How to increase the impact of your marking this exam prep season


Don't despair.

If you teach KS4 and KS5, you are probably in the midst of some pretty serious exam preparation. For many of you, that means practice papers. Lots of them. And if you happen to teach a subject like English, that means a lot of extended essay questions to mark. So, you know, prepare to spend your evenings and weekends marking. After all, you want your students to do well, don't you?

Well, yes, of course. But there's a tool that can help speed up the marking process and improve the consistency and usefulness of your feedback to students. I give you... the humble rubric. You can either print these out and use them as a pro-forma (good), or you can sign up for a free trial of SmartRubric and use an interactive rubric to mark to pesky mocks (better).

First, I'll explain what a rubric is, how to make them, and how to use them effectively. Then, I'll give you three really good reasons why you should be using them for all of your open-ended assessments (but especially practice papers!), and finally I'll show you why using interactive rubrics on SmartRubric is best of all.

What's a rubric? 

Simple - just take your unit's mark scheme and transpose it into a grid. Assessment objectives go down the side and levels go across the top. Level descriptors (helpfully phrased as targets, if you are so inclined) go in the appropriate box. 

Level 1 Level 2 Level 3
AO1 What does the student need to do to achieve AO1 to the standard of level 1? What does the student need to do to achieve AO1 to the standard of level 2? What does the student need to do to achieve AO1 to the standard of level 3?
AO2 What does the student need to do to achieve AO2 to the standard of level 1? What does the student need to do to achieve AO2 to the standard of level 2? What does the student need to do to achieve AO2 to the standard of level 3?


Here's a slideshare tutorial I made about creating effective rubrics from an existing specification.
Use student friendly language, and create one matrix for each question on your exam. (If you are using SmartRubric, each matrix goes on a separate tab in your rubric).

All you do is tick the boxes that the student has achieved, and if you're feeling crafty, highlight the boxes that contain particularly relevant targets for that student.

If you aren't ready to try out rubrics for exam prep, why not download these free printables and give them a try with KS3?

This type of rubric is easier to use and more effective for the following reasons:

3 Reasons to use rubrics for mock exams

  1. Consistency: Students are probably taking different versions of the same exam over and over again. If you have a consistent, transparent standard against which they are being assessed, they can visually see their progress as they move from left to right (hopefully!) through the rubric. They can also see how the same assessment objective is developed from level 1 to level 4 (or whatever framework your board uses) so that they can always see where they are heading. By using a  rubric instead of long-hand commentary, students do not need to collate feedback from multiple papers in order to understand their progress.
  2. Simplicity: Expressing the mark scheme as a rubric takes an abstract mark scheme and digests it into an easy to read and understand framework. It means you won't be flipping through pages trying to determine best fit, because you will be able to see exactly where the student falls against each objective. If you use student-friendly language in your level descriptors, you can turn a complex, confusing specification document into a genuine learning tool. Students with a deep understanding of the mark scheme have a better chance of doing well on the exam. 
  3. Speed: Marking using a rubric is than writing out comments while you refer to the specification. You are effectively marking directly on the mark scheme, so you don't need to be referring back to a spec, and you no longer need to write out comments and targets for the student. It doesn't replace inline literacy marking, but it still saves heaps of time. I built some rubrics for the English department I worked in when I joined, and in no time at all it was the department standard. They just work, y'all. 
Now, if you want to make your mock-marking process even easier and more effective, you can sign up for a free trial of SmartRubric (one month free, no credit card needed and cancel anytime) and use interactive rubrics to mark your papers. Here's why this is even better:

Why SmartRubric interactive rubrics?

  1. No admin: It builds and maintains a real-time interactive gradebook for you while you mark. If you want to look closer at a particular student's particular paper, just click on the grade and see exactly how and why marks were awarded, and compare performance on that paper with all of the times the student was assessed against that rubric before.
  2. Match your specification exactly: Not only can you match your specification in terms of assessment objectives and level descriptors, but you can also weight different questions and AOs to accurately represent your spec. Define grade boundaries based on previous years' published boundaries to give students a rough idea of where they stand. A rubric designed to support your particular specification may already be in the Template Library. If it isn't and you don't feel up to creating it yourself, feel free to email caroline [at] smartrubric [dot] com with a copy of your spec and I'll see what I can do.
  3. Automatic calculation: You define your grade boundaries and weighting, and SmartRubric calculates consistent, accurate scores from your selections. Why is this such a good thing? It really helps with consistency across your department. After all, its much easier to agree that a student has met a level descriptor than it is to agree on a number. In your gradebook, you can toggle between point scores, percentages and grades.
  4. Automatic Target Generation: SmartRubric automatically generates targets for the student based on the biggest gaps or priorities. You can choose to generate one target per question, or you can ask SmartRubric to generate targets for each objective that didn't get full marks. Your call.
  5. Continuity: If you use the same rubric to mark more than one assessment for a student (as is normal during mock exam season!), SmartRubric remembers how they did last time and shows the student how they progressed (or not) this time. Using colour-coding, feedback sheets show students if they met targets set the last time. 
  6. Analytics: While you mark, SmartRubric automatically collects fine grained data about how each student has performed against each assessment objective on each paper. Without any extra work from you, you can do sophisticated gap analysis, progress tracking for individual students, classes or groups and really delve into rich, meaningful data. That means that you can expressly measure the impact of interventions (like study sessions or even the mocks themselves) over time at the level of specific assessment objectivesMy favourite report is a heat map that shows your rubric (one for each question) that shows how the students in your class performed against each objective, a handy way to make sure you're targeting trouble-spots effectively in your revision sessions.
  7. How cool is this? 
  8. Record Keeping: When you are finished marking, you can download and save and/or print all of the feedback sheets for your students. Email them directly to parents, if you want. The grades and progress data stays on SmartRubric (or export results to a spreadsheet), and you can look back over time and see how your mocks went, what was effective and what was not. Here's how feedback works.
  9. Grade Standardisation: If you are a member of a department on SmartRubric, you have an extra tool. Mark a set of papers (or a sample set) and request moderation from each member of the department (here's how that works). Everyone marks the work separately, and then you use the moderation workflow to collate that information and make sure everyone is on the same page with marking. Department leads, you know how important this is. All it takes is one teacher marking a bit too high and you have a lot of very nasty surprises on results day.
  10. Flexibility: Don't worry if you are only using parts of exams. Every rubric in SmartRubric can be branched and shared and duplicated and cut apart as needed, so you only need to make (or import) one 'master' rubric for each exam, and copy and adapt that rubric as needed. 
I hope this overview has inspired you to try using rubrics to mark your mock exams (good) or sign up for a free trial of SmartRubric (better!). 

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