At the end of the term, I mark a lot of essays. Learning the power of the technology I have has enabled me to improve my marking speed without sacrificing the quality of feedback that I provide to students. What works for me may not work for you. Students have liked my new marking approach, which provides more concise feedback for them and is faster for me. I would not always use this approach, but at the end of a term, it seems quite effective. I bulk download all the submissions, mark them in Excel, then use a mail merge to send students my feedback. It works for essays, but would also work for other assignments. What I have noticed is that students respond to my emails (showing that they read the feedback) – they almost never responded to marking in the learning management system at the end of a term. Some students did not even know they had comments at the end of a term (based on student reports).

Video Feedback

I will not use Excel+Mail merge all the time. During the year I may mark inside my LMS or using video depending on the type of assignment. Students particularly like video when the assignment being marked sets the foundation for a subsequent assignment. It can also be faster than my old marking approach, but at the end of a term, students are not likely to watch the video. The last time that I marked using video I included the Excel sheet similar to what I will describe below in the video showing them how I grade. Depending on the limitations of your learning management system, it may be fastest to email students a link to the video in Google Drive or use an unlisted/private YouTube video. Just communicate with them where to look for their feedback (in class, on an announcement, and in the assignment submission area).


Where I mark depends on how the assignment is set up. I rarely mark on paper. The only times I can remember marking on paper is during in-class presentations or when I was injured. Marking right in a learning management system can be nice and fast. However, it can be risky to mark online. Depending on how much traffic the website has it can also slow down at times.

Mark outside the LMS: Bulk Download

When everyone is in marking season the learning management system may be laggy. Even if it wasn’t, students tend to focus on the number at the end of a term. To me, getting them to focus on feedback so they can improve is important.

Several learning management systems let teachers bulk download all submissions in a zip file. It is a wonderful time-saving tip even if that is the only tip you take from this post. The only problem I have had with this option is if students submit files with excessively long file names. In my syllabus, I specify how I want their file name to appear to avoid this issue. The paper is saved by their student number (or name if I am not using anonymous marking) and topic. Articles that are being analyzed are saved by their citation. I have tested bulk uploading feedback files but have only used that feature once.

How to bulk download assignment files:

Once files are downloaded I create a folder called “0. Marked” to move assignments into once they are marked. The 0 keeps the folder at the top of my list. Moving graded assignments into this folder saves me time looking for which one to mark next. It only takes a second to move the folder and cuts down marking time, particularly if I mark the one at the top next. It also provides me a visual of how many are left.

Screenshot of “0. Marked:”folder

Marking in Word

Typically (for almost 12 years), I would copy/paste the rubric into the last page of the assignment, split my screen, and use track changes to mark the essay. I would keep common comments in one document to copy/paste into the assignment. I would have common APA comments in another document. Common comment documents saved a lot of time.

Sorry, the audio is a little low in this older video.

Some comments would appear in the essay and others would appear on the rubric. Then, I would copy/paste marks for every section of the rubric into Excel so I could see on average where students were struggling with the assignment and let Excel add up grades for me. I will still do something similar early in the term depending on how the feedback would be used but typically would use video to support the comments. Instead of copy/pasting as I go, I would simply copy/paste the rubric from Excel into Word when I was done … every copy/paste increases the time it takes to mark. My new method reduces time lost to copy/paste.

Excel-ent Marking

Several efficiencies are enabled with my new approach. It took me an hour and a half to set up my Excel document for one of my classes. However, I have eliminated the use of multiple files when marking – everything is either in Excel or the student’s assignment. That saves me time for each comment I make. Every repetitive action I eliminated saves me time. With about 70 students in a class, multiplied by about a minute and a half just to upload the file to moodle, means that even without adding other efficiencies I have recovered the time I used to set up my Excel spreadsheet. I use a combination of basic and advanced Excel techniques, but even just the basic ones save a lot of time. The best part is that next year the sheet will be already set up. All I need to do is update student names and adjust anything I changed with the assignment. It will save me time for as long as I teach the class.

Use Tables

Tables are a wonderful feature in Excel. After you download your student information from somewhere, set up the sheet with the column names you want along the top of the sheet. Each column can later be pulled into a word document, so include areas for comments if you are going to use a mail merge to cut back marking time. You can insert new columns as needed.

Tables are useful because they allow you to filter information so only one student’s row is showing at one time. That stops me from giving marks to the wrong person. You can also sort information.

The video also talks about using colour, formulas, and more. Hide columns and sheets that you are not using to avoid getting distracted. Towards the end of the video there some advanced tips that you may need to practice in order to use. The video was done in Excel 2019 on a PC. Using command instead of control should work on Mac computers. Please let me know if you have any feedback for me!

I also have a sheet for speeding up how I review exam statistics. Maybe that will be a post for another time.


Laura Killam is an experienced nursing educator from Northern Ontario with a keen interest in improving student learning through innovation. For more information please visit


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