The summer term is normally a glorious time; you leave work in daylight, wave goodbye to Year 11 and stare lovingly at the gaps on your time-table. The prospect of the summer holiday makes you a bit hedonistic and smug and suddenly, it all feels worth it.
Last summer, this was not the case: I decided to mark for an exam board. Those final weeks of term consisted of moderation, a bewildering array of stickers, envelopes, red pens, late nights, early mornings and, of course, marking. I pulled my back, struggled to sleep and developed an understanding of cabin fever in a way I never thought I could. In short: it was horrific. This mammoth task was one of the most challenging undertakings of my career to date and I vowed never to do it again. Ever.
And then, the exam board emailed me in the Autumn term. Before you can say David and Goliath I was signing on the dotted line. It dawned on me that exam marking might be a bit like giving birth: you just forget how painful it was. You tell yourself it wasn’t that bad really, you’ve done it once-you can do it again and so on and so on…
Needless to say, the wisdom passed onto me from seasoned markers proved invaluable and helped me keep on top of deadlines and fatigue. I will pass on these nuggets of wisdom for those of us about to go one more unto the breach in the hope they prove as beneficial for you as they did for me.
In the beginning.
Fail to prepare and prepare to fail.
Preparation is key. Attend the face to face exam board training if possible but failing that, be rigorous with the online training. Annotate the mark schemes and use any moderation material from your school that might help. Do this early on when you have the time to invest in it and keep it all at hand to refer to.
Organisation: do the maths.
Tally up how many scripts you need to mark per day to meet the deadlines set by the board. Factor in family, the working day and any other commitments then work to your set goal. Then, enjoy ticking them off.
Remind yourself why you are doing it.
Have a picture of whatever it is you plan on spending your hard-earned money on and place it next the aforementioned calendar. This carrot and stick approach might be as old as time itself but it works a treat. Gaze at the picture. Talk to it. Wave at it…whatever helps.
Your team leader is your sensei.
Build a good line of communication with your team leader; ask them as many questions as you need to, moan to them and bid for reassurance at will. They know exactly what you’re going through and are there to support and ensure your marking is as accurate as it can be. Don’t be scared to say you’re struggling and need deadline support. Quality of marking takes precedence above all else.
Protect your gain time.
Your marking is an invaluable asset to your department; no other CPD is equal to it. Speak to your subject leader about protecting your gain time and use your PPA to keep on top of any school based workload. Your school is likely to support and work with you as you mark: they get something out of it too. When the clock strikes three, leave.
When you’re in the thick of it.
Buy an industrial sized can of it. You’re welcome.
Now you know the paper, strategise.
There’s always one question on the paper that take takes more time and brain power than the others. It also takes your soul. Mark this question when you are at your most productive and fresh headed; you’ll find it takes half the time and meeting your daily quota will feel much more achievable.
Trust your gut.
If you are marking a subject that uses the best fit principle, deciding a mark can easily lead to procrastination. Trust your gut, use the moderation material and if need be, check in with your team leader. Then move on.
Accept certain inevitabilities.
Dishes will pile up as will washing and un-opened mail. The sooner you accept this, the better.
Seriously, regardless of looming deadlines, sometimes the best thing to do is simply stop. Go for a run, cook a meal from scratch or stare into space for a while. Give your brain a break and when you get back to it, you’ll find the respite has improved the quality of your marking and your resilience.
When it ends.
Make the most of the CPD.
You’re likely to come across content, context and theory that you haven’t before. Make the most of the subject knowledge and take notes that you can reflect on when it comes around to teaching the course the following academic year.
The final 20, the final 10, the final 5, the final script! The euphoria of marking that last paper is something otherworldly. It sounds hyperbolic but it’s true. Cheer or dance or hug those closest to you and apologise for the strange person they’ve been forced to live with for the previous few weeks. Then enjoy the fruits of your labour and spend that hard-earned money on something you want, not something you need.