Disclaimer: I would always advocate pupil conferencing and live marking over ‘traditional’ marking. 

I have written about the principles and practices of pupil conferencing here. However, I also acknowledge that one size does not fit all.  So, here are my top tips for speeding up the marking of books.  I hope that you find something that gives you a bit of your life back.

SMARTer marking = less pen from you, always reflecting on how the word / comment will impact on their writing. It should also reduce your workload!


Why is a piece of work being marked in the first place?

.  What is the focus of the marking?

.  What are the children going to do with the corrections / comments you’ve written?

.  Are you giving children time to read and take action?

Here are some time saving tips to avoid getting swamped and to communicate high expectations:

  • Timely feedback, timely corrections. Ask for a quick turnaround for the corrections whilst it’s fresh in children’s minds, even during the session itself.

Most of the time, stick to focused marking because it is much easier for the children to digest and act on. Find a key focus (i.e. the lesson objective and / or children’s targets for the unit), something that will really make the difference and move them on and concentrate on that.


  • There is little evidence to suggest that extensive written comments have a big impact on pupil progress. In fact, over-marking can take the responsibility away from children, reduce their motivation and make them less resilient.
  • Think about how you can support an additional adult (I know you possibly don’t have one – don’t hate me!) with marking. e.g. an answer sheet for the Maths group they are working with.
  • Set homework that focuses on a variety of skills – not just writing that generates more marking. An excellent homework task is asking the children to prepare something that they will then use in the next lesson – the children can then see a practical reason for the homework and it will receive feedback from and the other children in the class. This needs to be planned carefully so that children who may not complete homework are still able to access and participate in the lesson.
  • As the children are working, sit with them one-to-one (i.e. pupil conferencing). Position yourself so you can read their work silently, while they continue. Identify one way forward and then feedback both verbally and noting the content of the intervention. e.g. VF tense   / VF place value.  You can see a whole class over two or three lessons and can differentiate the timing of your feedback, as some children need to be left to work independently for longer and others need to be steered on track much earlier.
  • Identify mistakes, but don’t give the corrections. e.g. Underlining words to uplevel or to indicate verb / subject tense agreement errors in the margin for children to identify and correct their own spellings.

Try out marking with highlighters, now and again. Use only two coloured highlighters with one colour for strengths, and the other for errors. If the work has many errors, mark only a couple you think the child should work on first so their ways forward are manageable within the given response time.


  • There is such a thing as too many comments, even when trying to provide a child with detailed feedback. In a perfect world, you should only be writing comments that give children concrete suggestions on how to improve their work.
  • Ask the children to hand in their books open at the place you want to mark from. You are also more likely to engage with an open pile of books than one ‘hiding’ tidily in its place.
  • Teachers shouldn’t correct a child’s work where they have merely made a careless mistake, according to research – mark the error don’t worry about correcting it. Instead, research advises teachers to focus on areas where children show an underlying misunderstanding. The latter is likely to be a chronic or habitual issue, while the former would be an occasional lapse, so a good old fashioned cross beside these types of mistakes is as good as anything.
  • There’s pretty much no evidence to suggest that acknowledgement marking (the tick-and-flick approach) has any impact. The EFF report ‘A Marked Improvement‘ (2016), a review of the existing evidence on written marking, concludes that this form of marking “could be reduced without any negative effect on child progress”. A quick “well done” or “good effort” might feel like it’s not time consuming, but multiplied over several sets of books this endeavour can really clock up the minutes without adding much impact. The report suggests pupils can detect insincerity too, so it’s better to prioritise your attention on something specific and genuine. Simply turn back and tick these pieces of work when marking the next piece in a focussed way.