This exercise has been developed and operated over a number of years on Level 2, Level 3, and part-time degree modules that I run. It helps students learn how to write better essays, how to achieve better marks for their essays, how to evaluate the work of their peers, and how to provide critical but positive feedback to others. It takes time to set up and its operation improves with experience. If students take it seriously they will find it time consuming and even quite stressful, but they can get a lot out of it. One former student, now a school teacher, uses the exercise with his 6th Formers.
Student comments on the exercise include the following:
I felt slightly intimidated by the peer marking, it was indeed something new but it frightened me. At the beginning I did not like the responsibility of marking others in the class but when it was explained I realised the true value of it as a ‘good idea’. The peer marking tutorial, although a new experience and very stressful, was a great learning exercise. The essay-marking exercise was good as it put us in a critical position which we had to justify. Not everyone submitted an essay on time for the essay-marking exercise. It is important that the lecturer/tutor shows confidence in the exercise and explains to students what they can get out of it and what it will involve. It needs careful planning and can involve a lot of photocopying. Essays not handed in on time are a real nuisance. During the exercise itself it is crucial that the tutor is reassuring and supportive. The more classes it is used with the easier it becomes to operate. I have had students take all six of the modules on which I use the peer marking of essays and they have gained in confidence each time they have done the exercise. Experienced markers help to encourage and reassure those attempting it for the first time. Yet it is never easy for anyone and feelings can run quite high.
Anyone intending to use self or peer assessment should make sure that they are familiar with the University’s Regulations on Self and Peer Assessment.
E S S A Y M A R K I N G E X E R C I S E
to provide an insight to the psychology of assessment
to develop skills of critical and constructive evaluation
to have your own written work assessed by your peers
to demonstrate by example how essay-writing skills can be improved.
One reason why essay writing is such an effective and widely used test of academic ability is because it draws upon the six key intellectual skills of knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Essay marking is even more challenging, for it is above all an exercise in evaluation, the most demanding skill of all. Thus, marking entails judging value according to a set of criteria and providing constructive feedback on the result. Learning how to evaluate the work of others will ultimately teach you how better to evaluate and improve your own work. In this exercise you will apply the recommended essay-assessment criteria (the ‘Guide-lines’ in the Tutorial Handbook) to the work of your peers. The essay-marking exercise is based on the simple principle of role reversal. This offers four specific benefits:
Students learn from the opportunity of seeing one another’s work and thereby learn by example. As the exchange of essays is formalised, and all essays are submitted anonymously, potential embarrassment and trauma are minimised.
By being placed in the role of examiner/assessor, students gain an insight into the psychology of assessment and are forced to think explicitly about standards.
Essay-writing skills per se are placed firmly on the agenda for discussion.
Ensuing discussion of the marks - and the reasons for them - gives students valuable experience of group debate and is an object lesson in how to provide critical but positive feedback. Experience has shown that the issue is one on which all students, even the quietest and least forthcoming, have an opinion or view to express.
a handout explaining how this particular essay should have been answered and, therefore, how it should be marked.
The exercise entails:
Writing the essay and making sufficient copies for everyone in your tutorial group (including yourself). Each copy should have your personal code name (allocated at an earlier tutorial) written at the top right-hand corner. Do not write your own name. Use of the code name helps preserve anonymity, leading to fuller and franker discussion.
Detailed, lecturer-led consideration of the stated assessment criteria as they relate to the specific question asked.
Anonymous marking of all essays by each member of the tutorial.
Comparison and discussion of all marks and the agreement of a ‘peer mark’ for each essay (this counts 50% of the final essay mark).
Discussion of essay-writing technique in the light of the exercise.
An opportunity to revise your essay.
Self marking of the revised essay and an opportunity to request feedback on specific points.
Staff marking of the revised essay (50% of the final mark).
Agenda for group discussion Part 1: Agreeing a peer mark for each essay:
Elect a chair.
Fill in the master mark sheet, student by student.
Discuss any obvious inter-marker differences revealed by this, particularly at the top and bottom ends of the scale. Make any necessary adjustments/allowances for soft/hard markers.
Identify those essays about whose class there is general consensus, and agree a class and mark.
Discuss the remaining essays one by one, taking account of how students have scored them on the essay-assessment form, and agree a class and mark for each.
What factors influenced the consistency of marking? Was it possible to mark the last essay according to the same standard as the first? Did the quality of presentation or style of English influence the mark awarded?
How willing or otherwise were students to use the full range of marks and award very high or very low marks? What effect does this have on the result?
What penalties, if any, should be imposed for:
inadequate and inaccurate referencing
bibliographies which do not comply with the recommended format
excessively long or short answers?
B) The attributes of good essay writing:
Which is the best essay and why?
Which essay’s opening paragraph gets most immediately to the point? Which has the most relevant and effective opening sentence?
Which essay concludes most effectively and which has the most resonant final sentence?
Which is the most scholarly and informed answer? Which makes the most imaginative use of specific examples?
Which is the best written and structured essay, in terms of the accuracy and fluency of the English, and the appropriate use of paragraphing?
What are the most obvious and common weaknesses? Which attributes irritate most?
Do any specific devices, such as quotations, tables, graphs or maps, stand out as either particularly illuminating or especially confusing or unnecessary?
C) Self improvement:
How might the insights gained from this exercise be used to advantage in the future?
