Pain Management: Grading: Part II
(Pain Management: Grading: Part I can be found, of all places, here.)
Let’s do it.
It’s a stack of 90 12th grade U.S. Government midterms, 10 pages each, 900 pages in all. I like to do the first page on all of them. Then the second page on all of them, the third and so on. This has two advantages over grading one full test after another. First, it’s faster to grade the same six multiple choice questions or four short answer questions over and over again. It probably kills more of my own brain cells and provides the fullest possible sensation of performing repetitive, unskilled labor, but there is no question that it is faster; and faster is our top priority. Second, grading is probably fairer when done this way. By page two I no longer know whose test I am grading and my semi-conscious desire to exact revenge on children who annoy me is blunted. As well, a student’s brilliant or comically inane response to something on page 4 will not influence my reading of whatever is on page 5.
I begin and I am finding my rhythm on page one. It’s easy. Six multiple choice questions. A, D, A, C, B, D. I am fresh and in 14 minutes I have dispatched with 90 page ones. All of them. Page 2 has 4 multiple choice questions and 2 short answer. The short answer questions are worth three points and partial credit is allowed. The first three tests are slow as I decide how I want to grade the short answer questions. I must estimate the range of generally incorrect, semi-literate responses I might encounter. The most important question quickly becomes What is the difference between a zero and a one? This slow period in beginning a new page is normal and I know the pace will soon pick up. On the fourth exam, however, there is no page two. I look at the next few exams; then the next 20; then 50. Page two is missing from about one third of the stack.
What should I do? The rhythm has been lost; that’s for sure. This is a serious and early blow to forward progress and morale. I can’t afford that and I don’t have a good solution to this problem. I’m angry and starting to panic a little.
Fuck you, page two.
I move on to page three as I reassure myself that I will devise an equitable and ethical fix to the page two matter at a later date. I imagine I will have a separate sitting for all students who did not have page two in their original exam and have them all take it together. They haven’t seen it. They didn’t even notice it was missing. I’ll grade these and add them into their exam totals. This way everybody takes the whole test and those who took page two initially will not have done so in vain. However, somewhere deep in the pre-reptilian base of my brain stem, a plan has already been hatched to simply pretend that page two never existed. Denominators will be adjusted accordingly. I am Stalin and page two is my Trotsky.
As the exam grading moves to page five, progress slows way down. The questions are becoming more involved and the point values greater. Longer answers and essays. Shades of incorrectness multiply as the answers require, though they do not commonly receive, greater nuance and sophistication. My mind is beginning to reject the tedium. And somehow, after five years, I am still surprised, amused and enraged by the sheer volume of lazy, wildly incorrect answers. I’ve stopped laughing though. It’s more angry now and it’s time to stop. Having only graded 14 page 5s, I will have to do this probably two more times for three hour stretches. I’m thinking tomorrow morning, Sunday. My wife will take the kids to the zoo or a museum or something while I perform this vital social function. I might be able to knock it all out in one miserable stretch. Then I will total the points for each exam and enter the scores into my grade book.
A third way to do this, which I do not recommend, is putting it all off until it really just has to be done tomorrow. Then you are up all night or spend one awful Sunday doing all of them. It’s not worth it. The actual time you spend grading will be shorter, but it will be even less pleasant and you will make more mistakes. If you are a rookie, you won’t even be able to do it. You will enter a fugue state after about six hours and the police will find you naked at Starbucks, standing in line trying to order a case of smoke alarms.
In any case, this is tedious, repetitive work that requires brain function somewhere in the neighborhood of digestion and blinking. How much time do you want to spend in this state as you do your job?