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Programming language: Haskell
License: BSD 3-clause "New" or "Revised" License
Tags: Web    
Latest version: v0.1.13

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remarks — A DSL for marking student work

[License: BSD 3-Clause](LICENSE) Travis CI (Linux + macOS) Status AppVeyor (Windows) Status"

When judging student performance, it is useful to make both small, composable, quantitative judgements, and to collect qualitative remarks. This makes both spreadsheets and mere text-files ill-suited for marking student work. Although org-mode can solve this problem to a great extent, it becomes a heavy tool in the light of having to mark hundreds of students in a distributed, decentralized fashion. With org-mode, everything is in one file, while global, intra-student statistics are not needed until all the students have been fully marked.

Design Goals

  1. One, or several, human-readable/editable file(s) per student.
  2. git-friendly file format.
  3. Export options to spreadsheet-formats.
  4. Synchronization options with Dropbox and/or Google Drive.

Goal 4 is not necessarily related to remarks, but is related to marking student work with external examiners, who are not always willing to use more explicit version-control systems, such as git.


User features:

  • remarks valid [<file>] checks that the file system structure is well-formed. For instance, checks that all total point sums are correct.
  • remarks check [<file>] like valid but also ensures that all points have been given and sums correctly.
  • remarks show [<file>] checks the file system structure as above, and shows the overall judgement for each given argument.
  • remarks feedback [<file>] prints the accumulated feedback.
  • remarks summary [--depth <depth>] [<file>] checks and summarizes the points. Depth 0 (default) lists just the top-level judgements.
  • remarks pending [--depth <depth>] [<file>] shown the corrections that has not been completed. Can be cut at a given depth; depth 0 lists just the top-level judgements.
  • Exporting remarks files:
    • remarks export [--format "<format>"] [<file>] exports corrections to a semicolon separated  list. The format is a semicolon separated string of properties.
    • remarks exportHTML [<file>] exports all corrections to a dynamic html-table.
    • remarks exportResults [<file>] export results to a table with result of each sub question.
    • remarks exportMD [<file>] exports remarks to a MarkDown file
    • remarks exportPdfMark [<file>] export remarks to format that can be inserted as comments in PDf with GhostScript.

Developer features:

  • remarks parse [<file>] parses the given files and shows their ASTs.


remarks is written in Haskell. If you are new to Haskell, we can recommend installing either Haskell Platform or The Haskell Tool Stack. Follow the instructions below to then install remarks.

remarks is on Hackage, so you can use Cabal:

$ cabal install remarks

If you clone the repository, or download the sources, you get two further options:

  • If you are using the purely functional package manager Nix, you can do this:
  $ nix-build

This will create a symlink result, pointing to the directory in your Nix store, containing the binary.

  • Or, if using Stack, you can do this:
  $ stack build
  $ stack install


A .mrk file is a list of judgements.

A judgement starts with a header mark (a sequence of #), a title (followed by a :), given points (followed by /), and maximum points (followed by a line break). The number of # determines the depth of the header, and every file must start at depth 1, but may have multiple depth 1 judgements. Headings may be arbitrarily nested, but must sum up correctly.

For instance, here is a file containing only quantitative remarks:

# Theory: 27/50
## Question 1: 10/10
## Question 2: 10/20
## Question 3: 7/20
# Practice: 35/50
## Task 1: 20/25
## Task 2: 15/25

Sums of given points can be omitted in higher-level judgements, and remarks will calculate these from points given to lower-level judgements. For instance, we could omit the given points from Practice above:

# Practice: /50
## Task 1: 20/25
## Task 2: 15/25

It is possible to indicate that a student did not submit an answer with writing - instead of a number points. This will be treated like 0 points. For instance:

# Theory: 17/50
## Question 1: 10/10
## Question 2: -/20
## Question 3: 7/20

The header of a judgement may be followed by qualitative remarks. Remarks begin with an indent (two spaces), and a mood mark:

  • * for neutral/structural remarks;
  • + for positive remarks;
  • - for negative remarks;
  • ~ for mixed remarks;
  • ? for impartial remarks.

