The Power of Red Pen

As a student, I dreaded the moment when I got back my papers full of red writing. As a postgraduate student, I extremely dreaded the moment I got back my dissertation’s comments, where the assessor wrote extremely long comments in red. I’m just glad I had already tackled that fear just a few years ago.

As a lecturer, red pens are part of my stationery and of course, I love my stationery of many colourful pens. However, using the red pen in marking is not something I really enjoy in academia, though I believe no one can run away from it. The feeling of the power in my hand is sometimes very scary. Should I give this answer an extra half mark or should I deduct that mark from that answer? Decision, decision, and decision. Sometimes, decision is easy when the student’s answer is clear and closely matching my marking scheme. At that time, the red pen is just like any other pen. Everything just flows with ease. Sometimes, hard decision has to be made and at that time, the red pen is so heavy on my hand. Just imagine this: it’s probably a ‘life and death situation’ (pass or fail) of the student’s performance and it is all in my hand (or rather my red pen). Of course, this situation is very much triggered by the student’s answer (or probably the student’s lack of answer).  Sometimes it’s my self-battle within me, either to give leniency or to be strict in marking. Believe me, that decision is the hardest of all. Seriously, I sometimes wonder if some written answers really justify the student’s performance and understanding of the topic being tested? Or can it be that I don’t understand the student’s answer? Even worse, what if there is something wrong with my teaching instead? Nothing seems to be straightforward when it comes to marking and I guess it will never be any easier.

Okay, enough of my red pen fear ranting for now. I’m actually in the midst of marking examination scripts for my computer network course. I started on Tuesday night with the smallest bundle and I finished yesterday afternoon. Thank God that my students’ answers were making it easy on the red pen. I actually took a break between marking the smallest bundle and the biggest bundle in writing this post.

Wish me luck with the next bundle of over 100 scripts.


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