People Innovation Excellence

Negative and Positive Marking: Which One is Better?

By Yani Susanti


Growing up in Jakarta and having experienced a lot of curriculum changes in the country, both as a student and a teacher, I am very much familiar with various marking schemes. All those marking schemes bear one similarity though. A rather negative perspective towards the student’s work.

When I say a negative perspective, it does not mean that the teachers are trying to mark the students as low as possible (though I have to admit, I know some who are). What I mean is the mind set of the teachers when they are marking their students’ work. We, teachers, tend to “look” for faults in our marking process. The student failed to punctuate correctly. The student misspelled the words. The student did not use the grammar properly. There is no coherence and cohesion, etc. The mistakes that the students made in their essays or papers then become the platform we base our marking on. Honestly, that was the way I marked my students as for me, the perfect mark belonged to the perfect work.

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However, dealing with Cambridge exams a few years ago changed my perspective. Teachers, who were preparing the students taking Cambridge exams, needed to go through some training and there we were encouraged to have a positive perspective in marking the student’s work. At first, it was hard to fathom. I mean, when we are marking, of course we will see both the mistakes and the correctness. So, how on earth could we avoid our “negative” perspective?

Having a positive perspective does not mean that we turn a blind eye to the mistakes that the students did on their work. It only means that when we are marking, we are looking for what the students are able to do correctly instead of what they fail to do. When we have this positive perspective set before we start our marking process, we will eventually appreciate our students’ efforts that are usually subdued as we are more attracted to their colorful faults. Again, I know it is still a bit hard to fathom, let alone apply.

I, myself, am still trying to apply this in all of my marking processes and I can say that after a few years of marking with a positive perspective, my belief, thankfully, remains unchanged. The perfect mark does belong to the perfect work. The students who fail to produce anything worthy are those who are not able to do anything correctly anyway. The students still get what they deserve and with their efforts appreciated.

In the end, I know it is not easy to change a perspective forged by years and years of experience, especially when we think that our own perspective works perfectly and therefore, is the best. Yet, let us ponder together. Our familiar negative perspective in marking has produced quite a number of successful individuals, but has Cambridge’s positive perspective in marking produced fewer?


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  1. Dear Yani Susanti
    Sorry, I don’t know which name is your surname and which one your first name otherwise I would have written Dear Ms …!
    My name is Romy Schmit (Romy is my first name and I like being called by my first name)and I am basically an EFL teacher for secondary school students. However, I also train young colleagues.
    I would like my trainees to reflect on the advantages and disadvantages of the positive and negative marking. However, I don’t think they know about the different marking schemes.
    Your text would be a nice way to trigger the discussion, which is why I am writing to you. Would you allow me to use it? Thanks for taking the time to read my mail. I’m looking forward to your answer.
    Kind regards,


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