Impartial remarks are good for judgements where the mood is left to be judged by a higher authority. For instance, when a teaching assistant is uncertain, and would like to let the teacher decide, or the solution cannot be used to make a judgement about this point.

Structural remarks are good for listing things to look for. For instance, a (template) judgement for an operating systems exercise might look something like this:

## T1: /15

### Formal requirements: /5
  * Has code
  * Has XML in a reloadable/testable form
  * Has an explanation

### Quality assessment: /10
  * Understands semaphores
  * Understands deadlocks
  * Understands starvation
  * Avoids deadlocks
  * Avoids starvation
  * Avoids race conditions
  * Has a good degree of multiprogramming
  * Solves the problem

### Bonus: +0
  * Has an accompanying implementation / simulation

Once filled in by a teaching assistant, this may look something like this:

## T1: 9/15

### Formal requirements: 5/5
  * Has code
    + Yes.
  * Has XML in a reloadable/testable form
    + Yes.
  * Has an explanation
    + Yes.

### Quality assessment: 2/10
  * Understands semaphores
    - Seems to treat them as counters. Report doesn't talk about procuring or
      vacating at all.
    - Checks semaphore value directly.
    - Seems to have mixed up procure and vacate.
  * Understands deadlocks
    - If more than 5 cars arrive, then only 5 cars will be allowed to drive
      through, and everything will then deadlock.
  * Understands starvation
    ? Seems to, but this is hard to judge.
  * Avoids deadlocks
    ? See above.
  * Avoids starvation
    ? Can't judge this.
  * Avoids race conditions
    - Uses a busy loop in attempt to synchronize.
    - There is a race condition after the busy loop.
  * Has a good degree of multiprogramming
    + It's a ticket system, so it could be okay.
  * Solves the problem
    + In a complicated way, but yes.

### Bonus: +2
  * Has an accompanying implementation / simulation
    + Yes!

Bonus-judgements must have the title Bonus, but they don't have to be there if you don't like them. The presence of bonus judgments also allows points to sum up to more than the given maximum. This is regarded as a feature.

Points and Sums

You do not need to manually enter sums. Points are only required for the bottom-most judgements. Given the template above you can do a remarks check to check if all necessary points have been given. This makes a "pointless" template a rather useful starting point for grading.

Points can be integers or half-points, that is, the number may end in .5. Please note, .5 is exactly representable in an IEEE-754 (the internal representation of points), so no numerical imprecision occurs when dealing with half-points. Maximum points may only be integers (the internal representation of maximum points is still an IEEE-754 double to avoid numerical conversions).

Files and Directories

The file-format is kept "git-friendly" by keeping it comprehensible in plain-text, and allowing for independent marking by splitting the remarks for a student into multiple files.

The simplest setup is to have one .mrk file per student (e.g. [basic.mrk](samples/organization/basic.mrk)).

To support more exotic setups, remarks can also work with directories:

  • If supplied with a directory path, remarks looks for files ending in .mrk inside that directory, and comprehends the files as above, in lexicographic filename order (e.g., [directory-with-mrk-files](samples/organization/directory-with-mrk-files)).

  • If there exists a directory <basename> for any <basename>.mrk, <basename> is recursively searched for further .mrk files. Their contents is appended, in lexicographic filename order, to the last top-level judgement of <basename>.mrk [mixed-directory](samples/organization/mixed-directory)).

See the [organization samples](samples/organization) for some examples of how judgements may be structured using files and directories.

├── basic.mrk
├── directory-with-mrk-files
│   ├── 01-theory.mrk
│   └── 02-practice.mrk
└── mixed-directory
    ├── 01-theory.mrk
    ├── 02-practice
    │   ├── Task1.mrk
    │   └── Task2.mrk
    └── 02-practice.mrk

basic.mrk, directory-with-mrk-files, and mixed-directory all parse to the same judgements. In particular, the output from the following remarks commands is identical:

$ cd samples/organization/
$ remarks parse basic.mrk
$ remarks parse directory-with-mrk-files
$ remarks parse mixed-directory

*Note that all licence references and agreements mentioned in the remark README section above are relevant to that project's source code only.