You have to find pleasure where there is none…

Alright, I’m just gonna say it. Grading student exams sucks donkey balls. It is probably one of my least favourite things to do out of all things academic. It is of course a necessary evil, and therefore it needs to be done, and needs to be done with care and attention.

The switch to online exams this year brought one positive aspect, which is that all online multiple choice examinations are automatically graded. For that reason alone I would never go pen and paper again (but who am I to decide anyway, I’m just some Muppet). I just enjoy this moment, in which it takes me less than a minute to access the multiple choice exam output. Great.

The majority of the past two days looked like this (Source: Wikipedia)

However, not every exam is fully multiple choice. In one of our courses, our exam was also part open questions. Open questions are generally fun, because students can get somewhat creative, and in a way it is exciting to see what the students come up with for answers. Not our exams though. We decided it was a good idea (it was a good idea) to have a part on bird and mammal identification, based on pictures. Where multiple choice exam grading is sped up massively, the grading of the identification questions (which were open question format) was slowed down tremendously. In fact, I have never seen such a stupid way to grade questions in my life (but given that I’m still in a somewhat larval stage that might not mean much). For each identification you have to individually open a window, scroll down a page, fill in some number, click the confirm button and on to the next. That is quite a lot of dumb scrolling and clicking, for something that could have been a simple overview matrix (which exists) where you can click whether a question is correct or false (which was not possible, and grading individual questions from this matrix is even more tedious and frustrating).

I am not gonna lie, Stretch Heron is a better name for this bird than Bittern… (Source: Wikipedia)

Because it is such a horrible task to do, I try to get it off my desk as soon as possible. I cleared out my schedule for two days (except a one-hour exam this morning) and graded everything that I was responsible for. The identification questions make you feel pretty simple-minded after grading just a few students. You have to sort of cherish the fun bits and be grateful for those little sparks in the day. One student identified the Bittern (Botaurus stellaris) as a stretch-heron (the German version of it though, the exam obviously was not in English). Although it is of course a spot-on description, it is also incorrect. The one answer, however, that was most off was by a student that identified a Water Rail (Rallus aquaticus) as a Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea). I have done a whole lot of googling to find if there is any angle from which the former resembles the latter or vice versa, but nope. Just nope. Overall though, the students performed very well. I’m happy that we can look back on another successful semester, although I am inclined to find the most difficult species to identify, to lure out the most creative answers, even if just to make the grading more fun.

After all, teachers are also just human beings…   

Published by Robin Heinen

Father of two | Husband | Entomologist and Ecologist | Postdoctoral Researcher @ TUM | Traveler | Coffee Addict

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