The things that irk and delight HSC markers
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In her more than 25 years’ experience marking the HSC, Martina Cooper has seen it all.
The essays that dazzle her. The students who run out of time and finish an essay mid-sentence. But there is one thing the marking supervisor and studies of religion teacher finds truly annoying.
Teacher Martina Cooper has been involved in marking HSC exams for more than 25 years.Credit: James Brickwood.
“In terms of irking us, you always have handwriting. I am not making a big huge statement saying it is getting worse or anything, but I think maybe the impact of technology may eventually have an impact on handwriting,” says Cooper.
The HSC exams might finish on Friday, but the work is far from over for the 5500 teachers who must read and mark hundreds of thousands of responses from 76,000 students.
The centre of that operation is a cavernous shed out at Sydney Showgrounds at Olympic Park, where teachers such as Cooper work with the exam committee to decide precisely how to grade students for each question.
HSC marking is now predominantly done online from the comfort of teachers’ homes between the hours of 6am and midnight every day.
HSC markers working at the Sydney Showgrounds.Credit: James Brickwood
Once exam supervisors collect the papers, they are delivered to sites across NSW where they are fed into industrial-scale scanners and uploaded online and randomly assigned to markers.
The move to online means there is a lot more quality control.
Marking supervisors have a dashboard and monitor how fast teachers are marking a particular essay, and how many marks they are assigning. Essays in the HSC are double marked and any discrepancy is brought to the attention of a marking supervisor who can either adjudicate what is an appropriate mark.
Dummy responses known as a “common scripts” are sent to teachers to mark at set intervals to make sure they’re alert.
If they fail to give the appropriate response in line with the marking criteria, the computer program red flags them and locks them out from further marking until they have a conversation with their manager about their performance.
“It is quality control because you want the student to get the right mark,” Cooper said.
She said teachers wanted to treat students fairly, meaning markers could look beyond the half forgotten quote a student might have used.
“We know about exam stress. We mark what is good and what’s there. Sometimes you have to ignore an error and that’s okay, we all make mistakes,” Cooper said.
Marking supervisor Andrew Szabo said most teachers do it for the professional development.Credit: James Brickwood.
Andrew Szabo, supervisor of marking for chemistry, said every teacher was assigned a question or group of questions. Teachers get paid from $87 an hour depending on what time of day they work, but Szabo said most teachers do it for the professional development.
“A lot of kids have the same misconceptions. You can take that back to your school and go, ‘Right, a lot of kids make this mistake’,” he said.
Kyra Rose, supervisor of marking for the module B section of the standard English exam, said she was constantly impressed by what students could do in the 40 minutes they had to write a single essay.
“We really look to pay a student for what they’ve given us … what they can accomplish in 40 minutes is amazing,” she said.
And what happened to the thousands of students over the years who might have run out of time and finished their essay mid-sentence? Did they automatically lose marks? Not according to Rose.
“If they presented us with great ideas and textual evidence, we pay them,” she said.
HSC results are released on December 14.
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