More foul than fair: exams fury bubbles over

7th September 2012 at 01:00

The negative experiences recounted in the article "My loss of faith in the marking system" (24 August) do not tally with mine as a history examiner for 30 years for various exam boards.

On the contrary, being an examiner helps to improve one's teaching by providing a deep understanding of exam techniques and requirements, what makes a good answer and how to improve candidates' responses. Awkward and embarrassing answers are rare. Training days provide an understanding of the mark scheme, which is the essential factor for a successful examiner. Teams naturally disagree on matching answers to grades, but eventually reach broad agreement on what makes a good answer.

Chief examiners and team leaders are there to help you achieve a sense of "levelness" of answers, and once you have that everything falls into place. Marking papers on unfamiliar topics is not a problem as the exam boards provide indicative content of the possible answers candidates can write and a good understanding of the generic mark scheme will fit any answer.

Secret test scripts are there to assist your marking. They are the gold standard you can refer to, provided that you understand why pupils have been awarded their marks. The IB uses seeding scripts that are unseen answers previously marked by principal examiners to see how your marking compares with theirs. This really keeps you on your toes.

Overall, examining is a rewarding experience. Might I suggest to the writer of the article a different exam board or paper, or, if the outcome is still negative, leave well alone. In education you have to be an optimist.

Alastair Barton, Deal, Kent.

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