Become an examiner and enrich your teaching practice

What does an examiner do?
No surprises, it’s aboutmarking scripts.  We have a standardisation meeting, a one day training course, at which we go through a question paper, learn about the marking scheme, and establish the marking standard.  We all go through the same script, which helps to ensure consistency.

What were you doing before you became an examiner?
Thirty years ago, after less than one term of teaching in a boys’ grammar school, I became an examiner. Surprisingly, I didn’t feel my short time in teaching was a disadvantage but now examiners are required to have a lot more experience.

What’s best about being an examiner?
Children’s writing is so interesting.  I once marked an A-Level English literature paper written by an Indonesian child at an overseas school.  It was remarkable to observe how the child had interpreted Shakespeare’s King Lear through the eyes of his own culture.  He had understood the ideas, dynamics and was alert to the political issues in the story within the context of his own culture.

The most insightful and life-affirming aspect of children’s writing is in the work of teenagers. Given an open script where they are asked to write about their personal interests or how they would improve their neighbourhood, there is a strong sense of morality in their writing, which certainly contradicts the media image of teenagers who have no regard for anything.

At the same time, we still have to ensure that the apostrophe is in the correct place. At the end of the day, though, it’s not the technical detail that you remember but the content of their writing.

What’s worst?
Boredom. Examiners mark a lot of scripts in a short space of time.  They find all sorts of tactics to overcome this but mainly by taking regular short breaks.  They work from home so will often do a little gardening, ironing, anything to take their minds off marking so that they go back refreshed.
It can be difficult to keep going to the same standard. The time pressure of marking a pile of scripts can mean that standards may slip.  Examiners overcome this by constantly referring to the marking guide from the standardisation meeting to ensure they mark fairly, accurately and consistently.
It’s hard to be objective because you sometimes think you know what the text is all about. It’s a mind-broadening experience to read the children’s work.

What’s your examining highlight?
I marked a batch of GCSE foundation in English papers and found that no paper achieved more than a D grade.  I was struck, however, by the engagement, enjoyment and involvement of the pupils in their work.  I later discovered that the scripts were from pupils at a special school.  Their complete commitment transmitted itself in their work. It was a real joy to read their scripts which were so honestly expressed.

At the other end of the scale, I once marked a batch of GCSE English scripts where 38 out of 40 students achieved an A* grade. It was an ecstatic moment to see the skills, brain power, imagination and creativity of those young people. They were so well-informed and critically skilled.

It always gives me a buzz to mark the work of children who are cleverer than I am. Also, it’s great to mark the work of less bright children who have managed to achieve something.

Who should consider becoming an examiner?
Being an examiner makes you a better teacher because it helps you to focus on the aims and objectives in teaching, which are embedded in the assessment model. It also increases self- confidence because the development of another skill adds to a teacher’s repertoire and builds self-assurance. It’s great for professional development, too; the experience of being an examiner will look good on a CV, and should have a positive influence on career development.


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