Grading papers

. . . is hard work, in case you’ve ever wondered.  I just spent an over an hour writing comments on just one.  Fourteen more to go.  The more problematic the paper, the more labor-intensive it is to evaluate, comment on, and grade.  Since I teach mostly applied music, it’s been a while since I was confronted by a stack of term papers written by first-year students.  These days it’s actually an inbox full of papers, since I had the students submit them electronically, both to save paper and so I could try using the “insert comment” feature in MSWord.

My next-door neighbor teaches philosophy.  My paper-grading workload is nothing compared to his.

I wonder how many people outside academia realize how many hours a conscientious college professor spends on grading papers and essay exams.  If you do a good job, it takes forever. The energy to do it comes from care, commitment, and a sense of mission.  I could have given the paper I just read a B- and written a few comments in 5 or 10 minutes.  How much would that have helped the student learn?

I’m not writing to pat myself on the back, because I have it easy with just sixteen papers.  This process does, however, fill me with a sense of awe at what my liberal-arts colleagues do day in and day out.



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4 responses to “Grading papers

  1. Max

    Ugh. This post reminds me of an interview with the famous football player “Broadway” Joe Namath. Years after retiring, he went on 60 Minutes and complained of waking up every morning with aches and pains from all his dedication to the sport years before. Come on. You knew what you were getting into. Stiff upper lip!

    If it gets to be too much for you, just think about all the other really good cello players out there who are doing clerical work in a stuffy office complex or waiting tables at a trendy restaurant.

  2. You’re right. Didn’t mean to sound too self pitying. I did some telemarketing for a while when I was thinking of changing professions. It could be much worse!

    That reminds me, though, I have some great “office” anecdotes from that period. I’ll have to write them up someday.

  3. Max

    Nah, I apologise for my boorish overtone. I see where you’re coming from.

    Perhaps being overwhelmed is just the universe’s way of forcing us to occasionally step back and see what we’ve gotten ourselves into.

  4. Peter Evans

    Yes, giving detailed and useful feedback on papers can be and very time consuming. We have lots of tools to help students submit assignments and us return them and record the marks but few to actually help doing the marking and grading. Having the papers electronically is a start, but Word comment are only a little step up from a red margin note.

    I’ve graded online papers since last century and to help me save time and provide useful and detailed feedback (the kind that feeds forward into better work) I developed a word addin to easily create and enter comments containing text, images, links and recorded audio and then store these comments so I can reuse or modify them in the future. The time I save by not having to repeat a similar comment, I can invest into making the comments really useful by not only identifying the problem but going on to suggest a solution or provide a link to a resource. And I can also modify the comment if I want. Other time saving tools allow me to highlight an out of context phrase to do a google search or highlight a misused word throughout the paper. You can see a demo at: and a 60 day trial is also available at:

    While you have been kind enough to let me write on your blog you might even consider the possibilities of embedding audio comments into a document e.g.

    I wish you well in your music and teaching and thank you on behalf of all students.

    Dr Peter Evans

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