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Mock exams: How to cut the workload

Marking and moderating mock exams can be a lengthy process, but leaders can lessen the burden says Rebecca Foster

Leaders can lessen the burden when it comes to marking mock exams

Marking and moderating mock exams can be a lengthy process, but leaders can lessen the burden says Rebecca Foster

It’s fair to say that there’s probably never a good time to have to mark mock papers. That said, in lots of schools there seems to be some kind of sadist who calendars mock exams at particularly cruel times.

Maybe you found yourself marking mocks at the end of last term – the misery of which is compounded by the darkening nights and the festive spirit of your non-teaching friends, who are buried in mince pies and mulled wine instead of exam scripts.

Or perhaps you have been saved the treat until after Christmas? This may seem kinder, but now you’re fat, skint, taking a break from the booze AND having to mark mock papers…

Whenever they’re calendared, most schools have two or more sessions of mock exams each year. This can represent a huge workload demand on teachers. The question is: how can middle leaders make mock-marking both meaningful and manageable for their teams? Here are my tips.

Outsource mock marking

With tightening budgets this is not an option for every middle leader. However, if you have the means then outsourcing the marking of mock papers can be a very good investment and not just because it’s a workload win.

Firstly, it bypasses the issue of teacher bias, which can lead to teachers over- or under-marking work based on what they know about their students. Secondly, because it will likely be one person marking all of the papers you send off, the standard will be consistent and therefore you’ll avoid the issue of unreliable data because some of your team are too generous or too mean.

Finally, good companies have markers who are trained by the exam board – having an experienced examiner is clearly an advantage and also means you get good insights into the strengths and weaknesses of the whole cohort in the examiner’s report you’ll be provided with.

Develop question experts

Rather than having all of your team mark the whole paper of each of their students, you might want to explore having "question experts" within your team, who mark the same question or questions across the whole cohort.

This tends to be more manageable because it’s easier marking the same question, even though you’ll be marking more of them, than switching between questions. And there are other positives, too. Having question experts offers many of the benefits of outsourcing marking: consistent application of the standard across the whole cohort, avoidance of teacher bias and a developing expertise – your question experts will have a really good understanding of their question.

To maximise this process, have your question experts write a short examiner’s report for their question so you get an overview of the strengths and weaknesses of the whole cohort for each question. This kind of information is invaluable for future planning.

Buddy up

Rather than a long moderation meeting with your whole team, "buddy up" teachers so they can moderate each other’s work. Pairing experienced markers with those who are inexperienced will help to ensure marking is accurate, but buddying up also means that everybody has somebody to go to when they want to check their marking or get a second opinion.

If teachers are buddied up they can check in with each other as they go – a far better use of time than waiting until a moderation meeting when the marking is complete and an issue in marking could lead to the additional workload of re-marking.

It’s one thing marking mocks, it’s another thing having to remark them.

Rebecca Foster is head of English at St Edmund’s Girls’ School, Salisbury

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