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Preparing for exams: What to expect

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

In just over a week’s time, the summer exams start for GCSEs, AS and A levels. Over a million students will sit thousands of different exams in schools and colleges around the country. Around 60,000 examiners and moderators will then mark and moderate the work and approximately 8 million results will be issued in August. There are also exams in Applied Generals, Tech Levels and many other qualifications. And national assessments are also taking place in primary schools.

Our priorities this summer

This summer will be my ninth at Ofqual. Qualifications have changed in those nine years but our aim hasn’t changed: our overriding priority is fairness to students. Over the summer, we check that the exam boards are doing all they can to make sure that the summer series is as successful as it can be, and that where unexpected issues do arise, exam boards deal with them in a way that ensures a level playing field for students.

We have met with the exam boards to make sure they are ready for this series. We will also monitor their progress closely over the coming months, so that results are delivered on time in August. That means monitoring their marking progress, reviewing awards to make sure standards are maintained, and observing some of their meetings.

There are many thousands of individuals making sure the summer is as successful as it can be. Students (and their parents), teachers, exams officers, invigilators to name but a few. Each and every one plays their part in making sure the summer runs smoothly. Many of the issues that we deal with are caused by minor mistakes or slips, but they can have far-reaching consequences for the students that are affected. In order to avoid that, here are a few words of advice for some of those key players, based on our experience of dealing with unexpected events.


Did you know that it’s malpractice just to take your phone (or any smart device) into the exam room? Even if it’s switched off and in your pocket, it’s against the rules and you could be disqualified. The exams officer or invigilator will tell you where to put your phone – please make sure you follow their instructions.

It might seem funny at the time, but did you also realise that writing swear words or rude comments in your answer booklet could mean you get no marks for that paper? Last year over 300 students gave themselves a much lower grade by doing this.

Exams officers

We know how much students and teachers depend on you to make sure the exams run smoothly. Please keep the exam papers safe. And check the date before opening every packet of papers. JCQ guidelines say that an additional member of staff or an invigilator must check the date and time before a packet is opened. If the wrong paper is given out to students, it is a potential breach of security and can be very serious. It can also be very distressing for the students involved. Depending on when the mistake was noticed, they may have sat part of an exam they weren’t prepared for, and missed the opportunity to take the scheduled paper. And they are likely to be interviewed and asked to sign confidentiality statements.

Take care with confidential papers. Don’t give out confidential material to anyone, even if they claim to be from an exam board. Exam boards will never ask you to email confidential materials to anyone, nor will they ask you to confirm any secure login details over the phone. If you’re in any doubt about whether a request is genuine, contact the exam boards to check.

And make sure you and school staff know what to do if something does go wrong. For example, fire alarms do sometimes go off during exams, so make sure you know what to do if your students have to be evacuated in the middle of an exam. The JCQ guidance is here.

As for us…

We won’t be blogging while the exams are taking place, but we will be monitoring social media, as well as press and other coverage and where we believe there are issues to follow up (for example, if there are issues with particular question papers), we will do that. We won’t generally respond to media and social media comments while exams are ongoing, because we don’t want to distract students or teachers from the exams themselves, but we will be reviewing any issues that arise, talking to exam boards about how they’re managing them, and keeping an eye on progress towards those August results days. And in all this, our goal will be making sure that this summer’s exams are fair to all students.


Cath Jadhav
Associate Director, Standards and Comparability

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1 comment

  1. Comment by Tariq Ahmed posted on

    A most welcome reminder of sensible information. Many think they already know it all, but a reminder helps. Always. Also worth noting that Ofqual works beyond the UK national boundaries. Many thousands take examinations in centres abroad, earning qualifications awarded by exam boards that are monitored by Ofqual. Important that those students are also treated with care and respect that learnt to show as an examiner and a moderator working for many years for schools in UK.