June 8, 2023

How to spend less time grading

Austin Tomlinson, PhD

There’s no getting away from it. Grading is time-consuming. There’s the sheer volume. In higher education, a university class could contain over 300 students, which means hundreds of papers to grade over the course of an academic year. So, to help you save time grading, here is a range of approaches, along with their relative strengths and weaknesses.

If you had a magic wand, would you wish away marking forever?

There’s no getting away from it. Grading is time-consuming. There’s the sheer volume. In higher education, a university class could contain over 300 students, which means hundreds of papers to grade over the course of an academic year. We have 16 years of university teaching experience between us here at Graide. We’ve spent countless weeks – or months! –  grading papers, in total. Truth be told, it was our main motivator for designing the software. We wanted to speed up the process, for both professors and students.

So, to help you save time grading, here is a range of approaches, along with their relative strengths and weaknesses.

1. Scan assessments, or arrange for students to submit digital copies

Post-Covid, working with digital rather than physical scripts is now increasingly common. With the right systems in place, it speeds up the marking process massively, with students receiving feedback sooner.


  1. Less paper and clutter all around.
  2. If you’re using a team of markers, everyone can grade at the same time.
  3. It can help students with accessibility or transport issues.


  1. Without the right systems in place, it can slow down the process.
  2. Scanning work can take time, although the latest phones help here.
  3. Places the onus on the students to have everything in place.
  4. There may be user-error or technical issues or issues with connection.

It’s worth noting that today’s students are increasingly looking for universities which offer “robust digital capabilities”.

Post-pandemic: Some ‘forever’ changes to higher education (universityworldnews.com)

2. Use automated grading systems

Automated grading systems, which use algorithms to assess and grade assignments or exams automatically, are most suited to objective, well-defined, easily quantifiable assessments, such as multiple-choice, true/false, or fill-in-the-blank questions.


  1. Instant grading.
  2. Significantly reduced workload.
  3. Consistent objective evaluation of students’ work.
  4. The opportunity for randomisation.


  1. Limited application or uses; limited in terms of question type.
  2. Less in-depth feedback.
  3. An upfront investment is required for the software itself.
  4. Set-up costs – time and training.

3. Grade per question

Focusing on one question at a time helps the marker build momentum. You’ll know this from experience. It lightens the cognitive load, limiting the amount of knowledge or skills you need to juggle mentally at any one time. It’s like doing all your ironing in one go and then moving on to hoovering, or dealing with your email in batches, rather than tiring task-switching.


  1. Faster mental model for feedback created.
  2. You will recognise approaches and patterns more quicker.


  1. It’s difficult – though not impossible – to do with physical scripts: finding the right page every time can become irksome. It works best with scanned work.

4. Grade as a team

Dividing up the work among a team of markers means spreading the marking burden.

Material can be divided up so that team members grade whole papers or particular questions (see above).


  1. Reduced workload.
  2. Parallel marking helps with troubleshooting and solving common problems, which can speed up the marking process in the short and long term.


  1. Consistency is hard to maintain with a team of individuals.
  2. Moderation and calibration are, therefore, required.
  3. The cost incurred due to 2 above.

5. Use a feedback reference table/rubric

When the same mistakes and misconceptions crop up time and time again, rather than write the same feedback repeatedly, it makes sense to create a bank of feedback on a separate sheet of paper or document. Then when you’re grading papers, you can reference the feedback table and later attach it to marked work.


  1. Fast for common feedback comments.
  2. Doubles up as a plan of action for future teaching to address common issues.


  1. You still need to add up points.
  2. It is hard to keep track of which student has which comment.
  3. Feedback isn’t physically “on” the students’ work; though students could make a note themselves afterwards, especially if there’s a coding system.

6. Use Excel

Data entry and collation can take up a sizeable part of grading. Excel, or Google Sheets, can significantly speed up the process.


  1. No need to manually add up marks.


  1. No feedback.
  2. No evidence that scripts have been seen.

 7. Use Graide

Graide means not marking the same mistake twice. The software learns and then automatically applies your marking and feedback, offering many of the advantages cited for the above approaches.


  1. It significantly reduces workload.
  2. Students submit scans or digital copies.
  3. You can grade per question OR as a team.
  4. Points are automatically added up and returned to VLEs
  5. You can create a feedback reference table where edits are made retroactively.
  6. Feedback is based on the answer, not the student, removing bias, and improving consistency.


  1. AI doesn’t work on essay-based work – yet!

How our artificial intelligence engine works | Graide

Final thoughts

I’m not sure we’d want to wish away marking altogether, even if we had that magic wand.

Grading matters to both teachers and the taught, and the marking process is integral to the learning process. Students want to know what to improve. Professors want to know what to prioritise next in their teaching. To that end, timely feedback detailing a personalised plan of action is imperative.

I do sometimes wonder, however, whether grading is the prime example of Parkinson’s law: work fills up the time given to it. Some academics want the marking done asap, but too many let it fill up finite and precious time.

As former educators, we’ve worked hard to create an end-to-end assessment and feedback platform, with everything in one place, to save professors and students time. We feel that building a system for faster feedback has been long overdue. Marking the same mistakes on umpteen different papers – that’s certainly time worth saving!

For more on this, read How to use an advanced STEM editor for assessment (graide.co.uk)

Austin Tomlinson, PhD
Education Consultant
LinkedIn logo.
I have had a passion for teaching for as long as I can remember. After finishing my PhD, where I won a PGTA scholarship to recognise excellent teaching quality at the university, I went on to complete a PGDipEd. I am a qualified teacher. With over 8 years experience in software development and high performance computing, I have a balance of teaching and software development experience.