7 Types of Exam Markers

I recently messed up a biochem exam. During the exam viewing session, I was appalled at how many marks I lost because of silly mistakes. This exam was marked based almost strictly on the final answer for each question. It didn’t matter that I got the process and 90% of question right – one silly mistake would throw off my final answer and blow the entire question. This experience reminded me about how important it is to take the marking of a question into consideration when formulating my answer.

It’s important to know how a grader grades the exam so that you can best display what you know. For example, you wouldn’t bother writing down all your thought process in the neatest hand possible for a multiple choice exam, would you?

Without further ado, here are the 7 types of exam makers.

1. The Nit Picker. 

This marker analyzes EVERYTHING. Every pen(cil) stroke, every errant dot. Detail-oriented and sharp-eyed, this makers will zone in on that tiny thing that you were unsure about and calls you out on it. Being specific is very important to this marker. He or she expects you to know definitions, applications, examples, and exceptions to all of the material. They also have little patience for people glossing over the parts they don’t know. He or she expect you to know everything, so you better deliver.

2.  The Process-oriented Thinker.

This marker cares about how you think. He or she wants to clearly see your thought process from A to B, taking into account any assumptions, theories, or definitions used. I had one physics prof who didn’t really care what numbers were plugged in as long as the equations were derived and manipulated correctly. In that case, I spent a lot less time crunching numbers (sometimes forgoing it all together) in favour of ensuring I used the right equations in the right way. Math, physics, and even chemistry (especially organic) often focus on the process, although that’s not always the case.

3. The Result Seeker.

This marker just cares about the final answer, not how you got there. Multiple choice and true and false questions are perfect examples of this type of marking scheme. This marker wants to see your (correct) answer bolded or otherwise nicely presented so her or she can find it quickly. The biochemistry exam I messed up what very much this type of marking.

4. The Keywords Scanner. 

This marker scans everything you write for keywords. To this marker, using the right words in the right context is most important. If you write “an area with a lot of trees”, they might mark it wrong if they were looking for “forest”. Biology, psychology, and some social sciences rely heavily on this marking scheme. If you get an exam or a paper back and see check marks at specific words, your work was probably graded this way.

5. The Big Picture Dreamer. 

Everything is about the big picture for this marker. It doesn’t matter how you write it, as long as he or she can tell you’re on the right track, everything’s good. Sometimes questions may be very abstract. Lower level economics, higher level math and physics, and some social sciences mark like this. Biology, chemistry, math, psychology, English (or any other language) except for creative writing do not conform to this scheme. This is arguably the most subjective way to mark, so think like your prof (who probably made up the answer key).

6. The “No-tolerance for BS”-er. 

This marker only wants to see correct statements on your paper. He or she will subtract marks for every wrong statement you make. This can be problematic if the question asked for 3 examples, but you gave four and one was wrong. This marker might very well give you fewer marks than someone who did not write a wrong statement (even though you both have 3 correct examples).

7. The Benevolent Mark Giver. 

This marker is everyone’s favourite. He or she wants to give you marks, you just have to give him or her opportunities to do so. It doesn’t matter if you’re using keywords, writing down handwavy concepts, or emphasize the process – he or she will give you marks as long as you demonstrate you know something along the lines of what the question is asking. This marker is almost the polar opposite of the No-tolerance for BS-er. For example, if the question asks you to draw the process for forming the major product of something and you can’t remember which process was major and which was minor, draw both. This type of marker will give you some marks for drawing the right one (although they may take a couple of marks off for not selecting the right one as the major product). The No tolerance for BS-er would not give you any marks because you put something wrong down. So if you get a benevolent mark giver, write away. It’ll almost always be helpful.

Of course, these categories are slightly exaggerated and each exam may have different sections that are marked differently. Nonetheless, next time you come to a question, ask yourself “what am I being marked on?“. If it’s on results, skip the neat scripts and the detailed explanations and jump to the right answer. If it’s on keywords, make sure you use the correct words and be as specific as possible. If it’s someone a nit picku… well… be really, really, really careful!

