I have been grading math homework and quizzes for the last couple of years, working with a number of professors and graduate teaching assistants, and I see students making the same mistakes over and over again. I hear the same complaints from other professors, GTAs, and graders. I thought I would throw out some advice that might help your grades, or at least endear you to the person in charge of them.
I think these tips will apply to any class in which you turn in problem sets on a regular basis, and you might be able to apply some of this to things like lab reports, but I am mostly focusing on undergrad-level math, computational or proof-based. I hope it goes without saying, but first and foremost you should do what your instructor, not a stranger on the internet, tells you to do.
So, if I am grading your homework, here is what I would like you to do:
- MAKE MY LIFE EASY
The harder it is for me to grade, the less points you are likely to get. That’s not just me being spiteful - if I don’t see your answer to a problem, I can’t read your handwriting, or I don’t understand how you got from point a to point z, it is going to be very hard for me to award you points. I try to be generous, as do most people I know, but we can only do so much for you.
- KNOW YOUR MISSION
What are you trying to accomplish in these assignments? How do you do that?
- You are trying to practice the course material to get a better understanding. So, do all the work assigned to you, and don’t just copy it from your friend (we can tell) or a solutions manual (we can really tell)
- You are trying to communicate to me (and to yourself!) that you understand the course material. I don’t need to see all of your scratch work or first attempts, but I need to see how you arrived at your answer, and I need to know what your answer is. I urge you to type or neatly rewrite your finished assignment before you turn it in. Please highlight your answers with a box, a circle, or some other indicator. If you’re writing a proof, start with “Proof:” and end with “QED” or a tombstone (or even a smiley face!) so I know what I’m supposed to be evaluating. Your work should be readable - in terms of handwriting, spacing, and yes, even grammar. It should follow a logical order so that someone reading it can understand what you’re doing. Explain your steps if you think you need to. And if a problem tells you to use a certain formula, theorem, or method, use it.
- You are trying to learn from your mistakes. Of course this varies from grader to grader, but in general, we spend a lot of time giving you feedback, so please write something!!! I can’t help you if you don’t even attempt a problem. And for what it’s worth, while this isn’t true of everyone, a lot of people (myself included) will almost never give 0 points if it looks like an honest attempt has been made. If you have no idea what to do with a problem and it’s the last minute, it might be worth it to write down what you’re confused about - “I thought I could do this using integration by parts, but I couldn’t work out what to use for u and dv” is something I can respond to, and hopefully give you some help!
- BE AWARE: STYLE COUNTS
Most of the time, I can and will take off points for style. Some instructors have a certain number of points worked into their grading rubric for style. Here are some suggestions!
- Staple your f&*%ing homework!!!!! No, do not fold over the corner. Don’t tape several sheets together. Staple it. With an actual, metal staple.
–> It never hurts to write your name on every page, and number your pages as well. Just make it as hard as possible for me to lose a page.
- Do not turn in paper with those spiral-bound frills on the edge. Most spiral-bound notebooks are perforated, so tear along the perforation! Otherwise, please use printer paper, loose-leaf binder paper, or really anything else…
- …anything except neon pink paper. I’m only saying this because it’s in my grading pile right now and I am dreading it. Use conventional paper!!!! I don’t care much about the ruling, but it should be white, or very nearly. Yellow legal pad paper is pushing it. Engineering paper is fine.
- And on that note, please write in a conventional color. Black, blue, gray, or very near those colors. It should be dark. It should be readable. It should definitely not be red. I personally don’t grade in red, but a lot of people do, and regardless of that, it is hard to read large chunks of red text.
- I know I said this already, but: rewrite your homework. Seriously. If it is anything but straightforward computations, it is going to get messy, and fast. Do your scratch work on a separate sheet of paper, and then write up a final copy with everything you want me to see, and nothing you don’t.
–> If you can, type it! Here is a post by @munirastudies to get you started with LaTeX, which is very useful for typesetting technical and symbol-heavy text. The benefit to typing your homework is that it’s easy to go back and edit!
That’s all I have for now! Please feel free to message me with any questions or suggestions you have! I hope this is helpful to someone :)
edit: here are suggestions other people added! [x]