How much does your degree depend on the person doing the marking?

Everyone knows of that one tutor who's harder to please all the rest. But can they affect your final mark?

It is a well-known fact to students that some coursework markers are tougher than others. Tales of these hawks are carried down from year to year as a warning to those considering taking a module where they might encounter them.

It’s a phenomenon that has taken hold of students, to the extent that some will base their module choices on whether or not the marker will be lenient with them. These fears are not totally unfounded. Many students have slaved over an essay only for it to receive a far lower grade than expected. Many have also sat perplexed, listening while their lecturer explains that the mark they received was a good one, when anybody else would label it dismal.

Alice White, a third-year Biology student at a northern redbrick, says that there have been plenty of instances "where marks seem quite random".

"Students all get markers allocated and the ones with a certain supervisor get consistently tens of per cent lower than others.”

Cicely, who studies at another reputed university agrees.

“There are definitely a few lecturers that have a certain mark as the highest they’ll ever give anyone," she says. "It defeats the point of there being a top grade.”

It is perhaps just another fact of student life that has to be accepted, like pot noodles and hungover lectures. But when it’s your degree on the line, is it fair to be subject to the luck of the draw? After all, it is probably one of the only things that is out of your control. When you have pulled out all the stops and produced an essay that any other tutor would applaud, having someone tell you that it worth a class less than you were expecting is more than disheartening.

It can be worse than unlucky if you end up with a harsh marker at every stage of your degree. Not only will your classification take a hit, but it can do serious damage to self-esteem which in turn can affect performance on other assessments.  

It seems unfair to have to alter your module choices to avoid these markers, but the reality is that many students do. Final year students in particular are wary, cautious of jeopardising their degree at the last minute. Billy Sexton, a final year Modern History student, even went as far as to change his options.

“I changed a module this semester because I heard that the organiser was a strict marker. I can’t really afford the risk in my last year.”

It is a shame to have to avoid subjects, especially if you have been given the opportunity to tailor your degree to your interests.

Sometimes, it is down to certain stylistic preferences on the part of the tutor. If you can recognise this, one of the ways of combating unforgiving marking is to spend as much time getting to know your tutor as possible. Make use of those office hours - not just around deadlines. Anything you are unsure about, run by them. Be sure to take your essay plans to them as well. Most tutors will be happy to talk them through with you, and this is the perfect way to straighten out any qualms they might have early on.   

Whether you climb your way up to their impossibly high standards or flat out avoid them, it is not impossible to work around tough markers. However, students are forced to make that decision; worrying about conforming to various lecturers preferences, which leaves little to be desired on deadline day, or abandon the chance to study something that is truly appealing to them.

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