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December 21, 2012


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The penchant for posting about the hardships of grading at this time of year, when students are recovering but anxiously waiting for their results, is understandable but regrettable.

Consistent with that reaction, you've missed at least one obvious one: that grading involves inflicting hurt by assigning grades that disappoint or otherwise harm students. To paraphrase Cover, "Grading takes place in a field of pain and death. Putting Yale aside."

Yet Another Law Prof

I think grading is the worst part of the job for two major reasons. First, we have fantastic jobs with otherwise very little drudgery. And second, the stress of grading can be intense: We are failing our students if we do not give them the most accurate grades we can, so we get stressed out by the need to do the best possible job. (The irony is that the professors who don't care so much about their students' futures can grade very quickly, which leads them to hand in grades sooner, which makes students happy.)

Ralph D. Clifford

I think Yet Another's second point is very true. I hadn't really thought about it, but I will sit down with almost every student and do an exam review. The stress of wanting to be able to justify the grading is a clear contributor to the unpleasantness of the job.

Joseph Slater

With the caveat that I very much take the point that grading exams is not as stressful or unpleasant as taking exams at least often is. . . .

In addition to what has already been said (it's hard work because it's important to get it right, so one needs to pay very close attention and try hard to be consistent; you will be delivering bad news to some folks, which doesn't make anyone happy; and reading bad exams can make teachers question whether they are competent teachers), I will also note that there is pretty much no positive feedback for doing this job well. Deans and colleagues may commend faculty on good publishing, good service, or good teaching (as evidenced by evaluations, awards, or student comments). Students can give rewarding feedback about classroom teaching, or activities outside the classroom. But nobody ever says, "hey, good job grading--really fair, accurate and consistent!" There's no reward for doing it well, although there can be negative consequences for doing it badly. And you know a significant chunk of folks (those with grades lower than they expected/think they deserve) will be unhappy with the results of your work no matter how well you do it.

I don't mean to sound whiny. Law teaching is a great job. But grading is the worst part of it.


....because it is work.

Miriam Cherry

Boredom. Knowing some students will be disappointed. And as Joe says, it's a thankless task.

Taja-Nia Henderson

Another possible source of frustration is the recognition that many of the best exams will not belong to students who have demonstrated over the course of the semester their grasp/sophistication/mastery/passion for a subject. That reminder - that exam performance may, at times, have an inverse relationship to in-class performance - is, for me at least, disheartening.

Jacqueline Lipton

In response to Taja-Nia's concerns (and I second those concerns), I do think it's really important that we do our best to teach our students exam technique during the semester. When I was in Australia teaching, we had the luxury of the "lecture + tutorial" system so the tutors could focus a lot on exam-problem-solving technique on a weekly basis which would help students who had a great grasp of the material to translate their thoughts into meaningful exam responses. I think the "inverse relationship" problem is often the result of poor exam technique even when good students understand the material.

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