Results day: How to navigate the new exam appeals system

17th August 2016 at 12:45
Results day 2016
One education writer explains exactly what teachers need to know about the new system and how to appeal under this year's new, tighter review procedures

It’s the day before students get their exam results and, as the school’s exam officer, they’ve landed on your desk. But something seems horribly wrong: your star student has missed the grade boundary and only got a B. She seemed like she thought the exam went well. Could something have gone wrong?

Under new, tighter review procedures this year, you’ll still be able to challenge results like these. But, awarding bodies are being required to let marks stand in many more cases.

The change came about because Ofqual feared that too many schools were appealing results on the grade boundary, and that examiners were under pressure to give papers a higher mark on appeal. In 99 per cent of changes, students got improved marks.

As a result, Ofqual believed the integrity of the exam system and the professional judgement of markers were being undermined. “Professional judgement needs to be exercised, and not overwritten,” said Sally Collier, the chief regulator.

What this means in practice is that exam reviews will not be a re-mark of the paper. Reviewers will be able to amend results and grades if they identify a clerical mistake or see that the mark scheme wasn’t applied reasonably. 

But where marking involves subjective judgments, those of the original marker won’t be second-guessed. “Errors will be corrected. Professional judgments will stand,” said an Ofqual spokeswoman.

So what do teachers need to know about the new system and how to appeal?  From the school’s point of view, the arrangements for reviewing and appealing exam marks will look very similar. What will change will be how awarding bodies approach reviews.

Step 1: Start with an “Enquiry About Results” to your awarding body. You can request anything from a clerical review to check they’ve been added up correctly to a copy of the script. Since the most urgent results are the ones where student’s university places are at risk, you can request a special priority review, which the exam boards call Priority Service 2.

You submit the application online by August 26 and the awarding body is required to respond in 18 calendar days. The same service is available for GCSEs, but without the fast-track timetable. The deadline for applications in this case is September 20, and the awarding body will respond in 30 days.

Reviews cost about £30 per GCSE unit and £45 per A-level unit.

Reviewers will check for basic clerical errors – have the marks been added correctly? – and for marking errors. Under Ofqual’s new regime, marking errors are defined as marks that “could not reasonably have been given” or where the marker “exercised their academic judgment in an unreasonable way”. 

So if the first marker judged that an essay on why Richard III was defeated at the Battle of Bosworth was worth 10 marks, and another believes it could be worth 12, that isn’t enough to change a result, even if it’s the difference between an A and B.

But if the reviewer sees that an answer has been unreasonably given 8 marks when it clearly meets all the criteria for the highest level of answer with 10 marks or more, the result could be changed.  

Important: you need the candidate’s written consent to request a review of marking, because marks can be revised down as well as up. Exam boards regard failing to secure this permission as malpractice on the centre’s part.

Step 2: If as the head of centre you’re unhappy with the review, you can appeal. You have to lodge it in writing with the exam board within two weeks, setting out the nature of the concern. Fees range between £100 and £200.

This is all about whether procedures were applied correctly according to the code of practice and won’t involve a review of the candidate’s work itself. It’s a bit like a courtroom appeal, where the judges are asked to look at the application of the law not to re-adjudicate the evidence.

Step 3: You can then make a further appeal, called a stage 2 appeal, where the decision will be made by a panel who are trained in exam appeal but have no direct employment with the exam board. This appeal has to be lodged within two weeks of receiving the outcome of the previous stage.

Step 4: Finally, you can request an appeal to Ofqual. Think of this like the exams equivalent of taking your case to the Supreme Court: again, it relies on identifying breaches of the code of practice. 

Few cases reach this stage, but the growth of exam reviews has been enormous. Last year there were 573,350 reviews requested – 481,700 of which went nowhere – when five years ago there were only 189,950 reviews in total.

Ofqual hopes that by being clearer about the criteria it can stem this tide while still ensuring that genuine errors are caught. This summer will prove whether they’re right.

Joseph Lee is a freelance writer. You can find him on Twitter @josephlee and his website,

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