Markathons in the pandemic
Some departments may be able to run a face-to-face markathon, following the usual guidelines. But if that’s not possible, you can run one online, as explained below. Feel free to introduce ways to make it fun, even if it’s only the promise of a party when restrictions are lifted. One decision for you is whether to run the markathon as a single event, say one particular afternoon, or to leave volunteers to do the work in their own time. If you choose the single-event model you may be able to make it into a more social occasion by means of Zoom or Teams, where volunteers can swap queries and comments.
Here’s one way to run an online markathon. Assume you’re the coordinator:
- You register as a marker.
- You recruit your volunteers, and tell us how many scripts you can handle this year.
- Once the scripts are released on the portal, you download all the scripts assigned to you.
- You download or create an Excel spreadsheet to receive the marks.
- You assign your scripts to volunteers and send each volunteer the relevant script bundles together with the blank spreadsheet. (It doesn’t matter if the same bundle goes to more than one marker, provided they know which names they’re each responsible for.)
- You also download the answer sheet and distribute it to all the volunteers.
- The volunteers mark their scripts and enter the scores on their spreadsheet, together with candidate names.
- You (or a volunteer) upload all the scores to the portal (by copying them from the spreadsheets).
How to run a markathon
Here’s some advice from Graeme Trousdale (who invented both markathons and their name) on organising markathons for UKLO:
As more and more young people participate in UKLO, the burden on markers for the Advanced paper increases. One way to combat this is to organise a markathon – an event held at a university, typically involving staff and students, in which a large number of papers are marked in one sitting. We’ve organised a number of such events at Edinburgh, and this short piece outlines some of the issues that other organisers might want to bear in mind when planning markathons in their own department.
- To register as a Markathon organiser please send an email to the marking coordinator introducing yourself (if necessary), saying roughly how many scripts you expect to be able to mark and when you expect to organise the markathon.
- Ensure commitment. You don’t want to be in a position where you’re marking more than you can manage, so ensure that you set a date within the marking period and get volunteers to commit to that.
- Don’t overestimate how much you (collectively) can mark. It’s better to have fewer scripts to mark and to make sure they are done accurately and consistently. I think asking novice markers to mark 3 scripts an hour is reasonable; more experienced markers can mark more rapidly. This should help you when you let the UKLO team know how many scripts to send you.
- Involve your student society. As well as advertising in lectures, letting your student society know about the markathon is a good way to get volunteers. Don’t forget to involve graduate students too. You might have some people who have done UKLO before in your lectures – these students in particular would be good as markers.
- Give yourself enough time. It’s worth, if you can, setting aside three or four hours for the markathon. That doesn’t include time for post-markathon activities (see below).
- Check in with the teachers. You’ll get an email from the teachers whose students’ work you’ve been assigned, saying they’ve uploaded the answers to the portal. Check that the pdfs have indeed been uploaded, and do a quick tally of how many candidates have been entered from each school. Then drop the teacher a line to confirm that you’ve received X scripts from them. If there’s a discrepancy between how many you have and how many the school thinks there should be, you should let the UKLO team know.
- Download the test and marking material following the instructions you’ll receive as a marker, print out the downloaded scripts and staple together the two pages of each candidate’s script. (If you have enough computers you could let volunteers mark on-screen, but then you’ll have to assign scripts by competitor name.)
The markathon itself
- Talk through the questions. It’s a good idea to get the markers to look at the questions in advance, and maybe even to prepare answers themselves. It gives them a sense of what is required (and teaches them some linguistics!), and means they will be better prepared for the marking. Go through the paper briefly at the start of the session too.
- Talk through the answers. At the start, it’s also worth going over the marking scheme and checking any updates from the UKLO team. Often students will have questions about whether alternatives can be given credit. Following the marking guidance to the letter is important.
- Spot check. As your markers complete their scripts, it’s worth doing a couple of spot checks to ensure that they are marking correctly and consistently (and totalling up the points accurately). This saves time at the end.
- Check the portal. You’ll probably need to upload the points to the portal yourself, so get the markers to provide the information that’s required (typically the total score per question).
- Pizza. It’s a great idea, if your department has the funds, either to buy in some pizza as you’re working, or take the volunteers out for a meal.
- Let UKLO know. A quick email to Dick Hudson to let him know who’s been helping you out will mean that you and your volunteers will get a well-deserved acknowledgement on our webpages.
- Upload the points. Don’t forget to upload the points to the portal (which, incidentally, will convert them to marks)!
- Keep the paper scripts until the national winners have been selected, just in case the selection committee asks to see the marking.
If you have any further questions about markathons, please get in touch with me. My students seem to have enjoyed being involved, and I know that it speeds up the marking process for UKLO, so it’s a winner all round.