Friday, January 20, 2012

Grading Essay Exams with GoodReader

My first goal for my new iPad was to be able to grade my Intellectual Property Survey exams using the GoodReader App.  I was able to quickly locate and download the GoodReader App.  The next step was to be able to load my students’ exam answers onto my iPad inside the Good Reader App.

Students at the law school began using ExamSoft this semester to take their essay exams.  ExamSoft results in digital files uploaded to a secure server.  For all classes, our TIPS (Text and Image Production Services) department then prints out those exam answers in hard copy for grading.  The essay answers for my class ranged from 15 to 25 pages, double-spaced.  In big classes with 60 or 70 students, my ability to grade digitally will save, literally, reams of paper.  This is important to me personally and also to the law school that has one of the leading environmental law programs in the country.  Last year the faculty adopted a sustainable paper policy, which aims to “reducing overall paper consumption” at the law school.

ExamSoft can generate a pdf file of each exam answer – with the push of a button.  Indeed the software can generate a zip file of all of the answers for a particular class in seconds.  I asked one of our TIPS wizard, Andy Marion, to generated a zip file for each of my two classes and email me the file.  Then all I had to do was figure out how to get those pdf files onto my iPad.  I decided to use dropbox to transfer files.  After unzipping the files on my PC and loading the pdf files to a designated folder on dropbox, I then was able to sync that folder with GoodReader and begin grading. 

I want to provide my students with feedback on their exam essays.  I decided to use two main ways of providing feedback.  First, I used a basic color coded highlighting for generalized feedback:  Green highlights means the statement is an accurate and good statement in the context of the exam question.  Second, I used the comment box function to insert typed comments.  The color of the comment box also was similarly color coded. 

GoodReader provides lots of different annotation tools.  For this “first time out” I used only two:  the highlighting and the pop-up boxes, although I experimented with lots of the tools.  Below is one page of an exam retrieved in Adobe on a PC that shows the use of many of the annotation tools available in GoodReader:

The red and yellow triangles indicate an embedded comment.  When you put your cursor over the triangle, a box with the comment appears – see the yellow triangle example at the bottom of the above page.  GoodReader also has a function that will let you “flatten” the document so that each triangle is numbered and the contents of the comments appear at the end.  I tested the annotated files in both Adobe Reader and Adobe Pro, and both permit the pop-up box to show, so I don’t see a need to “flatten” the documents.

The first time you seek to add notations to a pdf file in GoodReader, you will be asked if you want to save the annotated file under a different file name, and where you want to save the file.  I had to think that through a bit because, ultimately, I need to be able to “hand” back the exams to the students.  This is just something to think through when you start using this method of grading.  Students email me asking to review their exams and I am able to email them back the annotated pdf of their exam answer, along with a short note about the color coding I used.

I also needed to keep track of the scores for each of the seven questions that were on the exam.  I started out by having a separate pdf file that is my detailed score sheet.  This didn’t work too well as I had to keep switching between the two pdf files for each exam.  After grading the first two questions this way, I switched to a paper print out grade sheet for each exam.  While I was disappointed to not be able to complete my grading entirely digitally, I was, overall, quite happy with the experience!

Overall, the experience was a very positive one.  I was able to take what would have been a heavy and HUGE stack of papers with me as I traveled Washington D.C. for the annual AALS conference during the semester break.  I got a lot of grading done on the airplane – all I needed was my iPad!


  1. This was a very helpful post and I'm eager to give this a try! I noticed in the screen shot that you had what look like handwritten notes and circled passages. Were you able to do that in Goodreader? How does that work? I'm finding PDF Expert a little clunky, though I'm not sure how much of that is the program versus my inexperience with a tablet and with Macs. What you were able to do with the exam in your screen shot is what I'd like to be able to do with articles--for myself and for students.

  2. The icon that allows you write freewrite in goodreader is on the righthand toolbar. It looks like a squiggly line, like sine function in math, and is the last one on the list.


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