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December 13, 2010


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Colin  Miller

Here's a post I did on the subject over at PrawfsBlawg:

David S. Cohen

Thanks Colin. I hadn't seen your post before writing this one, but it's remarkable how similar they are in content....

Eric Muller

The answer to the specific question that is the title to this post is, of course, "by stair."

David S. Cohen

There's a good empirical study for you. Do the stair method, record the results. Then grade by whichever is your preferred "serious" grading methodology, record the results. Then compare the results.

Barry L. Johnson

I have always graded my exams on a question-by-question basis. In addition to the two advantages you note (increased efficiency and avoidance of halo or reverse-halo effects), this approach is more equitable because it allows for more consistency in scoring across exams.


I would not have exam questions that overlap if using the question by question method, or at least warn students to repeat themselves in each question, if the questions do overlap.

For example, if question A and question B BOTH have a similar issue, a student may not think to explain the "rule" in-depth in question B, having just explained it in excruciating detail in A. If you grade question by question you may mistakenly assume that the student did not know the rule, or did not explain it in enough depth, when grading question B.

Jeff Lipshaw

I also grade question by question. In addition to the increased consistency as Barry observes, it also allows me to reverse the order of the stack each time through, which means that if I have any bias toward the beginning or the end, it also tends to even out. Also more efficient if I discover there's something in the question I missed and the students are picking up (lets me amend the rubric appropriately).

I publish my exam instructions well before the exam itself, and I make it clear that I grade on a question by question basis, so that cross-referencing answers is not a good idea.

And, indeed, it does give each student, for better or worse, a fresh start with each question.


I grade my exams "on the can." This is a cutting edge technique, but I don't think I will explain it at this time.

rebecca bratspies

I also grade question by question, mainly for the reason that Jeff mentioned. Not only is it faster, but I find I can be more consistent about partial credit. And, I always worry that the 15th student to make a mistake will get less (or more) generous treatment than the first. His/her place in the exam pile is not a student's fault, and I want to make sure that nobody gets penalized unfairly.

Darren Rosenblum

I have always graded question by question, also to make sure that the answer I expected to get would surface in the answers. If it didn't, or did not surface enough, I'd reassess and revise my answer key.

Steve Ware

I've always graded question by question. My exams tell the students that each question will be graded in isolation.

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