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Writing too much hits online marking

Edexcel asks students to keep answers concise and in black to suit its on-screen system

A-LEVEL STUDENTS are being advised by senior examiners to keep their answers to length because longer answers can create problems for an on-screen marking system.

Edexcel's annual report on geography advises next year's candidates to keep answers to "two lines per mark with average sized handwriting and always strive to write concisely", to use additional sheets only where "absolutely necessary" and to indicate clearly if an answer is continued elsewhere.

Students will be told not to work in pencil or light blue ink because Edexcel's ePen arrangements for scanning scripts which are not presented to examiners in colour make these responses hard to read.

The latest guidance to schools is included in the annual senior Edexcel examiners' reports based on last week's A-level results.

An Edexcel spokeswoman said: "We are not trying to curtail what students write. The system allows students to write an answer in as many pages as they feel they need." Across all exams, only 3 per cent had used extra sheets.

Since 2003, Edexcel has been leading England's other exam boards on computerised marking. Scripts are scanned electronically before being sent to examiners, who work at home or in marking centres run by the board. This year, it marked four million scripts on-screen. Its rival, the AQA, England's largest exam board, marked 1.7 million in this way, while OCR digitised one million.

Students taking Edexcel exams fill in answer books. If they write more than space allows, they have to ask for extra paper. The TES understands such scripts are often not marked on-screen, creating a headache for the board. They are sent to markers after scripts of students who did not need extra sheets.

One Edexcel examiner said: "This is too much to ask of the students. They are under enough stress as it is."

Carole Whitty, deputy general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "This sounds like the tail wagging the dog. I would be concerned that pupils might have been disadvantaged by a marking system not yet fully embedded."

Pupils were also advised against using extra pages in French.

Examiners of Edexcel's online International O-level in English have complained the marking system is less reliable.

Online trial wide of mark, page 15

Re-marks only for well-off, page 16

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