Grading exams as an adjunct professor has always been one of my most time consuming tasks every semester.  Now that the semester is winding down, and we are all finishing up final exams, I thought I would share a strategy with you on grading faster.  I am giving you this strategy as someone who teaches computer programming, and although it could vary, I do think it is helpful in all subject areas that involve open ended questions as well as multiple choice.

My strategy deals with repetition and exploits one advantage of the brain.  Instead of grading each exam student by student, and grading all pages for each student, one by one, I grade page by page.  For example, in my last exam, I have a total of 22 questions, all programming. Here is how I broke it down, and how I was able to grade all these exams without sitting down for 2 – 3 hours and tiring my brain out.

Exam Attributes

22 questions

All programming questions

5 pages long

90 students

How I broke it down

Using Pomodoro cycles, I allocate 1 hour of the day where I will dedicate my time on grading one page of the exam for all students.  What is a Pomodoro cycle you ask?  Simply put, I compare it to the characteristics of a CPU, and how the CPU allocates time slices for each task.  We as humans, are not built to multitask, and neither is a CPU.  A CPU can only execute an instruction one at a time.  If you take my Introduction to Computer Science Course I can explain more, but to get back to the point of this post, we as humans should execute one task at a time.  Set your smartphone timer for 1 hour, and close all distractions, such as the tv, email, and social media.  The hour you allocate is called the Pomodoro Cycle.  Pomodoro Cycles can vary in time, and you can use it for just about any tasks you want to get done during the day.

On Day 1:

Grade page 1 of the exam for every student.  Do not skip ahead, and stay on page 1. After you get to the second or third exam, you will notice how fast you get because your brain is doing repetitive tasks over and over again.  Your ability to correct the answers will increase with speed, because you will have seen it numerous times. Do this for 1 hour.

On Day 2, 3, and 4-5:

Do the same as above.  Allocate one hour for each day, to grade a separate page of the exam. If you saw that on Day 1, you weren’t finished, on Day 2, just continue with page 1, and allocate more time if needed on your Pomodoro cycle.  Don’t go past your Pomodoro cycle.


Using this method, it takes me 4 days to grade 90 exams, allocating 1-1.5 hours daily.  My frustrations are greatly reduced because I am not trying to do everything at once.

I recently advised a fellow colleague and good friend of mine, Dr. Duane Wilson, on this method, and to my surprise he said it increased his efficiency two-fold.

I am all about automation, and unfortunately, grading computer programming exams are hard to automate because of all the semantics that come along with it.  I sometimes give my exams on moodle, and I have found that moodle does a decent job of auto correcting your exams, but you still have to go through and manually grade because moodle doesn’t recognize words that are misspelled.  Also in programming there is more than one solution for a problem, and you can’t possibly cover all since all students have their own style of coding.

This is my version of manual automation, with a little help of your brain recognizing and adjusting to repetitive tasks.

If you have any tips on grading exams and to do it faster, please comment, I’d love to hear about it.


Grading Exams as an Adjunct Professor

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *