Magazine article NATE Classroom

Behind the Scenes at OCR: Paul Dodd Takes a Look at What Goes on before and after the Exams Themselves

Magazine article NATE Classroom

Behind the Scenes at OCR: Paul Dodd Takes a Look at What Goes on before and after the Exams Themselves

Article excerpt

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It concerns me when exams are targeted by various factions for falling standards. Not only is it unfair to the pupils who have worked so hard to achieve their grades, but it also takes no account of what goes into ensuring pupils are stretched to their full potential and--crucially--fairly assessed. It takes an extraordinary effort of logistics, care, attention and monitoring to ensure a pupil gets the fairest possible treatment and recognition for the grades they deserve.

Of course, the styles of questions are completely different to those of 30 years ago. Then, a pupil might have been asked to learn more information by rote. Now, a pupil is more frequently asked to analyse and comment. We teach skills-based courses and ask them to specifically learn skills which will stand them in good stead. Not only that, but subjective subjects such as English inevitably lead to more discussion about the quality of answers, than a straightforward 'right or wrong' subject such as Maths. Also crucial to remember is that assessment is a carefully-planned process that takes years of meticulous preparation, discussion and rigorous monitoring. We try very hard to ensure we have a system that is as fair as it could be.

Where it all begins

The work starts long before a pupil sits their exams. We actually sit down and create the question paper two years in advance. Part of the reason for this is security: if there is a security breach, as all exam boards have experienced at some time when exam papers are stolen, we have to--at very late notice--produce another paper. Happily, we can often use the following year's paper as it has already been prepared.

Like every step in the assessment process, these question papers are checked thoroughly before being seen by the pupil. They will undergo around eight checks, from proofreaders to chief examiners, and will even be sat by 'scrutineers' to ensure they are fit for purpose. At the same time, we have to ensure the standard is continuously maintained, not only between ourselves, but between other Awarding Bodies. We therefore have standardisation meetings before every session, where all examiners and moderators come together for one or two days to decide what the standard will be and everyone must then mark to the same standard.

Making their mark

After the standardisation meetings, the examiner or moderator then works to a tight schedule, to ensure the exams and coursework for that session are marked or moderated to the same standard. The average examiner will mark 100-200 scripts over a seven to eight-week period. It's challenging as, of course, most people who take on this work already have a day job, so we try to support them by giving them batch dates to help balance their workload. We encourage people to mark a specific number per day and to give themselves plenty of time for breaks to ensure that each script is marked fairly.

To that end, we do of course monitor the examiners and moderators. At the beginning of the process, they have to send in a sample of ten scripts they have marked, so they can be moderated immediately. We will remove examiners from the role if we consider them not to be marking to the standard. Needless to say, this causes difficult issues as we have to reallocate the papers, but we know that it's crucial to maintain standards and ensure fairness.

No easy task

New moderators and examiners undergo a training process, well in advance of the session, where they get used to our procedures and mark our sample scripts. …

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