Essay Writing by Elizabeth Powlett
Wrong. And here’s why!
Just in case you don’t know how it works, here is the essay marking procedure in most (English) universities:
- The essay is marked by the lecturer leading your course/module. The marker should treat every piece of work entirely on its own merits.
- The second marker reads the essay and decides either that the mark is about right, or suggests that it be amended upwards or downwards.
- A selection of essays is sent to be assessed for grade accuracy to an external body at the end of each academic year.
The first marker is conscious that the essay will be second-marked, so wants to give a mark that is seen as fair by the second marker. Both markers are aware that their professional judgement could be assessed by an outside agent. This system of checks and balances should be enough to ensure total impartiality, right? Personally, I think that you would have to be incredibly naive to think so. There are two key questions to consider. Firstly, is there a way of marking every essay by the same exact (to the individual point) objective standard? If not, what factors influence the variance?
Is there one objective standard by which essays are judged?
Experienced and knowledgeable essay markers will generally know very quickly how good an essay is. Key indicators will tell them it is a strong first class essay, or perhaps one hovering on the border between a strong upper third or weak lower second (this is the English university marking system I’m sure you can translate it into A,B,C or whatever system your country uses.) However, when you need help with essay you must understand that essays are not like multiple choice questionnaires; they cannot be marked with an exact x/100. In some cases there are guidelines issued to new tutors and postgraduate interns but even these only lead to a grade range. Therefore, a marker will read your essay and decide that it merits a mark somewhere between 50 and 55, or 68 and 72, for example.
So what influences the variance?
So, a marker has decided that an essay is worth a mark of 68-72. Importantly, the second marker and outside assessor would usually agree with any mark within this range. Therefore, there are other factors that will affect the final grade an essay gets, within this acceptable range. The marker is human, they have emotions just like everyone else. They might be tired and stressed or be having a really bad day. The opposite could be true they could have just gotten a promotion or pay rise. They might have a dozen essays to mark with only a couple of hours to go before meeting a hot date. The marker’s mood could influence the grades they give.
You can’t influence any of the above. But you can influence your tutor’s disposition towards you. You can probably influence the second marker’s disposition towards you too they will be another member of the faculty you may even have them in another class. This will affect your grades. As I have said lecturers are human and have the same emotions as everyone else. Their feelings towards you will affect your grade within that acceptable range.
I’m not suggesting for a moment (cough) that any educational professional might use this opportunity to deliberately help students they like or punish those they don’t. Let’s just say it all happens on a subconscious level. Student A turns up for every lecture, engages in debates and has a good attitude. Student B skips most lectures, obviously doesn’t listen when they do show up and treats the faculty disrespectfully. Both submit an essay the tutor reckons to be worth a grade between 67 and 72. It doesn’t take much imagination to see what is going to happen here.
I have experienced this dynamic first hand and, as the type of person who like to analyse this sort of thing, could tell you about several instances of me getting better or worse grades than I deserved based on the tutor’s disposition towards me.
Don’t try to manipulate the dynamic I have discussed here by ‘sucking up’ to your tutors. Just put yourself in their shoes and imagine how you would like to be treated. Stick to these basics:
- Turn up to lectures, take notes and look interested.
- Take part in classroom discussions and debates.
- Even if you do not like your tutor, respect their position and be courteous.
- Ask your tutor for advice and guidance (particularly on essays they are going to be marking!)
- Show that you are implementing their feedback from your last essay in the next one.
Here’s a general titbit that will serve you well in this setting and elsewhere; what people feel about you is largely determined by how you make them feel about themselves. Doing the stuff I mentioned above will make your tutors feel that you value and respect their wisdom, expertise and knowledge. This certainly will not do you any harm when they come to mark one of your essays. Remember, just one or two marks on each essay could very well move you an entire degree classification upwards.