I have a very good job, and I'm well paid to do it. The only part of my job I don't like is grading exams. I have just finished grading 30 exams for my graduate course and 300 exams for my first year course.
A pile of 300 exams sitting on the table is just too daunting a pile even to begin. So I break it into three, and only put 100 on the table, and tell myself that's my job for the day. But even 100 is too never-ending. So I count off 10 exams, and tell myself when I have graded that 10 I can go and make a cup of tea, or check in on WCI, or get something to eat. Then I go back and grade another 10. That's the only way I can do it. That's my way of fooling myself into getting the job done. I know it's irrational, because the job takes longer when I have to count out piles of 10 as well as grade the exams.
I normally don't mind doing boring jobs, because normally when you're doing a boring job you can let your mind wander. But that doesn't work with grading exams. You have to concentrate on the job.
My job is to teach those students economics. Or to get them interested enough in economics that they teach themselves economics. Or a bit of both. So when they fail an exam question, that means that I have failed too. I think that's why it's a depressing job, because I'm forced to look at my own failure, again and again.
And that's one of the reasons I don't let the TAs do all the grading. The TAs grade the multiple choice and short-answer sections of the first year exam, but I grade the more open-ended long-answer/essay section myself. Partly because I think I'm better at doing it than the TAs. But mostly because I need to see all the details of where I have failed as a teacher.
I also get to see where I have failed to set a good exam question. That's depressing too. A good exam question generates answers that let me know exactly what the student does and does not understand. Sometimes weak students will write deliberately obfuscating answers, to try to hide their weakness. But sometimes a good student may miss the point of a question, or may fail to explain clearly enough what they understand. And the hardest part of the job is trying to figure out which is which, and try to give a reasonably accurate grade.
For example, when drawing the monopoly diagram, many students drew the MR, MC, and ATC curves all crossing at the same point, which could only happen by fluke. So when they show that point as determining the monopolist's profit-maximising quantity, do they mean Q is determined where: MR cuts MC (the right answer); or where MR cuts ATC; or where MC cuts ATC? And do they realise this could only happen by fluke? Maybe they think it has to be that way? Maybe they deliberately drew it that way to try to hide their ignorance? Or maybe they are good students who just drew it that way by fluke?
I tell them never to draw fluky diagrams. I tell them to draw big diagrams which reduces the chance of flukes. But some, especially the weaker students, draw small diagrams with a thick pencil, so flukes always seem to happen.
A good exam question should test a range of abilities, so that the very best students are stretched to the limit but the weaker students can still get part of it right. But that's not enough. A good exam question should also make it clear when the student is ducking the question. That's never a problem on multiple choice questions. It's less of a problem on closed-ended questions which have a right and wrong answer. But it's a problem on many open-ended exam questions.
Good exam questions are like a scarce natural resource. There are only so many you can mine, and you can't keep on using the best ones year after year.
But maybe the depressing job of grading exams is still better than the stressful job of writing them.