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Monitoring the 2017 exams

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

Next week sees the start of the GCSE, AS and A level timetable, with exams for some students starting on Monday. Over the course of the next 7 weeks, thousands of different exams will be taken in schools and colleges around the country, and marking of those very first exams will start almost immediately.

As always, we’ll be monitoring all aspects of this summer’s exams very closely. There are 3 aspects to this:

  • monitoring overall progress
  • managing unexpected events
  • monitoring social media and press commentary

The summer exam series is a huge undertaking. Collectively, exam boards deliver more than 8 million individual qualification results in August. They have detailed plans in place to make sure that marking is completed, grade boundaries are set and results are processed accurately and on time. Earlier in the year we visited each of them to check their readiness for the summer, and we’ll monitor their progress closely over the coming months, to make sure that results are ready for the August results days. That involves keeping a check on their marking progress, reviewing the data from grade awarding meetings, and observing some of those meetings.

We know that, despite careful planning, unexpected issues do arise. When this happens, exam boards report those issues to us, and we make sure they are managing them to minimise the impact on students. If we don’t think they’re managing the issue effectively, we can require them to change their approach. Much of this will happen behind the scenes – we don’t believe it’s helpful for students if these issues play out in the media while they’re preparing for other exams.

Exams checklist

Based on the issues we’ve seen in previous years, there are some things that schools and colleges can do to make the exam series run smoothly and to avoid disruption or distress for students:

  1. Check the date before opening every packet of exam papers. And get someone else to double check. JCQ guidelines say that an additional member of centre staff, who can be an invigilator, must check the time, date and any other paper details before a packet is opened.
  2. Where there are new and old exams in the same subject, make sure students have the right paper. I know it sounds obvious but it does occasionally go wrong!
  3. Don’t give out confidential material to anyone even if they claim to be from an exam board. Exam boards will not ask you to email confidential materials to anyone, nor will they ask you to confirm any secure login details over the phone or by email. If you’re in any doubt, contact the exam board to check.
  4. Be sure to report any suspicion of malpractice, so the exam boards can investigate.

"As in previous years, we expect to see students letting off steam on social media...Some of these will be reported in the media, but that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a problem..."

As in previous years, we expect to see students letting off steam on social media when they come out of the exam room. That’s a lot of tweets and Facebook posts. Some of these will be reported in the media, but that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a problem with an exam, or with a particular question. We’ll be monitoring social media as well as press coverage, and where this highlights a particular issue that we need to follow up with exam boards, we’ll do that. But we won’t normally respond to the comments while exams are still ongoing.

So I won’t be blogging for a few weeks. Instead, I’ll be meeting daily with a team from across Ofqual, reviewing any issues as they arise, talking to exam boards about how they’re managing them, keeping an eye on marking progress, monitoring the social media and press commentary. You won’t hear much from us, but our focus will be on making sure this summer’s exams are delivered in a way that’s fair to all students.

Until my next post, you can read my previous blogs on this year's exams on the Ofqual Blog.

Cath Jadhav
Associate Director, Standards and Comparability

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