Marking Essays Causes Mental Depletion

We always knew it, didn’t we? At the start of a session we’re more meticulous about our marking than we are later in the process when we are far more likely to make a ‘gut’ decision or a ‘near enough is good enough’ decision before moving quickly to the next paper in the pile.

A 2011 paper on judicial decision making has reached a similar conclusion, but in a more high stakes environment. It looks at decisions by a parole board regarding prisoner requests to have their sentences reduced. The study found that favourable rulings were more likely to be given at the start of the day and after a meal or snack break. Immediately before a break rulings were less favourable. This was consistent for each of the eight judges in the study.

The essence is that when making repeated decisions, such as marking mountains of student papers, our judgment is likely to be harsher or more perfunctory the longer the session.

Well, I’m off to do some marking. I’m only half-way through the 90 papers. The good news for the next few students is that I’ve just had a break! 🙂


Danziger S., Levav J., & Avnaim-Pesso L.,   (2011)  Extraneous Factors in Judicial Decisions. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, ISSN 0027-8424, 04/2011, Volume 108, Issue 17, pp. 6889 – 6892


About Top English Score

English Test Expert
This entry was posted in professional judgment, reliability, standards, writing assessment issues. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s