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Examining the examiners

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

While students are getting ready to take their exams this summer, exam boards are also busy, completing their examiner recruitment and finalising their arrangements for the series.

This is no mean feat. Last summer alone, 63,000 examiners were needed to mark the 15 million GCSE, AS and A level scripts. Another 8,000 were needed to moderate non-examined assessment marked in schools.

Unlike in some other education systems, teachers in England do not have to mark exams. Instead, they make a personal choice to examine. The availability of a sufficient number of willing teachers is crucial to ensuring GCSEs, AS and A Levels are marked on time and with the level of expertise required. In this blog we take a closer look at examiners, their experience and their views on the assessment system.

Picture of laptop keyboard and screen with two hands, visible to wrist, typing

What do we know about examiners?

In May 2018 we surveyed over 18,000 GCSE, AS and A level markers and moderators in what is likely to have been the biggest ever survey of the workforce. As some individuals mark multiple papers, we believe our survey represents at least one third of the examiner population.

Our survey found that examiners are skilled, confident and conscientious. On average, the examiners who responded had over 10 years examining experience. The most veteran amongst them had examined for 56 years.

As we might expect, virtually all examiners had some level of teaching experience (over 99%). Some were now retired, but three quarters were serving teachers. Generally, examiners fit marking or moderating around their teaching, after a day in the classroom or during weekends. Most schools are supportive of their work, though over half of examiners told us they found this could be challenging.

From time to time we hear speculation that examiners are often newly qualified teachers (NQTs). Whilst some trained NQTs do examine GCSE, AS and A levels, most examiners who responded to our survey had considerable teaching experience – an average of 19 years in fact.

Why do people become examiners?

Generally, people start examining to support and develop their teaching. 38% of examiners told us the main reason they had started was to better prepare their students for assessment.  Another 30% were primarily motivated by professional development or a desire to learn more about the particular specification they teach. Unsurprisingly then, more than 4 in every 5 examiners mark or moderate the specifications they teach in schools.

What do examiners think about examining?

Exam markers and moderators feel extremely positive about both their role and the examining process. They feel well-trained and supported and are confident in their work. Consistently over 90% of examiners surveyed agreed they had sufficient support, training and guidance to mark or moderate to a high standard.  96% also told us they were confident in their ability to mark or moderate accurately and reliably.

Examiners report a very high level of job satisfaction and pride in their work. 93% of those we surveyed believed their examining work was meaningful and 90% were proud of the role. Examiners evidently take their responsibilities seriously and feel a strong sense of professional duty. Examiners told us that the greatest pressure is knowing that their marking or moderating is important to the future lives of students. They felt their duty to students more keenly than any pressures associated with workload.

Despite some of the challenges involved, it is encouraging to see that examining is a positive and rewarding experience overall. What’s more, 90% told us they intend to continue examining for the foreseeable future. Our exam system relies on these examiners and it is reassuring to know that they are committed to their role and take it as seriously as they do. We thank all examiners and moderators for their dedication and for the important work they do.


If you would like to talk to Ofqual about any of the issues raised in this blog, please contact us at

By Charlotte Lockyer, Research Fellow, Ofqual

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