We develop qualification specifications and sample assessment materials to meet requirements specified by government departments in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Qualifications are approved, accredited or designated by the relevant regulators, Ofqual (England), Qualifications Wales (Wales) and CCEA (Northern Ireland). Our WJEC and Eduqas qualifications are regulated by Ofqual, Qualifications Wales and CCEA.
Our role in the examination system
Examinations and assessments
We must provide valid assessments which are reliably marked/moderated to ensure standards from one exam series to the next.
We offer a range of post-results services to centres and private candidates, aligned to regulatory requirements. We also provide examination data to schools and colleges entering learners for our qualifications. In addition, we provide support to teachers via our free digital resources, Online Examination Review, and examiner feedback reports.
- Setting the Specification
- Developing Assessments / Exam Papers
- Accessibility of Exam Papers
- Errors in Exam Papers
- Security Breaches
- Marking and Moderating Assessments
- Post-Results Services
- The Awarding Process
Our specifications are written by experienced subject experts. We consult widely with teachers, sector experts and other stakeholders when we are developing specifications, to make sure they are clearly written, are appropriately demanding and are interesting for learners.
Specifications have to meet the regulators' rules before they can be offered to schools and colleges. These rules differ between England and Wales, and they also differ depending on the type of qualification.
The development of a new specification typically takes about a year. Following initial discussions with the regulators about their proposals for content and assessment rules, we begin our own process of development. When all the regulatory requirements are set we finalise our specification (and sample assessment materials) and submit those to the regulator.
In England, the Department for Education decides on the subject content for GCSEs, AS and A levels. The regulator, Ofqual, decides on the assessment rules (known as Conditions) and we have to make sure our proposals meet all of these rules so that Ofqual will accredit the qualification.
Qualifications Wales (Wales)
In Wales, the regulator, Qualifications Wales, decides on the subject content and the assessment rules for GCSEs, AS and A levels. We have to make sure our proposals meet all of these requirements so that Qualifications Wales will approve the qualification.
Qualifications regulators and government departments
For other qualifications, including Vocational Awards and Applied General qualifications, we have to ensure that our specifications meet all relevant criteria set by government departments and/or the regulators.
Our assessments and exams are set to measure the knowledge, understanding and skills in our specifications.
Creating assessment materials
Our Principal Examiners are responsible for writing our assessment tasks and exam papers. They must carefully consider:
- the content of the specification
- the assessment objectives
- previous exam questions
- how students responded to previous assessments
We are committed to ensuring that our exam papers are accessible and inclusive for all learners. An accessible and fair assessment will not include any irrelevant features that could prevent certain groups of learners from fully demonstrating what they know, understand, and can do.
Through training and the steps we take in developing assessments (as seen in the previous section) we strive to ensure that due regard has been paid to equality and accessibility issues for all learners in the development process of assessments to eliminate bias, discrimination and disadvantage.
How we achieve this:
- We use the ‘Equality Impact Assessment’ process, which is designed to make sure that our assessments would not unlawfully discriminate against any protected characteristic as detailed in The Equality Act (2010).
- We work with various stakeholders, such as BATOD (British Association of Teachers of the Deaf) and WAVIE (Welsh Association of Vision Impairment Educators), to actively seek feedback on the accessibility and inclusivity of our assessments and we are also an active member of the Access Consultation Forum, chaired by Ofqual.
- We adhere to guidance published in ‘Fair Access by Design’ and UKAAF’s ‘Best Practice Guidance for Producers and Modifiers’.
- We deliver compulsory equalities and accessibility training to our appointees involved in the production of assessment materials.
Our accessibility training documents for appointees include: ‘Guidance on Designing Accessible and Inclusive Assessments’ and ‘How to Design Accessible and Inclusive Assessment Materials for Colour Blind Learners’.
Handling errors in our assessments/ exam papers
Annually we produce approximately 3,000 different question papers and assessment materials. Although we work tirelessly to ensure that our assessment materials and exam papers are accurate, on a small number of occasions there may be some errors. These can be detected prior, during or after an exam has been taken.
Errors prior to the exam
If we note an error before the exam is taken we will either:
- contact the school or college and provide a replacement paper
- provide an ‘erratum notice’ which is read to the students, providing the corrected information
- provide an advisory notice to the invigilator for a very minor issue (for example a missing full stop) which will not impact a student’s ability to complete the assessment. This notice will not be read to students, but is there for reference.
Errors during the exam
If a student believes there is an error on our exam papers, they must raise their hand and inform the invigilator immediately. The Exams Officer will contact us immediately, and a member of our team will confirm if there is an error. The Exams Officer will be provided with the steps to take which will either be:
- to inform the students of the correct information
- to inform students they should ignore the question and progress with the other questions in the examination
Depending on the nature of the error, our team may inform other centres of the issue either during or after the examination.
Errors noted after the exam
Sometimes a student or a teacher might identify an error after the examination has been completed. A student should contact their teacher or Exams Officer to discuss the issue. The teacher or Exams Officer should inform us of the error.
