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# Marks for writing

Writing mathematics clearly is a crucial part of a student’s education. Too often students begin higher education with the misconception that writing mathematics merely involves putting down a sequence of symbols without paying too much attention as to whether they make sense to the reader. As long as the answer is there in some form and underlined, that’s ok, the thinking goes.

Since the marker can see that the answer is there, this may be almost acceptable for problems such as finding the derivative of some product. But it does not work for writing proofs where a logical and coherent argument is required. I have been interested in this aspect of mathematics for many years and so Chapters 3 and 4 of my book are dedicated to writing mathematics. (The chapters are freely available on my website for people to use.)

An important benefit of requiring students to produce good mathematical writing is that it forces them to think. If they don’t understand something, then it is likely that they cannot explain it. The converse is not true but can give a useful hint as to what students are struggling with.

Using the principle that students are strongly motivated by marks, an effective marking scheme out of 10 is to give 7 marks for the content of a coursework assignment and 3 marks for how well written the work is.

My experience is that many students score 0 in the first week but most are scoring 3 by the end of an 11 week course. This is achieved by being quite harsh to begin with. This can be justified by the fact that my students are new to university and automatically assume that that is how things are done at university. The mark is not sufficient as detailed feedback is crucial to improving the students. This is easily done by referencing the relevant section in my book. For example, “Don’t start sentences with a symbol, p37”.

Writing well is a good skill to have beyond writing for mathematics and so training in this area is very useful. Furthermore, well written work is so much easier to mark that there is a strong incentive for the lecturer to ensure that students receive that training.