Step (or Stepped) Marking

There isn’t a lot of literature about this, but basically, using step marking means using a restricted number of marks within the range of 0-100%. Most people who use it would choose marks which represent the upper, middle, and lower ranges of the standard classification bands:  eg 42%, 45%, and 48% for a pass band on UG programmes. The bands which are of odd size (fails and firsts) tend to be less uniform, but you could use a number to represent upper, middle and lower of those bands, or just stick to using a number which ends in 2, 5, or 8. The use of three marks per band still lets you show the extent to which the piece of work meets a specific criterion.

This approach also avoids borderline marks which are difficult for students to interpret; instead, marks are always clearly within one of the chosen bands. Across the CELT team, we find that the use of step marking makes conversations with both students and moderators more straightforward as it’s generally easier to explain why something is top, middle or bottom of a band than to justify a particular mark between 0 and 9.

Step marking is simple to implement and requires no regulatory or documentary change, just a decision to mark only to the lower, middle and upper parts of the band. 2, 5 and 8 give the best spread of marks. Download the institutional scheme ».

It is worth noting that it is only suitable for use with marking criteria, which should be based on the University Standard Descriptors. It is not suitable for use with marking schemes; there is more information on the Assessment: Setting page about the difference.

Jon Scott has made a video about step marking and how it has been used at Leicester University.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do we apply this to marking schemes (eg MCQs or maths problems)?
You don’t: there should be no change to existing approaches; the final answer should still be achieved by adding up the number of correct items, even if it turns out to end with a different digit from those in the scheme

What if the unit mark comes out ending with a different digit?
It doesn’t matter - the system is intended to avoid borderline marks for elements of assessment, not units of assessment.

Does it apply to level 7?

What should we tell students about stepped marking?
Do share any information you think appropriate from this page. The simplest approach may be just to say that the grade shows which marking band the work is in, and whether they are at the top, middle, or bottom of the band and that it has been done to simplify the marking process for staff and make it clearer to students in which band their work sits.


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