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Check, check and check again

THIS year's Higher physics papers began to take shape two years ago following two meetings with the paper setter and two meetings with the setter and the vetting team. Then came the postal moderation and revision of first and second drafts.

Markers were sent scripts along with copies of the marking scheme before the markers' meeting. The examining team met four days after the exam to examine a sample of scripts and modify the marking scheme before a markers' meeting in Moray House Institute two weeks later. There were no new markers.

Markers were then alerted to proposed scheme changes. Comments were discussed before the final scheme was agreed. Only then did marking begin.

Each marker received an initial batch of up to 200 scripts. "There were some problems with late delivery of scripts. Additional markers were called in but this was done by people who had attended the markers' meeting," the principal assessor says.

The examining team then met at the SQA's offices in Dalkeith to sample a minimum of six scripts from each marker - "including ourselves" - taken from the beginning, middle and end of the process. Standardisation, or "marker check", ensures that no markers are out of line. There is generally little discrepancy between the marks awarded by the markers and those awarded by the team.

"Markers are good at annotating scripts to explain why they have taken certain decisions and can highlight a script for the attention of the principal assessor if there s any specific difficulty. It it is felt a marker is too lenient or too severe this is dealt with at finalisation. This amounts to one or two marks overall," Jim Page says.

Markers send in a report with the last batch of their marked scripts, explaining where pupils went wrong and recommend where cut-offs should be. "The markers gave excellent information despite the shorter marking period," Dr Page adds.

On pass mark day in the first week in June, he held a meeting with SQA officials, including Ron Tuck, the departed chief executive, and the examination officer. They considered data from pupils' marks and pass mark information, including estimates from teachers to establish cut-off marks.

At "finalisation", all scripts from those markers where there is a difference that might affect the grade are extracted and remarked by the examining team. The marks are changed if necessary, which saves time at the appeals stage.

The marking team then examined papers from absentee candidates and any with learning or hearing difficulties to ensure they were not penalised.

Markers indicated where a mark was finalised and the information was then entered into the SQA's computer after markers returned scripts. Alterations by the marking team are entered by administrative staff.

"It's a mammoth amount of data they have compared with what was before when it was the presentation, the estimate and the result. Now you have got all those unit tests," Dr Page admits.

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