Marking mathematics exercise books – Life without Levels

For me marking mathematics exercise books is about showing I value the effort every student has applied both in lessons and at home. I want them to know I am genuinely interested in how they have done and would like to advise them on how to progress further.

I typically mark a set of books at the end of a sequence of lessons on a topic to see how far they have progressed. I think we’re lucky as maths teachers because the continuous nature of mathematics means what happened last lesson is normally the pre-requisite knowledge for subsequent lessons. Because of this it is quite easy to identify the progress that has been made.

Marking mathematics exercise books

Normally, I write two comments. The first is to praise their efforts and tell them what they have achieved. The second is to give a next step that includes a diagnostic comment and a short problem to solve to either consolidate or extend their learning.

I always begin with writing the student’s name. This makes the comment personal and immediately engaging. I end with a simple but effective ‘well done’ and award a few House Points.

I tend to not include a grade when I mark. I find for some students the grade becomes the most important part of the comment with the remainder of my feedback about the mathematics fading into the background.

What’s Been Achieved?

I look through their class and homework to find evidence of the highest level they can consistently work at and base my first comment around this. I highlight some examples that demonstrate the students have achieved what I’m asserting.

Marking mathematics exercise books

Marking mathematics exercise books



Next Step

Telling kids they constantly need to improve even when they have done everything I’ve asked of them and sometimes more can be a little soul destroying. The second comment always begins with ‘Next step’ which I find to be more positive and ambitious rather than saying they have to improve.

A Second Chance

If they haven’t quite shown they can apply a mathematical concept I will highlight the misconception with a diagnostic comment.

Marking mathematics exercise books

Marking mathematics exercise books

I will then set them a similar problem to the one they made the mistake on. Their reply to my marking would be to attempt to solve this by taking my feedback on board. This gives them a second chance to achieve the learning objectives.

Marking mathematics exercise books

Marking mathematics exercise books

How Far Can You Take This?

When a student has reached the highest level of what I have taught them the next step challenges them to extend their own learning. This might be to prove the concept algebraically or simply to try a problem the next level up. For instance, if they can calculate a percentage change using a multiplier the next step would be to attempt a compound interest problem, or if they can multiply out two brackets the next step would be to multiply out three.

Time to Respond

When I mark their books I always allow plenty of time to respond to my comments. Students are encouraged to help each other respond and share their own feedback.

I value comments from other maths teachers and am eager to share other’s expertise. What strategies do you use to mark books?


Here’s an interesting read on this topic.

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