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Although I’ve got a sneaking suspicion I’ve written about this marking technique before, I can’t find any trace of it so it’s entirely possible I might have dreamt it.

Be that as it may, if you’re in the market for a quick’n’dirty way to efficiently mark a pile of summative essays (the kind you might set as an end of Module / Unit test, for example) then bubble marking might be just what you need.

A disordered list
(or “pile” as it’s sometimes known)

The technique is based on the idea of bubble sorting, a very efficient way of turning disordered lists, such as a bunch of unmarked student essays, into neatly ordered lists: in this instance, essays ordered in terms of something like a general grade (such as A – E).

You will do this by using your teaching knowledge, experience and understanding of the mark scheme to roughly assign different essays to different grades.

For reasons that should become apparent, it’s preferable if you can complete the following in a single marking session:

1. Take the first essay from your pile and read through it once. You’re not looking to make any comments or marks on the script itself during this stage (this is something you can do later, in a range of different ways, if you want to engage in formative assessment). Rather, you’re trying to get an overall impression (which is why this is sometimes called “impression marking”) of the work in relation to the next essay you read.

Once you’ve read through it, place the essay on a table, floor or flat surface that’s within easy reach.

2. Repeat the above with the second essay and, once you’ve finished the read through, decide whether you thought it was better, worse or about the same as the previous essay.

• If better, place it to the left of the previous work.
• If worse place it to the right.
• If about the same, place it above or over the previous essay.

3. After you’ve read the 3rd essay you need to think if it was better | worse | same as the 2nd essay and then better | worse | same as the first.

4. Continue sorting the essays until they’ve all been put into a rough order.

Once you’ve read through all the essays you will have arrived at a rough “order of merit” that covers “best to worst”.

Once you have a completely ordered set of essays you can, if you wish, sort through them once more to place them in whatever marked categories (such as A – E) you prefer.

If you want to fine-tune the grade (by dividing those in the “A” category into A+ / A / A- for example) simply repeat the above process within each category.

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