Exam grading done!

That was fairly quick and unexpectedly mostly painless, because I did something I haven’t done before, and that now I’m going to have to do every year. These are all first year students who generally have that deer-in-the-headlights look in class, and I have to coax them to participate. So this year I dedicated one class hour to how to answer an essay question. I told them that grammar and spelling matter, and that one simple recipe for a coherent answer is to describe a few facts and details, and then synthesize in a concluding statement. Facts without synthesis doesn’t mean much, and synthesis without outlining the basic things you’re explaining makes it sound like you haven’t been paying attention in class. We went through a bunch of examples in groups, and I’d evaluate and give them a likely score on the spot.

It worked! The quality of the answers went up — knowing that I had reasonably high expectations meant they took the questions very seriously and answered carefully. It made them much more pleasant to read.

The catch is that it’s expensive. This class only meets twice a week, and dedicating a class hour to something so basic meant that there were other things I didn’t have time to cover. I hope this is a skill they remember, though, so I don’t have to do it again in every class they’re in.


  1. robro says

    I didn’t do well in Dr. Pettigrew’s honors English class my freshman year, but I didn’t know why because I hadn’t seen the results of any of my tests which were all essays. The first essay test of my sophomore year, I saw the results. Basically an F. Not only bad grammar and spelling, but apparently I failed to clearly communicate anything.

    By that point I had declared a major, so I talked to my advisor. I also met with Dr. Pettigrew. Both of them suggested a simple process for taking an essay test: start by stating your position on the subject in the first paragraph and then construct your argument to defend it. My grades improved markedly.

    I had been a successful high school student, but my advisor told me that first year college students typically don’t know how to take essay tests and aren’t prepared to communicate coherently. That was the mid-60s, but it probably hasn’t changed all that much.

    However, when my son was in high school he got similar advise when he was preparing for the SAT test, and got a perfect score on that portion of the test. A very good friend of mine who has tutored a lot of teenagers preparing for the SAT and college conveys similar advise.

  2. chrislawson says

    It may be expensive in terms of available class time, but as an investment in future benefit to the students I would say it’s remarkably cheap.

  3. jrkrideau says

    I dedicated one class hour to how to answer an essay question.
    I don’t think I could have gotten out of Gr. 12 let alone Gr. 13 (yes i am that old) not knowing that.

    OTOH A friend who teaches history was showing me some of his university level students essays where the students did not know the difference between a footnote and a citation.