Changes to remarks: A guide for students

Exam results are just round the corner. Hopefully they’ll be exactly what you want but, just in case they’re not, we’ve asked Julie Swan from Ofqual – the government body that oversees the English exam system – to explain some changes to the way re-marks (now called reviews) are carried out. 

Essay writing

When things don’t go as planned 

Sometimes life doesn’t go as you hoped. You’ve worked hard, studied hard and revised hard. You’ve sacrificed nights out, switched off from late night trash TV and even stopped posting to Facebook (sort of). But, despite your best efforts one of your grades isn’t quite what you expected.

We hope it doesn’t happen. We hope you fulfil your potential in every area and receive the rewards you deserve. We put a lot of effort into making sure the exam system fairly reflects your hard work. 

We start off with the intention that exam boards get marking right first time. Most of the people who mark your papers are either current or former teachers, so they understand how important it is for you that they mark correctly. We make sure exam boards train their markers; senior markers monitor their work. Everyone takes the role very seriously and does their utmost to ensure you get a fair and accurate result – and they can only be fair to you if they are fair to everyone. 

But in a system where 8 million GCSEs, AS and A levels are awarded each summer, many of which will involve more than one paper, there will always be some mistakes. Each year around 99% of exam results are delivered without question, but around 1% of them are challenged.

So, if you haven’t been awarded the grades that you think you deserve, what should you do? 

First of all, speak to your school or your subject teacher. If they agree with you, they will be able to contact the exam board on your behalf. The school can then use exam boards’ marking review and appeals system to challenge the mark you have received.

The marking review and appeals system exists precisely to allow schools to challenge exam marks they believe are incorrect. They can request that an exam board reviews an exam script for marking errors, and if they are not satisfied with the result of the review, they can appeal. 


The system has changed a bit 

Marking reviews and appeals are important in helping to keep the system fair and accurate. We did some research and found that reviewers who check whether an exam paper was marked correctly may be generous and ‘find’ extra marks, even when the first marker made no errors. They know that the vast majority of reviewed exam scripts are from students whose mark was close to a grade boundary, so they may give them the benefit of the doubt and award extra marks to tip them over that boundary.

Why was this a problem? Surely giving students the benefit of the doubt is a good thing? 

It is a problem because it effectively means that students who get their marks reviewed may get a higher grade, not because there was anything wrong with the original mark but because they’ve been given a second chance with a marker who was inclined to be generous. It may give them an advantage over students who did not get their marks reviewed. We do not believe this is fair.

So what are you doing about it? 

We now require exam boards to train their reviewers and make sure they only change a mark when there was an error with the original mark, such as where the number of marks in a paper have been wrongly added up, or where a marker has made a mistake. If the mark scheme has not been followed by the original marker, the reviewer will make sure the correct number of marks is given.


Where a reviewer simply disagrees with the previous marker’s judgement, however, and thinks a candidate’s essay answer is worth 16 marks out of 20 as opposed to the 15 awarded, the original mark will stand unless there is evidence that the original marker made a mistake when they marked. 
The changes to reviews will help us better understand how often marking errors are made and then decide how marking could be improved. 

We ran a consultation earlier this year on our plans, and made concerted efforts to get students’ and teachers’ views. We amended our plans based on this feedback.

Finally, please remember, if you don’t achieve the grade you hoped for. 
• Don’t panic and don’t be too hard on yourself
• Discuss things with your teacher as soon as you can
Read more about our changes to marking reviews and appeals

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