Good luck on your exams! 🙂

Reader Question: How do I choose electives?

… I’m not sure what electives to take. There are lots of different requirements, I don’t know what I like, and I don’t know what to take…

Every degree requires taking certain electives. Be they credits from a different faculty, English or other language requirements, or breadth requirements in your faculty, electives are an important part of your undergraduate degree. However, if you’re overwhelmed by the choices, don’t know what you’re interested in, and/or can’t decide what to take, this guide might help you.

First, figure out what the elective requirements are. Otherwise, you’ll be bumbling along in the dark and may end up taking courses that you don’t like and that don’t fulfill any requirements. If you’re in first year, have a general idea because just about everything you take will probably count for something. However, as you get up to the higher years, it’s important to know the details. It would be a pain in the rear end to realize at the end of fourth year that you’re 1 course away from graduating (and having to do the course in summer school or next year).

So, now that you know what’s going on, how do you decide on what electives to take?

Try these strategies: 

1. Path of least resistance

This is both the easiest and hardest method. It’s hard because you have to go through all of your degree and specialization requirements (basically everything about what you need to do to graduate) and figuring out exactly what electives you need. Then you simply take the easiest courses to fulfill those requirements. How do you know what the easiest courses are? Ask around! Perhaps your friends or classmates have taken courses they found easy. As well, certain courses are reputedly easier (a.k.a. bird courses). However, reputations are not always deserved, so use your better judgement. If you find yourself struggling within the first week, the course is probably not as easy as you expected and switching courses might be easier.


  • Easier course load
  • Don’t have to take more courses than absolutely necessary


  • Not always possible to tell what courses are easy
  • The easiest courses may not be the most interesting courses


2. Whatever fits

The involves having a rough idea of the requirements you need to graduate, then taking courses that fulfill those requirements and fit nicely in your time table.


  • Class fits nicely in time table – no need to take 8 am electives if you don’t want to
  • Courses may not be easy or interesting


3. à la carte

This involves having a rough idea of the requirements, then taking any course that would fulfill those requirements and seem interesting. There needn’t be any overarching theme here, just take whatever strikes your fancy.


  • All the courses will be interesting
  • Can gain understanding of a broad range of topics


  • Courses may be more challenging than expected
  • May only obtain surface understanding of each discipline with no real depth


4. Second love

If your major is your first love, then your minor (or second major) may be a second love. This is probably the hardest strategy to use because it involves some more planning. If you find yourself taking a few courses in a discipline and really loving it, it might be tempting to do a minor or second major in that topic. If that’s the case, figure out what you need to do to get that minor or second major and see if there are any overlapping requirements with your first major. Then figure out what courses would fulfill those requirements (and that are easy, fit nicely in your timetable, or that seem the most interesting). This is the situation I found myself in when I discovered that I love economics. I got a late start (I realized how much I liked econ in second year) and am now playing catch-up with my courses. So if possible, plan it as best as you can. If you got a late start and still really want to do it, give it a shot anyway and see if you make it.


  • Studying something you love
  • Obtaining true understanding of a specific discipline
  • It looks better on a transcript to have a minor or a second major


  • May be taking courses that are more challenging than any of the other strategies above. e.g. for a minor, a certain number of courses must be third or fourth year courses (whereas the elective requirements may be satisfied with lower level courses)
  • May still have to take some other courses (on top of the courses for your minor) to fulfill all elective requirements
  • Obtaining a narrow knowledge-base because you’re not taking a wide range of courses

Which strategy you choose is up to you. In general, if you have a second love, go for the minor or second major. Otherwise, use one of the other strategies to ensure you fulfill all of the requirements with the least number of courses.

Exam Prep Toolkit

Wow! This term just flew right by. Final exams are again upon us. Here are some articles on SotN that would help with your exam preparation (or to avoid further disaster?).

For one, there are certain things that you should just not do around exam season. So… don’t do them!

If you’re still recovering from midterms, check out “what do I do if I failed an exam?“. Even if you did not do too poorly on the midterms, it may be worth it to do a “post-mortem” on your exams so that you’re better prepared for finals.

