Information for

The Instructional Support Coordinator for the course will determine the specific duties that you are to perform; not everyone is responsible for all of the duties listed here.

Nonetheless, all ISAs, IAs and TAs should expect to perform at LEAST the following subset of duties:

  • Preparation
  • Marking Assignments
  • Proctoring and marking midterm and final examinations

Answering questions

Dealing with questions from the students is a large part of the following diuties: consulting hours, newsgroup/Piazza maintenance, conducting tutorials and lab supervision. Staff must be careful how they answer some questions. Too much help prevents students from learning and too little help frustrates students.

A good first response is to ask the student to show you his or her algorithm and explain it to you.

Whenever possible, staff should help the students to discover the causes and cures of problems. This can be done by asking the students questions that lead the students from what they know to what they have overlooked, or by referring them to resources available to them at that time (e.g. the course/lab notes or textbook) that contain the answer.

For lab or programming assignments always encourage the students to use debugging techniques (debugger, print statements etc.) to solve the problem themselves. If the students need more help than this, explain the situation clearly to the students so that they will be able to recognise and solve the problem for themselves in the future.

Never tell the students the solutions to their assigned problems or make them feel incompetent. If it appears that a large amount of your time may be required by one student during the lab/tutorial session or office hours, an appointment should be made to meet this student outside of the scheduled sessions/office hours. This will ensure equal access time for all students during the scheduled period.

Consulting hours

ISAs/IAs with this duty are required to maintain regular consulting hours to provide help for students. The IS Coordinator will inform you of the minimum number of weekly consulting hours. All consulting hours are held in the CS Consulting Centre MC4065.

The ISA/IA is primarily responsible for answering questions related to his/her course. If a student from another course asks a question, you might attempt to answer it if it's for general information; for any course specific questions, please advise the student to see someone responsible for the course.

Newsgroup/Piazza maintenance

Some courses have established newsgroups/Piazza for answering students' questions and posting important pieces of information for the students, such as corrections to assignments. It is the ISA/IA's responsibility to update and respond to these newsgroups. It is the TA's responsibility to read them regularly and contribute any comments they have to the ISAs/IAs.


For courses with scheduled tutorials, the ISA or IA may be required to prepare for and conduct the tutorial session. Additional training will be provided at the start of the term for ISAs and IAs who are assigned tutorials. In some cases, a model tutorial is conducted by an experienced course staff member; staff should attend this session as part of the preparation for their own tutorials.

Supervising scheduled labs

During the scheduled lab period ISAs (and IAs/TAs who are assigned this duty) are to be present in the lab and available to help students with any concerns that arise from the lab material. Staff should not be involved in other activities at this time so that they will be free to circulate among the students. Staff should be proactive in the scheduled lab sessions. If time permits, the staff should circulate through the room and discuss the lab with each student.

Staff who supervise labs are also responsible for ensuring the smooth operation of the lab. They must become familiar with and enforce the lab regulations. They are also responsible for the lab equipment, and must report all equipment failures.

Marking assignments and exams

ISAs, IAs and TAs are expected to grade all examinations and quizzes, while TAs are usually involved in marking assignments. In large courses, a common time is usually established when all members of the staff including the instructors get together to mark the examination. ISAs/IAs are responsible for some marking and the recording of all marks. The IS Coordinator will inform you of the marking deadlines. ISAs/IAs may also be required to help develop model solutions and marking schemes. A marking training session is provided during TA orientation.

Some guidelines for marking:

  • Even if a marking scheme is provided, work the problems out yourself before starting to grade the assignments. Your solution may be quite acceptable but different from the solution used in the marking scheme. Keep all solutions beside you while grading.
  • Consider combining papers with other ISAs/TAs and marking as a group. This will reduce marking time, increase consistency, allow you to discuss special situations with others, and make marking less of a chore.
  • Grade one problem at a time. This keeps your mind from becoming cluttered with details from other problems.
  • Make notes on your marking scheme of particular situations that made you drop the mark to a lower grade and discuss these with fellow markers and the IS Coordinator. This keeps the marking more consistent across ISAs/TAs.
  • Positive feedback on a student's assignment is as important as negative feedback.
  • Let fairness to all students in the course be your guide. Avoid practices that may be interpreted as discriminatory.

Missed student work

Students are responsible for bringing in doctor's notes if they miss assignments, quizzes or exams due to illnesses. ISAs should forward these notes to the IS Coordinator, first making sure that the following information is recorded on each: student name, ID#, course, lab section and the coursework covered by the note.


Staff should forward any suspected cases of cheating to the IS Coordinator, and should not confront students themselves. The University of Waterloo and Faculty of Mathematics policies regarding academic integrity specify what constitutes cheating and the appeals process available to students.

Proctoring exams

For a proper training please attend the ISG exam admin session. The following are some guidelines for proctoring exams.

