Thousands of students affected by exam marking mistakes

100 students are in the exam hall ready to start an English literature exam. They’ve revised and they’re ready to go. 

But what none of them realise is that almost 50 of them will be given the wrong grade.

This is the startling result of research by Ofqual, the organisation that checks the work of exam boards.

Having compared the marks of thousands of examiners with the correct marks, Ofqual has found significant errors across a range of subjects at GCSE and A-level.

English literature is the most affected, with almost 50% of papers given grades that are probably incorrect. History fares little better, where your chances of receiving the correct grade on a given paper are just a shade over 60%.

You’re most likely to get the correct grade in French, Spanish and physics, where accuracy is around 85%. 

Of the 12 subjects Ofqual analysed, only three had correct grading in more than 75% of cases. Check out the following graph from the Ofqual report on the probability of students in different subjects being awarded an accurate grade on a paper:

box graph

Understanding the overall effect of these errors on students’ final grades isn’t easy, as Ofqual’s data only relates to individual exam papers.

But it’s pretty likely that if you’ve done quite a few GCSE exams your grade in at least one was either too high or too low.

So why do examiners make these mistakes?

It’s no surprise that the subjects with the least reliable marking are those that use longer essay-type questions. In these essay-based subjects, there’s no definitive right or wrong answer and marking decisions are, to some extent, a matter of judgement. 

These subjects also tend to have marks bunched in the middle so there are only a few marks between the grade boundaries. This means that minor examiner errors can cause grade changes.

What does the research mean for me?

Is it time to stop studying and leave it all to chance? Definitely not. The levels of marking accuracy in this study are not that different from those in other countries and there is no evidence that marking is any worse now than it was for your parents.

So, keep studying and doing practice questions. The more your answers focus exactly on the wording of the question, the more likely your grade will be accurate and – more importantly – high!

Where can I find out more?

You can look at the research here or read these articles about it: 

Markers disagree with 'correct' grades on half of English literature exam papers 

Half of English Literature exam papers not given ‘correct’ grade, Ofqual finds 

What do you think about this? Would you now be more likely to have your exam remarked? Join the chat here or below.