Marking exams is hard. Cross referencing a student’s work to a criteria is wrought with difficulty, can be plagued by subjectivity, a lack of training, and tiredness. Perhaps of the greatest concern however for a literature student is the potential for the examiner to be inexperienced in knowledge of the text written about. The consequences are significant, and upsetting, and highlight the need for further discussions about the need for a different approach.
Here is a script I requested from a recent examination.
The question was marked out of 25, with 5 marks awarded to VSSPS. This student was awarded 10 out 20 for content, and 3 out of 5 for VSSPS.
To put the grading into context, it is being graded at a 4, achieving a score of 50%, a score that suggests this student, at GCSE level, has just, by the skin of their teeth, just grasped the content and ability to express it.
Yes, it is a little short, and misses exploration of the change in the Macbeths’ relationship in Act 3 and 4, excluding the response from the top band, but the discussion is also dense, concise and most certainly demonstrates a strong knowledge of the character and her purpose in the play. There is plenty of insightful response. The beginning statement immediately shows a strong awareness of the question, which was to discuss the change in Lady Macbeth in the play. The last paragraph in particular is wonderfully handled, seamlessly and intelligently weaving language discussion into the analysis of the character.
Here is the examiner’s report:
Higher achieving responses were often distinguishable by their discussion of the Macbeths’ relationship breakdown in Act 3. Some impressive responses discussed Lady Macbeth asking the servant for a chance to see Macbeth in Act 3 Scene 2, covering when Macbeth sees Banquo’s ghost and the change in Macbeth’s language to Lady Macbeth (from “partner of greatness” to “dearest chuck”) was well noted – as was the change in her own language in the sleepwalking scene.
Weaker responses tended to leap from Act 2 to Act 5 without mentioning the intervening events or offering only passing reference to the changing dynamics within Lady Macbeth’s relationship with her husband. A lack of AO2 was responsible for limiting some candidates, as was some unnecessary exploration of contextual details.EDUQAS Examiner’s report
It is clear from the examiner’s report that this examiner has been very literal with the awarding of marks, perhaps overly persuaded by the first two words in the second paragraph: ‘Weaker responses’, but considering the time given, and complexity of the response to the beginning and end of the play, how this is not a band 4 response I will never know. Maybe the examiner doesn’t know the text sufficiently, as it’s not a requirement to know all of the texts to be an examiner. Maybe the examiner is not skilled in understanding the subtleties of the text, again not tested before an examiner is deemed to be qualified.
In terms of VSSPS, again, I am stumped as to how the just passing grade again is relevant. The sentence structure is very strong, with vocabulary used to present the response with sophistication. There are some spelling mistakes, but look at where they are: in attempts at high level vocabulary.
You may disagree with my belief this deserves a higher grade. You may believe that this student has in fact only just presented enough evidence of knowledge of the character and the text overall to pass, placing them in a category of average with ‘some reference to meaning’ and that the presentation and structure of the argument again only justifies an average score. But I disagree, and I am an examiner.
My point is that which of us is correct actually isn’t important. The fact that such a large discrepancy between two examiners’ grading is.
Bigger than Ben Hur
When attending examiner training, consisting of an entire 1 day, and even that paltry allocation is usually cut short with people eager to get off early to catch their train, examiners are actively told that they will get stopped in the marking, but not to worry, as it happens to all, even the head marker. So let’s explore that for a moment. 300 examiners. Each examiner will be stopped at least once, probably twice, possibly 3 or 4 times. We could safely assume that surrounding the stopped scripts, the examiner has got 2 or 3 wrong also, due to reasons stated above. Being conservative, let’s say an examiner is only stopped once. Statistically, there would have to be an error in a preceding script somewhere along the line. That means there are 300 responses (questions) incorrectly marked. If we assume 2 stops, and 3 errors around them, the number balloons to 1800 scripts. In reality, an examiner is likely to make at least 10 errors (compared to what is deemed acceptable by head examiner) with their quota. That means that there would be at least 3000 scripts that have inaccurate grades, without doubt affecting students’ final overall grades.
Please take a moment to let that number sink in. And think whether one of your students is likely to be affected by that figure.
So, should you have your students work remarked? God yes!
I’m Paul Moss. Follow me on Twitter @edmerger, and follow this blog for more educational and English teaching discussions