In what ways has this exercise improved your understanding of the subject of the essay?
How, in the light of this exercise, might your own essay be revised and improved?
Read the above description of the Essay Marking Exercise carefully.
Study the list of points to be taken into consideration when marking the essay.
Read and mark each essay carefully (including, when you have marked all the others, your own). Complete an essay assessment report using the forms provided. Be as precise and honest as you can in ticking each box.
The distribution of ticks should determine the class and mark awarded (give priority to INTERPRETATION, ARGUMENT, and CONTENTS), i.e. a majority of ticks under ‘exellent’ indicates a 1st-class answer, whereas a majority of ticks under satisfactory indicates a 2ii answer.
Only ‘conceptual equivalent marks’ should be used, as follows:
Outstanding answer which shows considerable independence of thought and critical judgement. Shows an excellent grasp of all the issues involved, originality and evidence of wide reading and knowledge beyond course content.
Comprehensive awareness of the issues. Well argued answer with some evidence of independent thought. A good understanding of course material and evidence of reading and knowledge beyond course content.
Answer reasonably argued, showing an awareness of the main issues. A satisfactory understanding of course material but little reference to outside reading.
Adequate answer with weak to fair understanding of main issues. No outside material presented and weak in understanding of course content. Arguments not strong. Omissions and inaccuracies.
Recognises the aim of the question and has material to answer, but generally inaccurate and limited in understanding of the material.
Some recognition of the meaning of the question but little understanding. Knowledge vague, skimpy and inaccurate.
Few points relevant to the question; the bulk of the answer is either irrelevant or a misunderstanding of the material.
Minimal or no material of value to the question asked. No recognition of the question.
Essay Marking Exercise MASTER MARK SHEET (the exercise works best for groups of 6 to 8 students)
Essay Marking Exercise EXAMPLE OF HANDOUT ISSUED TO STUDENTS,
EXPLAINING HOW TO MARK A SPECIFIC ESSAY
Points to be taken into account when marking the essay: Why, in eighteenth-century Ireland, did linen succeed and woollen textiles fail as major export industries?
This question is about two export industries. The fortunes of such industries are determined by (a) factors influencing the costs and efficiency of production within the domestic economy (b) the competitiveness or otherwise of overseas markets. Industries do not necessarily fail if they do not export, since they may produce solely for the domestic market (like the Belfast cotton industry), they simply fail as export industries. A satisfactory answer needs to make these distinctions.
Since this question is about two industries, it is an exercise in comparison. Why did one succeed where the other failed? The explanation of one helps to provide the explanation of the other. Comparative answers nevertheless need to be carefully structured. Weak answers will write about one industry and then about the other, producing an essay which lacks balance and cohesion. Good answers will integrate discussion of both industries into a single analysis. This is harder to organise and bring off but much more effective.
The question asks you why linen succeeded and woollen textiles failed as export industries during the eighteenth century. Merely to describe success and failure is therefore inadequate. Good answers are those which make a genuine attempt to analyse and explain the reasons for success or failure.
The question invites a simple answer, i.e. that woollen textiles failed as an export industry because of British discriminatory commercial legislation (the Woollen Act and Navigation Acts) whereas the linen industry received direct commercial encouragement. This is not wrong but it is not enough. Good answers will probe more deeply and pose the counterfactual question, what would have happened had there been no discriminatory commercial legislation? Could the Irish woollen industry have offered effective competition to its English rival in the West Riding of Yorkshire? Irrespective of the legislation, linen, for a whole host of reasons, had the greater comparative advantage. This is the nub of the question and essays should be rewarded if they recognise and engage with this issue.
Finding out about the eighteenth-century linen industry is much easier than finding out about the woollen industry (historians prefer to write about success than failure). Inadequate research will be reflected in an imbalanced answer and one-sided analysis. Credit should be given to those essays which have researched the woollen industry as fully as the linen industry.
The best essays are those that are well structured and sharply focused. Look out for the following:
· does the essay make intelligent and effective use of paragraphs to structure and develop the argument? Remember, each paragraph should introduce, develop, substantiate and make a point and lead on to the next paragraph and the next point.
· are the points/paragraphs organised in a logical order?
· does the introductory paragraph get to the point immediately and provide an interesting and effective introduction to the subject of the essay?
· does the concluding paragraph bring the essay to a satisfactory and relevant conclusion which answers the question which has been asked?
· does the essay answer the question, the whole question, and nothing but the question? In other words, is it consistently and sharply focused?
The essay should display an appropriate factual knowledge of the subject without getting bogged down in detail. Appropriate use should be made of case studies, examples, facts and figures, and citations. Excessive generalisation or a morass of fine detail should both be penalised. Bonus marks should be awarded for imaginative use of case studies and contemporary material provided that these enhance the argument.
To score a 2i mark or higher the essay must display an awareness of the relevant literature. The normal conventions of citation should be observed. All works cited should be listed in the bibliography which should conform to the format specified in the Tutorial Handbook. Sloppy bibliographies should be penalised.
Two last pieces of advice: i) Beware of under-marking well written essays which wear their scholarship lightly. The most learned essays may be the most lucid. Likewise, beware of being over-impressed by essays which are top-heavy with the apparatus of scholarship.
ii) The mark awarded should be consistent with the boxes ticked on the assessment sheet. Do not be afraid of awarding first-class marks if you think they are warranted, and vice versa.