Sunday, January 05, 2003

Two down...
Finished grading exams today. It's my nightmare of Christmas. The fall term in Norway is very short, and in our college it always includes exams for all classes of students in almost all of their subjects. This means a big load of work for the students... but an even bigger load for the staff. It is however in the students' best interest to make sure the staff is happy while reading those papers, so here are some hints for students who want to have happy people grading their papers.

1: Read the information you get about writing papers. There is a reason why we tell you that you need to quote in a certain manner, that you need to make your literary list in a certain manner, and to make sure you check what the different scholars you refer to REALLY wrote.

2. There is also a reason why we want you to work on your introduction and your main question, and it's not because we need to know certain things or because we are sadists who just like to see you suffer before you even start writing (well, that might be true but it's not the ulterior motive). It is because if you know what you are discussing in your paper, your discussion is infinitely easier to go through with!

3. PROOFREAD!!! Don't think that you'll spellcheck when it's all done. The spellchecker won't catch missing words, correctly spelled, but wrong words, incorrect names and terms which are misleadingly similar in writing, but have very different meanings. When it is about your grades it's stupid to leave the responsibility for our understanding of what you say to Bill Gates.

4. Make an outline. Even if you never use it: make an outline. Even if you find that it's awful and you don't agree with it and this is the most stupid rule you have ever heard of: make an outline. Why? Because if you know why you can't structure your writing the way your outline was structured you might think enough about structuring your work that you avoid writing a stream of consciousness. A bad outline is better than 20 pages of random placement of something which might be related to what you perhaps stated that you thought you might write.

5. Get your friend to proofread. After a while you become blind to your own writing. Your friend is most likely also writing his/her paper, and is blind to his/her writing and needs somebody to proofread. Switch, use a red pen, pretend to be your worst nightmare of a picky teacher (for some poor students I am aware that it's me, there is a reason why I was nicknamed "the butcher from Volda" early on in my career) and start picking at what you don't understand in your friend's paper. You do each others no favour by being kind, after reading 20 BAD essays, I won't be.

6. Now that you have written the paper, sit down, read it, see what you have REALLY discussed and done and how you have concluded... and write the introduction.

7. All you need to do now is check your attachments, check your bibliography, proofread one more time, have a cup of tea, repeat the process... and submit. You have just increased the chance of decent grades as well as given your assessor a chance at a better, nicer and happier reading experience. And what else can a student want for an exam?

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