Exam errors lead to call for external proofreaders

Exam boards have been told to hire professional proofreaders to eradicate errors in their papers after pupils reported a series of blunders over the summer.

The requirement was announced yesterday by the exams watchdog Ofqual. Chief examiners will also be asked to sign a pledge that their question papers are free of errors before sending them off. As a third failsafe, a second check of every paper will be carried out by a specialist in the subject who was not involved in producing the exam.

The measures were recommended by an interim report into the 12 separate exam blunders spotted in GCSE, A-level and AS-level papers this year. Ofqual is also investigating complaints about marking guidance for course work.

The report showed that many of the errors were caused by typing mistakes made after the papers had been checked. However, in one case involving a GCSE Latin paper from the OCR exam board, questions were asked about a character who was not part of the main text to be read by candidates.

"All the errors were present in the first draft of the question paper and remained undetected throughout the question paper production process," the report said. "The paper was also the subject of an additional check in response to our request for assurance regarding possible errors in question papers still to be taken by candidates. This process also failed to identify the errors."

Ofqual was particularly incensed that two of the errors emerged after exam boards had been instructed to recheck every paper. "The starting point for improvement is to understand what went wrong," said Glenys Stacey, the chief executive of Ofqual. "The inquiry has set out to establish the facts and identify the root causes of the errors."

Dr Jim Sinclair, director of the Joint Council for Qualifications, the umbrella body representing exam boards, added: "This year saw too many major errors appearing on examination papers. This is deeply regretted by awarding bodies."