Prior to the exam

  1. Tape a location lookup sheet to the wall near each door of the exam room, and keep at least one copy in the exam room.
  2. Using the seating map for your assigned room, distribute the exam papers face up on alternate seats.
  3. Write announcements on the board, including:
    • Start and end times of exam.
    • No student may leave within the first hour of the exam or in the last 10 minutes of the exam (if there are exceptions to this, you will be informed by your ISC).
  4. After you are set up, and about 7-10 minutes before the start-time, let the students into the room and announce the following:
    • Get out your WatCard and place it on your desk.
    • Place your notes, books, coats, etc. on the floor.
    • Read the instructions on the front of the exam before starting the exam.

During the exam

  1. Collect signatures. This seems like a straightforward task, but following these instructions will minimize the risk of students cheating on an exam. Using the provided signature lists:
    • Have the students sign beside their name/ID number;
    • Check that the name they sign on the exam and on the signature list matches the name on the label on the exam and the name on the WatCard and that the picture on the WatCard resembles the student;
    • Check that the number of signatures you have collected is the same as the number of bodies in your section;
    • If a student does not have a student ID card, you may accept another form of photo ID instead and add a note to the signature sheet;
    • Collect signature of late arrivals as well.

    Note: In case the signature lists are not provided you may use a signup sheet to collect signatures; you may refer to this sample (PDF) as a guide.

  2. If some students arrive late, write the time on their exam and inform the ISC/instructor. Students who arrive more than one hour late (or whatever the time is for when students may leave) may be barred from writing the exam. Ask the ISC/instructor for a decision.
  3. Answer questions according to the guidelines set out by the instructor. If you are uncertain of an answer, tell the student to work on another problem until the floater (instructor) arrives.
  4. If a student wishes to go to the washroom, a proctor should walk the student to the washroom. If this is not possible allow only one student at a time to go to the bathroom.
  5. Give a 10-minute warning before the end of the exam. Announce that students should make sure their name is on all pages of the exam and that they should not leave the room, but should wait in their seats until the end of the exam.

After the exam

  1. Collect, sort and count the exam papers. Make sure the number of papers you have is the same as the number of people that wrote in your room.
  2. Clear all the location lookup sheets you taped to the wall.
  3. Return the exam papers to the designated meeting area.

Math faculty proctor pool

All graduate IAs and TAs in the Faculty are placed into a proctor pool. Names are drawn from this pool whenever proctors are needed for an exam. The Math Faculty Proctor Pool assignments are independent of any course-related duties and do not fall under the jurisdiction of ISG.

Maintaining grades

Although the procedure varies from course to course, all markers are responsible for keeping track of student grades on tests and assignments for their courses.

  • Grades must be kept up to date; record grades as soon as the assignment is marked.
  • Proper backup procedures must be followed (which may include hard copies).
  • Frequent posting of grades is encouraged to allow students to verify their marks.
  • Grades must be properly safeguarded; grade lists with names should not be taken to a public area, such as the consulting centre or a lab, unless they are carefully guarded.
  • Grade lists must be properly disposed of at the end of the term; shred the lists, or give them to your ISC.

Class lists

Class lists for all courses are automatically generated and e-mailed to the course account about the second week of term. These lists can be imported and saved in MS Excel to be used for mark maintenance. Check with your IS Coordinator for instructions.

Adds and drops

Notification of adds and drops will be sent automatically to the course account. Never remove ANY student's marks from your mark spreadsheet even if you believe the student has dropped the course. Instead, switch the students section to a non-existent section such as "-999" or "X". Occasionally, students get dropped from a course unintentionally (e.g. they haven't paid their fees) but when they come back into the class, we obviously don't want to have lost their marks!

Course staff meetings

ISAs and IAs are required to attend course staff meetings each week. These meetings give the staff an opportunity to give feedback to the course instructor and the IS Coordinator concerning the performance of the students as well as to raise any concerns related to the course work and labs.

Lecture attendance by ISAs

All ISAs are required to attend one section of lectures for the course they are tutoring. Attendance is considered mandatory for the following reasons:

  • The ISA may not have taken the course before (as in the case of a CS major tutoring a course for non-CS majors) and may be unfamiliar with the material.
  • ISAs may have forgotten much of the course material or the course content may have changed since it was taken.
  • Attendance at lectures allows the ISA to predict questions that may be asked by students.
  • Attendance allows the ISA to anticipate possible sources of confusion or misinterpretation.
  • ISAs hear all course announcements given by the instructor and can note any variations prompted by student reaction and interaction.
  • ISAs are ensured copies of any handouts given out in class.
  • Students can approach the ISA to make private appointments.
  • The instructor can approach the ISA on a regular basis if it is required more often than the weekly meeting allows.
  • The ISA can pass on information relevant to the labs or tutorials to the class as a whole.
  • Continuity is fostered between labs and lectures.