If you need a system for preparing for finals and have no idea where to start, check out the exam prep series. Yes, it is very, very detailed. No, good planning is not a one day process. However, planning to study is not the same thing as actually studying – do not procrastinate studying by planning to study!

If your prof allows you to bring a cheat sheet into the exam, use that opportunity wisely! Make the best cheat sheet you can to learn the material thoroughly.

If you suffer from exam anxiety or just get really nervous before an exam, you might want to consider pre-writing to boost your confidence and grades. As well, here are 5 ways to avoid panicking on a hard test.

If you, for whatever reason, missed an exam, there are some things that you could try (this is the most popular article on SotN around exam time).

Good luck on your exams! I apologize for not posting as much this term. I’ve written 13 lab reports/papers and was suffering from writing (typing?) fatigue. I promise to do better next term!

Material from Science One Presentation

Hello Sci-Oners,

Here are the slides from the guest lecture I did last Tuesday. It’s contents are very similar to that of A Research Approach to Learning (but is more Science One-specific).

Academic Success in Science One (PowerPoint Slides in PDF)

Research Approach to Learning Handout (Handout at the end)

Good luck with your finals (you might want to check the exam prep series on how to start)!

Feel free to e-mail me with any questions that you may have.


Material from CLASS

Thank you to everyone who came out to my CLASS presentation on the 27th! I hope you had fun (or as much as possible while talking about learning – I go gaga for this stuff, but not everyone else does :P) and learned some new things. As promised, here are the handouts and PowerPoint slides. Unfortunately, the presentation isn’t completely stand-alone. However, the Research Approach to Learning section should make sense even to people who were not in the workshop.

Good luck on your next round of midterms (or finals)!


Here are the Links:

Research Approach to Learning

Research Approach to Learning Handout


Happy Halloween!

See Me Live!

Yes, I am a real person and not solely an online entity!

I will be presenting a workshop at the Conference for Student Learning and Academic Success (CLASS) at the University of British Columbia on Thursday, October 27th from 12:30 to 2:00 pm. The workshop is called “A Research Approach to Learning and the Path to Academic Success“. Yes, it’s wordy, and yes, you should come!

CLASS is a week-long conference for first year students to help them adjust academically to university (hm… why does that sound oddly familiar… :P). My workshop is just one of dozens of workshops and activities for students, so there is something for everyone. What exactly will I be talking about? Stealing shamelessly from the CLASS website (though I did write the workshop description, so I suppose I have a right to use it):

A Research Approach to Learning and the Path to Academic Success 

Do you think you could do better academically? Tired of not getting the mark you want despite working you’re a** off? Envious of how well others do seemingly without trying? Want to have astounding academic success? Well, look no further!

In this workshop, you’ll learn to approach learning the way researchers approach their projects. Use this effective system for finding the study strategies that work for you and how you can use these techniques to excel academically.  Will you magically become an A+ student? No. While the results may seem magical, there is no magic involved – you will simply become a better student and learner.  If have a burning desire to do better and is not afraid to work your butt off initially, this workshop is perfect for you. So what are you waiting for? Sign up now!

From: http://class.ubc.ca/conference/workshops/thursday-workshops/

I don’t know what room I will be in yet, but register for CLASS and check out all of the other workshops available.

I’ve been told by the conference organizers that this workshop is wildly popular and already more than half full, so if you want in, go sign up now! See you at CLASS!

EDIT (October 17th, 2011): Apparently I’m REALLY popular and the workshop is full. For those of you that signed up, see you there!

Update (Nov 1, 2011): For PowerPoint slides and handouts from the workshop, click here.  









Nerdy Humour

Since everyone’s probably stressed out due to midterms this week, here are some nerdy and funny videos for your entertainment. Have a break, have a nerdy video!

31 Jokes for Nerds:


Science Jokes:


I will Derive (Parody of I will Survive):


PCR Song:


50 Doctor Jokes:


It seems that most funny and nerdy jokes are sciency… but if anyone knows any other good jokes pertaining to arts, business, engineering, etc., do share!

Ok, now back to studying.