My #1 Grading Hack for High School

Teachers have heavy workloads. It’s 11 am on a typical school day, and I’m sitting in my class as my Year 8s are doing a test. I arrived at school at 7:30 am and have already complete 12 different tasks! (Yup, I counted!)

These are the 12 tasks I accomplished today :)


These are the 12 tasks I accomplished this morning 🙂

It’s a lot, and that’s in a few hours. And I actually had to miss our weekly assembly in order to get that parent meeting in.


I know you’re in the same boat.


So here’s the deal: you can ALWAYS find work to do. And if you don’t actively seek ways to make thing easier on yourself, you can drown in the work of a teacher. One thing I have done that makes my life way easier has to do with grading.


I hate grading. I love planning, chatting with students, doing labs, finding activities, playing games, and leading students to those “Aha!” moments. I hate grading. 


I want to do less of what I hate so that I can spend more time on what I love.


So here it is:


I have my students grade their own work whenever possible.

That’s it.


That’s my big hack.


Yup. Have kids grade their own tests and quizzes. The end.


Easy, right? And yet, so many teachers fight this when I bring it up. “That would never work for my kids.” “They would cheat.” “They would do it wrong.” “I don’t have enough class time for this.”


I don’t buy it, so let’s address these excuses:

Excuse #1: “That would never work for my kids.”


Have you tried? Try. Try it once following my advice.

Excuse #2: “They would cheat.”


I get it – this is a real concern. My method eliminates this possibility. When students are marking their own work, their desks need to be completely clear. No pencil cases, no pens or pencils, no paper other than the test. Then, every student gets one of my purple pens. These distinct pens make it impossible to mark anything that shouldn’t be there.

My favorite Uniball purple pens.


My favorite Uniball purple pens.

Excuse #3: “They would do it wrong.”


Sure, this is also a possibility. But I don’t just throw up solutions and tell them to go for it. 


I scan a graded test and put up one question at a time. We review each answer and I show where marks are allotted. If there is something they’re unsure about, I have them put an asterisk and I will go over it when I collect them. 


They can write a note if they think it’s necessary. 


I don’t waste time answering a bunch of questions during this process because 1) it’s annoying; and 2) there is a certain amount of vigilance required to ensure students are doing things properly.


Often, there are certain questions that I want to grade on my own. We might talk about them as we get there, but students don’t write anything and I grade them afterwards. 


I always review their tests and determine the final grade. But even having students review half of a test on their own saves me oodles of time!


An example of a question from an IB SL Math test.


An example of a question from an IB SL Math test.

4) “I don’t have enough class time.”


This can certainly be valid sometimes. Schedules get crazy and there are certain expectations about testing and all that jazz. 



But the thing is, this process is not a waste of time.



First of all, you’re immediately covering the content that students are expected to know


Secondly, students are truly engaging with their own learning and forced to think about their own thinking. This is an excellent use of time and I argue students get more out of their assessment than if you simply return it with a grade on the front.


When students are used to it, the setup is quick, and if there are questions you think would be too complicated to do as a class then you can leave those out. You can even chunk it, doing a couple of questions as a warm-up one class or grading one section to finish off the last fifteen minutes of an afternoon.

More thorough review upfront frees up time later.


More thorough review upfront frees up time later.



Take your time back, folks! Having students grade themselves is seriously a win-win situation. Now, I’m going to make my test solutions so that my students and I can grade these tests together next class.


And then maybe I’ll grab another slice of lemon meringue pie!


Scientifically yours,



Interested in weekly science teaching tips? Click here!

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