Can you crack the code of Paper X?

27th October 2006 at 01:00
Are we sure that coursework cheating is the dodgiest feature of exams today? Another issue has again been furrowing the brows of many a subject team this term: who did the exam board get to mark Paper X? You know, the one where nearly all the marks awarded were so hugely and inexplicably out of kilter with every other paper in that subject - sometimes comically higher, sometimes exasperatingly lower. Same pupils, same teachers, same room, same planetary movements that day. So whodunnit?

As with some of the scripts themselves, things just don't seem to add up.

Chief examiners were still pleading for more markers, even as our candidates were walking into the hall - and yet somehow, against all the odds, every script was apparently done, dusted and carefully moderated come results day. Miraculous. It is as if Wembley stadium were suddenly ready for a game this afternoon.

One colleague therefore swears that the grades for Paper X all depended on which category of convict was assigned that school's scripts. Some benevolent old lag such as Burglar Bob, for instance, will have displayed a relatively carefree attitude to the job - all for giving them kids a break.

But candidates who were in the hands of some bright, smug Jeffrey Archer type - possibly with personal educational hang-ups too - will probably have experienced a harsher pen.

Others imagine desperate exam boards phoning some ruthless gangmaster operation. Apparently, Ukrainian Assessment Solutions Ltd ("No questions asked; all questions answered") is one of the favoured teams. Very few English-speakers are involved, but the firm guarantees to turn any job around in under 48 hours. Some 50 Ukrainian farmworkers (here primarily for harvesting) secretly meet in a London warehouse in late July, where mountains of scripts still lie untouched.

Using an old loudspeaker, the gangmaster's chief superviser slowly works through the mark scheme in his best English while his team annotate as they see fit.

Yet even if any of this were true, no doubt we would still decide against an appeal. The re-mark prices deliberately frighten the life out of us and are just too costly if one of those "no significant adjustments" comes defiantly back.

In the case of A-levels, a January re-take is a much safer bet. One English student was graded E in said Paper X, was re-marked as an E, but was then awarded an A when she took it again after Christmas. She has no idea what was going on. Does anybody?

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