Again with the marking

Earlier this week I remarked to a colleague that it feels like we’ve just finished marking exam scripts. This is not true at all, of course, given that we finished marking sometime in early November. But there was so much of it, and so much utter crap to read, that the memory lingers long. And here I sit, knowing that I’ll have to wade into the worst of it all sometime today.

The students wrote their supplementary exams earlier this week. This concept may be unfamiliar to many readers, so a brief explanation would tell you that students who “achive” “achieve” (because the misspelt word would have been true to my theme) between 45% and 49% for the course are entitiled to another try at the exam, on the grounds that they may not have displayed their true potential on the day.

Years of experience in marking exams has shown me that they typically displayed more than their potential, ie. that they tend to do worse in these supplementary exams. Part of this obviously has to do with the fact that 2 months of holiday-making has passed since they last considered the subject material, but mostly, I don’t believe many of them would ever pass, no matter how many times they tried.

And that is why this is the worst bunch to mark. Usually, you’ll have a small proportion of answers that impress with their lucidity, insight, and sometimes even wit. But with a pile of supplementary exams, you’re lucky to to find something consistently intelligible. Then, once you’ve finished with them, you step out into the world and try to resist the urge to throttle the first person who walks into view.

As I remarked to 2Slack yesterday, given that teaching only starts in mid-February, one wonders just how negative I’ll be about the tertiary education system by that time, if the pessimism is already so acute…

By Jacques Rousseau

Jacques Rousseau teaches critical thinking and ethics at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, and is the founder and director of the Free Society Institute, a non-profit organisation promoting secular humanism and scientific reasoning.