pointedly turn to fourth page of essay three. Husband walks away, shaking head.

Decide to check emails in case something crucial has arisen.

Nothing crucial. But email from Head of Department about workload planning. Read email. Plan Monday’s workload. Will mark at least half of essays. Will wake early, find fountain pen, walk dog and be at desk by 9am. Will then mark solidly until light lunch, followed by afternoon marking until suppertime. Monday will be super-productive. Monday will see All of the Marking taken down.

Planning Monday has exhausted me. Decide to call it a day. Will take down essay three like it’s Monday already.

Finish essay three. Happy that student has done well. Really well. Good place to stop for day. Quickly check emails. Student with imminent Renaissance Lit exam has emailed: “hi emma. if you have time please could u tell me why does Milton feel the need to ‘justify the ways of God to men’? :) thanks x”. Fifteen possible replies come to mind. Decide to recommend specific reading. Should take only five minutes.

Finish replying to student’s email. Close laptop. Move al fresco office back indoors. Meander into kitchen in search of wine. Husband announces he’s marked seven portfolios and two presentation scripts.

Put usual wine glasses back in cupboard. Take out approx one-pint long-stem goblets given by father-in-law. Realise he understands more about being an academic than previously grasped.

THE exam howlers competition 2014

Times Higher Education is inviting entries to its annual “exam howlers” competition, in which lecturers are invited to share their favourite mistakes.

Last year’s winner was Adam Hart, professor of science communication at the University of Gloucestershire, who revealed that in an exam answer on the evolution of sex, one student wrote: “Sex has puzzled biologists ever since it was discovered by Darwin and Mendel.”

Please send examples of unfortunate typos, spoonerisms and misunderstandings to by June 2014. A magnum of champagne will be awarded for the winning entry.

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Reader's comments (1)

“The highest” standards of self-organization! Funny article, thanks a lot! The only one thing – for some reason only a woman is always in the light of irony! And a man is always Proper Intellectual! But let it be as you like to see the situation! Many thanks for delighting!


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