Confessions of an exam marker: "It is surprising what students can produce under pressure"


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The Independent Online

Today's exam candidates are nothing if not subtle. One marker tells me of a GCSE candidate who wrote on his script: "I know I have done no work for this exam and don't really understand the story, but please could you give me a C or my mum will kill me?"

Another wrote: "OK, I can't be bothered to write any more. I've got a job in my dad's garage next year so I don't need GCSEs anyway."

Happily for this marker, an English teacher working for the AQA exam board, there are also eureka moments. "It is sometimes really surprising what students who may be only 16, 17 or 18 can produce under the pressure of exams," she said.

I was trying to find out a little bit more about the life of a marker – probably the only voice that is not heard during the exam season – and learnt that she was marking up to 700 scripts a year. You may wonder whether, with so many scripts to mark, attention might wander, especially if you are marking a subject where there is no right answer that you can check against a prepared script.

"If I think I'm getting tired or my attention is drifting, I stop and come back to a script later or the next day, or I know I won't do it justice," she explained.

She added that she knows how much difference a single mark can make to a student's chances. "It is with this in mind (and I'm sure I speak for all examiners) that I always try to be fair," she said.

The past few years have added pressure on examiners. "Increasingly, students' and schools' immediate recourse when they don't get the marks that they want is to question the examiner, and the number of scripts that are sent to be re-marked seems to grow every year."

Most marking today takes place online – not something she welcomes. "I much prefer having the script in front of me and being able to write my comments in a more natural, fluid way." It does, however, prevent any scripts being lost in the post.