Bad results? It's not the end

If you think your A-level results are wrong, you can appeal. Exam boards do make mistakes and your grades may well be improved. If you think they're right but just not good enough, you can resit and try to get better ones.
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The Independent Online

The disappointment at not getting the A-level grade that you expected - especially if it affects your chance of a university place - can be enormous. But for those who really believe that the system, rather than their own work, has let them down when the grades are published, there is an increasingly sophisticated inquiry and appeal procedure available which regularly upgrades a small proportion of A- and AS-level results.

The disappointment at not getting the A-level grade that you expected - especially if it affects your chance of a university place - can be enormous. But for those who really believe that the system, rather than their own work, has let them down when the grades are published, there is an increasingly sophisticated inquiry and appeal procedure available which regularly upgrades a small proportion of A- and AS-level results.

Mistakes do happen. A Northamptonshire schoolgirl appealed against three grades awarded by three different examination boards two years ago, which put her university place at risk. Within the day, one board had adjusted her result by two grades, from D to B, after admitting that her marks had been added up wrongly, and over the next couple of weeks her other two grades were also adjusted upwards. The same school was so unhappy that year that it asked for all its English A-level grades to be reassessed.

Requests for a check on grades have been rising steadily and reached 22,983 in 1999 out of the 787,732 A-level entries - 3.26 per cent of the total. As a result, 3,476 grades were adjusted, 0.44 per cent of the grades awarded. Grades are not reduced, even if the checking process discovers the grade is too high.

For some students, the loss of a grade can be critical to getting a place at university or college, so for them there is a special fast-track system through which an entire examination is re-marked, except for any course work, and there is a check to make sure the marks have been added up correctly. The student is provided with a statement of the marks awarded for each part of the assessment.

Inquiries have to be channelled through the school or college where the exam was taken and made within seven days of the results coming out. The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, which supervises examinations, expects the exam boards to complete their priority inquiries and report back within 30 days, in time for a university offer to be rescued. Last year was the first for which this deadline applied, and two out of the five exam bodies met the target, with the largest, the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance, hitting 97 per cent.

Two others, Edexel and OCR (Oxford, Cambridge and RSA) fell significantly short.

Less urgent inquiries will take a bit longer, with a 40-day deadline set by QCA, but schools and colleges can, from this year, ask to see photocopies of completed scripts before deciding whether or not asking for a re-mark or a re-moderation is worthwhile. If they do there is a sliding scale of services which all the awarding bodies offer and for which they charge a sliding scale of fees, ranging from £5 to £70.

These include ensuring that all questions have been marked and the total is accurate; a re-mark of everything except course work; a re-mark and report on the candidate's performance - useful if he or she is considering resits; a re-mark and report on a group of candidates, generally requested when teachers feel a whole class has performed less well than expected; re-moderation of coursework.

If the examination centre is still dissatisfied after the inquiry is complete, they can appeal to the awarding body, which will hold a formal hearing and is expected to report back by next February. And as a final court of appeal there is the newly established Examinations Appeal Board which will review whether or not all the procedures have been correctly applied. The EAB heard its first appeals on the A and AS, and GCSE exams taken in summer 1999, and the revised GNVQ will be included from this September.

All this openness is not without its cost - hence the fees charged. Since the introduction of league tables, which make schools ultra-sensitive to exam grades, the number of inquiries and appeals has risen sharply. For the exam boards, which handle up to 20 million pieces of work for GCSE and A-level, returning scripts will be a logistical problem. It will become even more so if David Blunkett pursues the idea of letting all students see their marked papers and examiners comments. (National curriculum test papers are already returned to schools for checking by staff.)

There can be particular problems over marking in subjects like drama, music and physical education which involve subjective judgement, as the experience of Kate Plumb whose appeal dragged on for three years shows. Her dispute with the exam board Edexel should be impossible under the new system of inquiries and appeals. Kate took her drama A-level in the summer of 1997 and was awarded a C rather than the B she needed to start a drama course at Royal Holloway College. Rather than accept anything less, she took a year off, and although Royal Holloway College accepted her the following year, the delay meant that she was eligible to pay £1,000 a year in fees for her course, which she would have avoided if she had been able to start in 1997.

In its last case before it was replaced by the new Examinations Appeals Board, the Independent Appeals Authority for School Examinations ruled this summer that Kate had been unfairly treated by Edexel in the marking of her live drama performance, the part of the assessment which pulled her grade down, and that they had acted improperly in allowing the examiner's report on her performance to be destroyed before the case had been resolved. Following the decision, Kate's fees have been refunded.

However, it is not these subjects which lead to the most requests for a re-mark: at A-level, English literature is the subject which causes the most inquiries, followed by sociology, psychology, and business studies. At GCSE level, it is English and mathematics, unsurprisingly, that top the bill.

Scottish applicants affected by the grade fiasco: UCAS will begin confirming places today for applicants with the required grades. UCAS advice to Scottish students who are are worried about their applications or whether they can enter Clearing, is to contact the UCAS helpline (01242 227788 or enq@ucas.ac.uk)

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