July 27, 2023

How are University STEM assessments graded? | Graide

Manjinder Kainth, PhD

Whether you’re beginning your higher education journey as a post-grad, or academic just about to enter the teaching profession, marking and assessment will be a big part of your day-to-day life. Let’s break down the grading process for you. Just how do university academics grade STEM assessments? What do you as a student or academic need to know?

Marking policies and procedures will lead the way

First of all, don’t worry if you’re new to all this. No one is born with a working knowledge of assessment tasks and marking criteria and how best to feedback grades. Usually, you won’t have to dream up assignments or examinations out of thin air. Or be left to mark them unaided or unassisted.

As with other tasks you’ll be doing for the first time, you’ll be guided, mentored, and helped along the way. One of the great things about academia and university life is its collegial atmosphere. Academics are teachers by trade and nature. They will want to assist and advise, as much as they can.

Furthermore, there will be policies and procedures in place to do just that. You will find there are systems and processes, both for devising assessments and for marking them. Better still, they’re often easy to find and freely available online. For example, the University of Surrey has both a web page and YouTube video explaining or breaking down their 13 steps for marking assessments.  

How we mark your work | Exams and assessments | MySurrey

Our 13 steps for marking your assessments | University of Surrey - YouTube

Creating STEM university assessments

As well as policies, procedures, and colleagues, past assessments and practice questions will guide you. University departments possess a store of past questions and tasks, along with criteria and suggested answers. If accessible, past exam scripts will shine a light on best practice.

Grading with Graide

Internal and external checks and balances

Grading, along with providing detailed feedback and support, is integral to the learning process. Marking will be reviewed internally (within departments). And, to ensure fair results for examinations, exam grading will be moderated externally (outside the university). External examiners moderate samples of marking, but also review entire programmes, including the assessment and module design to ensure consistency in standards across the sector and that internal policies are followed.

It’s worth emphasising that marking examinations well, like sitting them successfully, comes with practice. Your grading speed, efficiency, and all-round confidence will improve with time. And you may find that a lot of marking isn’t so much complicated as time-consuming.

The sheer volume of grading – are there any shortcuts?

So, how does one tackle the sheer volume of grading? 

Grading each question or each student at a time

STEM assessments entail a mixture of short- and long-form questions, and many academics swear by marking each question at a time. They find it easier cognitively, when they’re not having to switch from one concept or formula to another. They also feel it helps them maintain consistency. Assessment can be a “spot the difference” exercise between the student’s answer and the suggested or model answer on the mark scheme. Seasoned markers find that they speed up with each question as they get an increasing sense of where students have excelled and where they’ve struggled, all of which will inform your future teaching.  

Conversely, some teachers prefer to mark each student at a time, with the obvious benefits of learning more about that student’s performance all in one go.

Mark with the lark, assess with the owl, increase productivity with a tomato

Other hacks or productivity tips include marking when you mark best. Work out which times of the day are most productive for you, whether that’s first thing in the morning, at the end of a day’s teaching, or evenings.

Try, as much as is possible, to work without distractions such as notifications on devices. This might be a time to keep your home or university office door momentarily shut.

You may find the Pomodoro Technique useful. It entails working in 25-minute bursts. The big thing is that you use a timer so you’re not distracted by clock-watching. The method is named after those tomato-shaped timers that were popular before smart phones became a thing.

The Pomodoro Technique — Why It Works & How To Do It (todoist.com)

Grade in batches

Marking in batches will make the world of difference. Don’t expect to be able to mark all day straight. You should find that you speed up as you go along and then, slowly, slow down! The law of diminishing returns applies. It also reduces the risk of inconsistencies and mistakes setting in (Sadler 2009, DOI: 10.1080/02602930801956059)

Of course, this doesn’t apply to AI, which doesn’t slow down. That’s one of its undeniable advantages.

Let’s look at how Graide’s AI can aid the process.

Graide's AI-assisted grading accelerates the process

For one, with Graide you’ll never have to mark the same type of response twice. The tech sits at your shoulder, observing and learning how you mark each response, and then replicates it at scale. AI-powered Replay Grading also increases the amount of feedback. For more on this, you may be interested in our efficacy research at the University of Birmingham:

“The median grading times were reduced by 74%, and the number of words of feedback given increased by a factor of 7.2, when we compared grading on paper to the Graide platform. We also estimated that a university, with 3500 STEM students, using Graide could save over £240,000 a year.”

Final thoughts

Marking is challenging. We understand that. We’ve been there. We have 16 years’ experience of university grading and teaching here at Graide. We wish we’d had a digital grading platform back in the day. We didn’t. We had to invent one!

We’re really proud of what we’ve achieved with the platform. We think you’ll find it an invaluable tool for faster and more efficient STEM assessments grading in higher education.  

Graide - AI grading. Increase feedback and save time


Further reading

How to spend less time grading (graide.co.uk)

Reducing Educators Workload with Artificial Intelligence (graide.co.uk)

How to use an advanced STEM editor for assessment (graide.co.uk)

Marking exams? When it comes to workload, less can mean more | THE News (timeshighereducation.com)


Manjinder Kainth, PhD
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I’ve been intricately involved in teaching for many years. I have over 6 years of private tutoring experience, taught in higher education, and most recently worked on designing and delivering crash courses for a high school.