Confidence is at an all-time low in the exam marking system

Exams manager Paula Wood says confidence is at an all-time low in the exam marking system, but will Ofqual’s recent moderation announcements change that?

Some 67,900 exam grades were changed after they were challenged in summer 2016 – that is 18% of challenged grades, not dissimilar to 19% the previous year – despite changes to the marking process in July 2016, designed by Ofqual to make the grading process more accurate.

These figures also only take into account the grades that were submitted for review. Some schools, colleges and parents do not have the capacity or financial capability to facilitate reviews or appeals of marking.

Confidence is at an all-time low in the exam marking system.

Ofqual announced last week additional changes will now be made to the review of marking and moderation system (formerly known as EARs), but will they be enough to restore confidence in the system?

One of the changes is the requirement for exam boards to grant learners the ability to request marks of centre-marked assessments for the summer 2018 exam series.

There is already guidance that students should be informed of these marks and schools and colleges are already required to have a policy in place for students unhappy with them.

Not all schools currently make these marks available to students but the requirement to do so this will give students who are not happy, the opportunity to challenge them with the school before they are sent for moderation.

This may create more work for schools but will lead to a more open system. However, the school will need to ensure that pupils are aware these marks are subject to change by the moderation process, and schools should not provide a grade for the work as grade boundaries are not available at that time.

It is important to note that firming up this requirement on schools is unlikely to impact students’ grades, since the main issue here remains the incorrect marking of exam scripts rather than centre-assessed marks.

But there is some better news. The latest announcement will also require exam boards to make marked GCSE scripts available to schools and colleges before their deadline for requesting a review of marking, from 2020 onwards.

Currently “copies” of marked A-level scripts are available, but within very tight deadlines and at some considerable cost. Little further information is available yet on the accessibility and cost of these GCSE scripts.

The awarding body Pearson, to their credit, have announced they will make available marked GCSE scripts to all centres free of charge from summer 2017.

At least with this procedure in place centres can make an informed decision on whether to go for a review of marking, having seen the marked script and mark scheme, instead of it being a gamble.

The onus will be on academic staff to look at the script, however, which will be issued during the summer holidays!

Exam boards will also have to automatically provide the reasons for a review of a marking decision, at the same time as providing the outcome. This seems to be a definite move towards a clearer and more open system, with the exam boards held accountable for inaccurate marking and having to explain any changes.

Ofqual also announced the requirement of key dates for completion of reviews and appeals. This can only be fairer than an uncertain wait, for students who have not originally obtained the grades they want. Universities will, hopefully, keep places open pending a decision, based on these dates.

We seem to be moving towards a more transparent exam marking system that is fair and equal to all. Hopefully these changes and the further JCQ initiative to recruit more markers will ensure when we hand over that envelope in August, the results it contains are the ones the students and staff truly deserve.


Paula Wood is examinations officer and data manager at Hymers College

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