Thousands of schools, parents and pupils will be celebrating this August as key GCSE and A-level results are published.
But for those who have been left disappointed, how many of your parents, and students think that when a grade is appealed, the script is re-marked? As you know, it isn’t. But do parents and students know that?
I ask because the exam appeals process is important, for it’s the only way by which grade errors can be corrected. And given that the process is associated with unexpected language – like the fact that an “appeal” isn’t what most people think it is, and that the consequence of a “challenge” is a “review of marking”, not a re-mark – it may be that this is not well-understood.
Here, for example, is AQA’s description of a “review of marking”:
If you request a review or priority review of marking:
- it includes a clerical re-check
- you’ll receive a copy of the reviewed script as part of this service
- a second examiner will review the paper/recording again to identify genuine marking errors or unreasonable marking
- we’ll make sure all the marks are counted
- a grade can go down as well as up.
Pearson/Edexcel’s description is less explicit, and makes no mention of identifying “marking errors”; OCR is rather more terse, but does refer to a check against the mark scheme.
Anyone unfamiliar with this territory – as most parents and students are – could very easily read these statements and conclude that scripts are re-marked, if only because that is the “common sense” expectation.
The fact that a “review of marking” is not a re-mark is stated explicitly only by JCQ: “Reviewers will not re-mark the script. They will only act to correct any errors identified in the original marking.”
Why are the exam boards so coy, and – presumably intentionally – unwilling to declare, in plain English, that a “review of marking” is not a re-mark?
Might it be because they are reluctant to admit that many grade errors cannot be discovered by the appeals process, and so remain uncorrected, for ever?
For that is true.
As everyone knows, and as Ofqual acknowledges, “it is possible for two examiners to give different but appropriate marks to the same answer”. Accordingly, one examiner might give an answer, say, six marks but another might give it eight. When all the marks are aggregated, the script’s total mark might be 64 or 66.
If the B/A grade boundary is 65/66, a mark of 64 results in grade B; 66, grade A. The grade on the candidate’s certificate is therefore the outcome of the lottery of who marked the script.
Importantly, all the marking is compliant with the mark scheme, and there are no “marking errors”. The marking is fine. But the grades are different. Which grade is right?
Ofqual’s answer is to define the “definitive” or “true” grade as that corresponding to the mark given by a senior examiner. In the example I’ve just used, suppose that the senior examiner’s mark is 66, grade A, but that the candidate receives a certificate showing grade B, based on 64.
If the candidate were to request a “review of marking”, the marking would be confirmed as fully compliant with the mark scheme, and no “marking errors” would be found. The “non-definitive” or “false” grade B would therefore be confirmed, even though a senior examiner’s “definitive” or “true” grade is grade A.
Is this fair?
I don’t think so. Especially since this happens for about one grade in every four.
But what I think doesn’t matter.
It’s what your parents and students think that counts.
How many of them know this?
Dennis Sherwood is a campaigner for the delivery of reliable GCSE, AS and A level grades, and the author of Missing the Mark – Why so many school exam grades are wrong, and how to get results we can trust.