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GCSE, AS and A level marking reviews and appeals: 10 things you need to know

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: A levels and GCSEs

Last week we published further research into reviews of marking together with some decisions about how we want to improve fairness for all. It’s a complex area so here are some easily digestible facts.

  1. GCSE, AS and A level markers are specially trained and most of them are experienced teachers. It’s really important to us that students’ work is marked carefully in the first case. Exam boards have safeguards in place to make sure exam papers are marked well. Their review and appeals systems provide an additional safeguard.

  2. We’re not seeking to ‘clampdown’ on the number of reviews requested by schools. It’s important that schools, students and pupils can have marks checked if they have concerns. It won’t be harder to ask for a mark to be reviewed in future.

  3. Students should not worry that a ‘wrong’ mark will not be corrected. In a system as large as the ours, with around 8 million GCSE, AS and A levels awarded annually*, some marking mistakes will happen. When they do, they must be corrected. None of the changes we are making will stand in the way of a marking mistake being found and corrected.

  4. In 2015, about 1% of all GCSE, AS and A level grades awarded were changed. Of the 572,000 reviews requested, 90,450 resulted in a grade change. This was out of 8 million qualifications awarded. Of the papers reviewed, 52% saw no mark change and 23% saw a mark change of +/- 1 mark [see research here].

  5. There is often no single, correct mark for a question. In long, extended or essay-type questions it is possible for two examiners to give different but appropriate marks to the same answer. There is nothing wrong or unusual about that. Original marks that are appropriate for an individual answer will stand – they should not be changed.

  6. We want the exams system to be fair for all. It’s not fair if some students have their grades changed – when the original mark was sound – because their school asked for their mark to be reviewed, while other students accept the mark they were originally given.

  7. The majority of consultation respondents said appropriate marks should stand. Twice as many respondents supported than opposed our proposal that marks that have been appropriately given by a marker applying a mark scheme and any relevant marking procedures should not be changed at review. We have said that experienced reviewers must be trained to consider whether mark schemes have been applied appropriately. We are consulting on the guidance we suggest reviewers should use when coming to a view.

  8. Exam boards will decide whether or not to accept review requests directly from students in future. Home educated students have always had the opportunity to ask their exam board to review their marks directly. For other students, currently requests must be made by a student’s school or college. We are now lifting the prohibition on exam boards taking such requests directly in all other cases. It will be for exam boards to decide whether to accept requests directly and if so under what circumstances.

  9. Exam boards charge a fee to pay for their review and appeals services. Ofqual receives no monies for reviews or appeals. Exam boards’ fees vary. Review fees are on average £31 for a GCSE unit and about £45 for an A level unit. The fee is only charged if no marking error is found. Appeals cost more, in the order of £150-£200. If schools continue to have concerns about their results after an appeal they can bring concerns to us and consider using the Examination Procedures Review Service.

  10. We are not complacent about the quality of marking. We continue to evaluate the effectiveness of the safeguards exam boards use and to look for ways by which their quality of marking might be improved.

* data are for England, Wales, Northern Ireland and overseas.


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  1. Comment by Catherine Lane posted on

    In long, extended or essay-type questions it is possible for two examiners to give different but appropriate marks to the same answer.

    The difference of 1 mark out of 400 means the difference between an A and a B - this means that a student's university choices are catastrophically changed and this affects their lives forever. Given that you admit that professional judgements differ on long, extended essay questions, the student's future is arbitrarily dependent on the examiner. This puts students in the humanities at a disadvantage in comparison to their peers where mark schemes are more concrete and definable. If A levels were reported, for example, by adding up the entire UMS marks of a student e.g 980/1200 for 3 A levels each marked out of 400 UMS ( which equates to an equivalent of 81% overall ) - the issue of desperately needing 1 or 2 marks out of 400 to try to move from a B to an A would , for the most part, disappear. Whilst an A carries 120 points and a B carries 100 points on UCAS - the student who misses AAA by 3 marks out of 1200 actually loses 60 points out of 420 and so do the universities on their league tables of entry standards. What is this madness? If you wish to really make things fairer to all students, you really must address these anomalies

  2. Comment by A Marker posted on

    What is the procedure when an exam board refuses to acknowledge a mistake in an exam question despite being provided with evidence of their error? I'm thinking of a science subject A level exam paper where the accepted "answer" was completely incorrect.