Multiple-choice exams are common practice in many college science courses, and there are countless strategies lying around about how to speed up the processes of writing, scoring, and recording student performance.  One of the most common strategies used to grade faster is to use a removable front-page answer sheet where students’ record their responses and a corresponding answer-key with holes punched out to speed grading for rapid hand-marking.  The most common strategy for easing the burden of writing new multiple-choice questions each time has been to retain students’ exams without allowing students to take copies of the test from the exam room so that exams can be reused.


Most professors are aware of the existence of scanning technology, where students use a No. 2 lead pencil to mark bubbles on a scannable answer sheet.  However, most Departments are too small to have one.  You might be surprised to learn that there is probably one somewhere hidden on campus that, if you could find, would allow you to use it.  When using this approach, it is critical to know precisely which scannable bubble form students should be using, as they are highly specific.  Most commonly, students can obtain them at the campus bookstore.

            In recent years, must of the traditional paper-and-pencil approach to testing is being replaced by Internet-delivered computer systems, usually in the form of college-paid for CMS Course Management Systems or LMS Learning Management Systems.  These systems have many useless bells and whistles, but what they do provide is rock-solid, secure, quiz and testing systems.  Faculty woefully underutilize these handy, time-saving tools.  These systems automatically grade students’ answers, inform students of their scores, and enter that information into a secure grade book.  By far the most time-consuming part is entering in questions and correctly keyed answers, but the payoff on the backend is incredible.

These systems also allow for students to submit short- or long-answer essay-style responses securely.  And, students do this work in the traditional classroom, if required, by bringing their laptops, tablets, or smart phones to class—which nearly all students have.  In the theoretical event they do not have such a tool, you can help them make arrangements to work in the library or computer lab, or even allow them to write on traditional paper, but practically I’ve never had it actually happen.  And once you are paper-less, then providing typed feedback on your part becomes a million times easier.

            Of course, there are many great subscription-based Internet grading systems and if I were to describe and review them in any detail here, there would be new improved ones replacing the old still working ones before I could even finish this post.  There are systems that look for grammar, systems that check for plagiarism, and ones that provide smart-feedback depending on students’ responses.  There are newer and better and cheaper ones showing up every semester, and you probably receive plenty of marketing materials about them.  They really are totally worth the set-up time at the beginning of the term, as they are largely a set it up and forget it system.  Personally, I think the more students submit work and the more feedback they get, the more they will learn, and the more you can focus on the less mechanical parts of your job.

Tim Slater, University of Wyoming,

Suggested Citation: Slater, T. F. (2018, February). Is it time to take advantage of automatic grading?  Society of College Science Teachers Blog, 3(7),

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