Grading Paper Exams in Large Courses

Coordinating multiple graders while ensuring grading consistency and timely, helpful feedback can be challenging in large courses. Faculty in Economics, Mathematics, Chemistry, and Psychology in Weinberg College have been tackling these problems through the use of Crowdmark, a collaborative online grading software. While normally limited to WCAS faculty, Crowdmark is available to all Northwestern faculty during the 2020-2021 academic year.

How It Works 

After uploading a sample of an exam to Crowdmark and inputting the number of students taking the exam, a PDF is generated that contains every copy of the exam, each with a unique QR code. Instructors print that document and distribute it to students. After students have taken the exam and the paper copies are scanned into Crowdmark, you can easily divide and assign different parts of the exam to different graders. For homework, students can upload a picture or other document to be evaluated. To see more on how to grade using Crowdmark, see the following documents.

Scott Ogawa, Assistant Professor of Instruction in the Economics Department, uses online grading software in all his courses and sees the time savings as one of the main advantages to using this kind of software. “Number one advantage in terms of saving time is that you grade question 2B, then 2B immediately again, zero time spent flipping through papers, looking for things, ” says Ogawa. “It turns out that over half the time you spend grading is organization: this [collaborative grading software] takes care of all this.”

In the Mathematics Department, Assistant Professor of Instruction Aaron Peterson has found that Crowdmark has improved the feedback he and fellow instructors give to students. “Besides the administrative gains, for exams when you’re scoring short answer questions, you often want to make very nice comments on papers, so if you had a pen, you’d be writing this multi-sentence thing and it takes time to add that comment,” says Peterson. “But now you can take your time, write a very nice comment with special codes that render as scientific equations in line.” That comment can then be inserted again when needed and shared with other graders.

View of the annotation function in Crowdmark

How to Set Up an Assessment
Student Submission
Grading Interface
Student Results


Save Time: Crowdmark allows you to grade all of the student responses to any specific question without shuffling through papers. Time-savings also appear after exams are returned as the online version remains available to instructors online.

Improved Feedback to Students: Crowdmark offers graders the opportunity to share comments with each other. When a grader notices patterns of mistakes in student work they can create detailed and helpful comments for all graders to insert.

Assist New Graders: During the grading process, you can check in real time to see if your graders are using the rubric and providing adequate feedback, which is especially helpful for developing the skills of first-time teaching assistants.

Academic Integrity: Scans of homework and exams are uploaded so the students’ work at the time the evaluation was turned in is preserved. Any student requests for a re-grade based on a grading mistake are easily resolved by looking at the original scan. Grading is also done blind to student identities, reducing implicit and explicit bias during evaluation.

An expanded, original version of this article is available here.

Crowdmark Access 

Instructors can access Crowdmark with Canvas integration using this link:

Advice on using Crowdmark with Canvas is available in Crowdmark’s online knowledge base. The Crowdmark team is available to answer any support questions via email

Contact to get in touch with fellow faculty members who are using Crowdmark.