Study this guide to efficient and consistent marking for individuals and marking teams.

Effective marking and feedback

Effective marking and feedback is:

  • accurate
  • consistent
  • fair
  • transparent
  • timely.

The use of explicit marking criteria and rubrics (marking schemes) is a vital step in meeting these requirements. However, experienced markers are no better than novice markers at applying standards consistently (for an example, see Bloxham et al., 2016). This is because the interpretation and application of assessment criteria is a complex process and there is rarely an incontestable interpretation of their meaning. 

Establishing processes to develop a shared understanding of assessment standards, and how they can be evidenced in student work, can help to improve standardisation, increase marker confidence (so speed up marking), improve the quality and consistency of associated feedback, reduce grade queries, and minimise the need for re-marking.

Step 1: Before marking

This is the first step to take before marking.

Calibrate expectations and clarify processes

No two assessors have the same professional knowledge, experience, values, standards and institutional context. As a consequence, markers may apply personal or implicit assessment criteria not shared explicitly with students or other assessors. This is the case even if detailed criteria or marking schemes are available ( for instance, Bloxham et al., 2015, 2016).  

Set up calibration meetings

Making time to talk with colleagues about how to apply marking criteria to specific assessment tasks will speed up the marking process whilst improving standardisation in marks and feedback. Such conversations will also help to create collegially and community held knowledge and provide collaborative learning and professional development opportunities to doctoral tutors and academics alike. 

For marking teams, a calibration meeting prior to marking is typically organised by the lead marker or module convenor.

Key things to discuss in calibration meetings

In such calibration meetings you might discuss some key areas of focus, as shown below.

  • Sample submissions across a range of marks

    When doing this:

    • pre-circulate a set of sample submissions, along with the marking criteria and assessment task, and ask markers to come to the meeting ready to discuss the grades they would award, and why
    • include in the sample, real or exemplar submissions which illustrate performance across a range of grade bands, including some at grade boundaries.
  • School guidance on marking and feedback

    During the meeting, it is useful to review School-specific policies and guidance on marking and feedback. This is key to consider especially since various Schools may have different policies and guidelines with regard to marking.

  • The assessment task requirements and wording

    It is key to consider asking:

    • what does the task require of students?
    • where can the task description/assessment questions be found?
    • is there any ambiguity in the task wording that is open to interpretation by students?
    • (if not set out in a marking rubric) how should the marking criteria be applied to submission which fail to respond to all of the task requirements?
    • are some elements of the assessment task more important than others?
  • How to apply marking criteria
    On applying marking criteria, it's important to:
    • discuss if all criteria carry equal weight (for instance, is a clear structure and presentation equally as important as the demonstration of critical engagement or the application of knowledge and understanding?)
    • grade boundaries: Grade descriptors typically relate to performance in the middle of a band. Discuss how work might achieve a grade in the lower half of a band without meeting all the criteria in full.
  • Feedback expectations
    Remember to:
    • review sample feedback to clarify common errors and set expectations.
    • clarify expectations about the use of in-text comments (such as the use of tailored Quickmark sets which can be shared with the marking team)
    • clarify expectations about the length, content and focus of free-text comments.
  • Marking and moderation processes and timings
    It is also important to:
    • make sure everyone knows what is expected of them and when
    • ensure colleagues know how to reach out for support if need be.


While working to ensure that marking is fair and effective, it would help to:

  • enable markers to provide marks and feedback for an initial sample from their allocation for review by the lead marker (the module convenor). This step is a great way to identify marker misunderstandings and inconsistencies before they go on to mark the bulk of their scripts
  • consider using a rubric (a marking scheme) to help standardise and speed up marking. Rubrics can incorporate precise scores for each criterion and level of achievement, or be used as a guide for assigning qualitative marks. The type of rubric used will vary based on the type of assessment and the kinds of judgments being made about a piece of work.

If you’re not part of a marking team

If you are marking an assessment for the first time, you could:

  • ask the module moderator or previous convenor (if applicable) to share insights into the marking challenges particular to that assessment and/or ask them to provide exemplar marked submissions
  • speak with colleagues marking similar assessments.

Step 2: While marking

The suggestions below are relevant to all. However, the lead marker or module convenor may need to decide on and communicate (perhaps in the calibration meeting) the applicability of some of the approaches suggested. 

  • Refer regularly to your task description and marking criteria

    When marking/writing feedback:

    • check your understanding/assumptions on a regular basis. Doing so will improve standardisation and help avoid errors in marking and feedback
    • draw on the language of the marking criteria (such as ensuring you are using descriptors such as ‘poor’, ‘good’ excellent’ as appropriate). This will keep you focused on the criteria, can save you time and make it clearer to students how you arrived at the mark. 
  • Mark question by question

    It helps to mark question-by-question.

    This can speed up marking because markers can keep the question in mind. It can also mitigate against fatigue and biases in marking, e.g. mark Question 1 for every student, then Question 2 (rather than whole paper for each student).

    If marking in a team do as above, but ask each marker to each focus on one area, for instance, one question each.

  • Use a timer

    Allocating equal time to marking each paper can help manage workloads and ensure each submission is given an equal amount of attention.

  • Check back over the first few scripts marked

    It's worth going back and checking the first two or three scripts marked once you’ve looked at a few and are more familiar with the task and application of the criteria.

  • Take regular breaks

    Research shows that, in parole hearings, the rulings made by even the most highly experienced judges directly correlated with how rested and well-fed they were (more so than the severity of the prisoner's crime, prison time, sex and ethnicity). It was found that the likelihood of a favourable ruling peaked at the beginning of the day, steadily declining over time from a probability of about 65% to nearly zero, before spiking back up to about 65% after a break for a meal or snack. Academics are not immune to this effect.


While marking:

  • make note of submissions that could be used as samples the following year. For example, ones that are tricky to mark or exemplify a mid-range mark within a grade band
  • make note of any ambiguous or confusing language in task descriptions for future updates.


Step 3: After Marking

It is often only when marking submissions, that the flaws in the design or communication of the assessment task, or specific mark schemes or rubrics, are appreciated.  

Take time to capture how assessment tasks, mark schemes or rubrics and guidance for students and for markers might be improved.  

Better still, update the resources while the reasons for doing so are fresh in your mind.  

Also, consider how you might adapt your teaching or formative assessment to better engage students in applying such marking criteria, e.g. to exemplar submissions, or to their own work, or that of their peers. 

References and further reading

Find more information from:

Bloxham, S., Hudson, J., den Outer, B., and Price, M. (2015) External peer review of assessment: an effective approach to verifying standards? Higher Education Research and Development 34(6), pp. 1069-1082. 

Bloxham, S., den-Outer, B., Hudson, J. & Price, M. (2016) Let’s stop the pretence of consistent marking: exploring the multiple limitations of assessment criteria, Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 41:3, 466-481

Watty, K., Freeman, M., Howieson, B., Hancock, P., O’Connell, B., de Lange, P., and Abraham, A. (2014) Social moderation, assessment and assuring standards for accounting graduates. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education 39(4), pp. 461-478. 

Danziger, S., Levav, J., &  Avnaim-Pesso, L. (2011) Extraneous factors in judicial decisions. PNAS Vol. 108, No. 17 

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