Ensuring fairness for all students if there is an error on an exam paper
Initial corrective actions
Once an error has been identified in an exam paper, we take the following corrective action(s) to ensure that no candidate is disadvantaged:
- assess the impact of the error
- review and alter the mark scheme if appropriate
- provide additional training to our examiners
- monitor the marking, using our standard process, with additional steps to ensure that any alterations applied to the mark scheme are being applied correctly
- conduct a statistical analysis of students’ outcomes, once all marking is completed
If the statistical analysis provides evidence that students may have been disadvantaged due to the error, we will take corrective action, to ensure that each student receives the most appropriate mark. We consider:
- performance in questions assessing the same skills
- performance in the rest of the exam
- performance in the rest of the qualification
Based on a range of statistical analyses, we will systematically adjust a student’s final mark if there is sufficient evidence indicating we should do so. Each student’s mark will be carefully considered at each stage of the process. Only in specific circumstances will we apply the same adjustment to all students’ marks. If we apply a mark adjustment, we will provide an explanation to the school or college outlining the process we have followed, including a rationale.
It is vitally important that the Exams Officer and the exam invigilators at the school or college provide each student with the correct exam paper. There are specific checks that the staff at the school or college must undertake to ensure that each student is provided with the correct paper, as outlined in the JCQ notice to centres.
If a potential breach of security occurs where question papers have been given to candidates on the wrong day or in the wrong session, it is vital that the centre:
- ensures all candidates remain in the exam room(s), under centre supervision
- ensures the incorrect question papers are collected from the candidates and not removed from the exam room(s)
- immediately contact us for further instructions.
Our examiners are qualified and experienced teachers of the subject they are marking or moderating. They are fully trained each year to mark or moderate to our standards and requirements.
The role of our examiners and moderators
Examiners mark students' work submitted for assessment to us. Moderators review the marks awarded to students by their teachers or tutors, for internally assessed work, to ensure that they have been marked to the agreed standard.
Training our examiners and moderators
At the start of the marking and moderation period, examiners and moderators review the same selection of students' work and meet in subject groups to discuss and compare their marking or moderation, based on the mark scheme and information provided by the Principal Examiner or Principal Moderator.
Maintaining our marking standards
Throughout the marking and moderation period, a sample of each examiner's or moderator's work is checked by another experienced examiner or moderator for accuracy and consistency. Examiners and moderators are provided with feedback on their marking or moderation. Some examiners or moderators who are not marking or moderating accurately are stopped from completing further work. The work they have completed will be re-marked or re-moderated by another examiner or moderator.
Once all the marking and moderation is completed, the awarding process takes place.
Sometimes a student or the school/college may feel that the final grade awarded is not as expected. The school or college can apply to us for one of our post-results services on behalf of the candidate. Candidates, other than private candidates, cannot contact us directly about post-results services.
Services available – external assessments and exams
The main services that the school/college can request for externally assessed components/units are:
- Clerical checks
- Reviews of marking
Schools/colleges and private candidates may request a copy of an exam script prior to submitting a review of marking.
Services available – non-examined assessments and coursework
For internally assessed non-examined assessments (NEA) or coursework/controlled assessments, the school or college may request a review of the moderated work. This is a review of the entire sample originally moderated and is not available for individual students.
Changes in results
Marks will only be changed on review if a marking, moderation or administrative error is found. Marks and grades can be changed either upwards or downwards and students must give their permission before the school/college submits a clerical check or review of marking for externally assessed components/units.
If the original grade remains unchanged the school or college will be charged for the service.
Some qualifications just have a pass grade and here the awarding process makes sure that students have reached the required standard to achieve the qualification. Qualifications like GCSE and A levels have a number of different grades which indicate a student’s level of attainment.
Having different grades means deciding about where the boundaries between each grade should lie. We always aim to create assessments with the same level of demand, but as the exam papers and mark schemes are different each year, it is possible that an assessment might be a little more or less challenging than previous ones. So that students are not disadvantaged by this, separate grade boundaries are set for each exam paper and for any non-examination assessment.
The Awarding Meeting
Establishing the grade boundaries for each assessment takes place at an awarding meeting where, for each ‘key’ grade boundary, the qualification’s Chair of Examiners and other senior examiners review students work in the current examination series against work from previous series, to determine the marks at which performance is of a similar quality to that seen on the grade boundary in previous exam series. Other grade boundaries are calculated arithmetically, based on the position of the key grade boundaries.
Maintaining standards across examination series
To make a fair comparison with previous exam series, statistics are also used to see if this year's group of students are different from those in the previous year, and to get an initial idea of expected outcomes. These statistics compare factors such as age, gender, type of school, and student performance in previous exams. Where this evidence forms the starting point for an award, this is known as the ‘comparable outcomes’ approach – but there is never a quota at each grade.
Setting the grade boundaries
After careful consideration of all the evidence, the Chair of Examiners decides what the minimum mark for each grade should be to ensure the grade boundaries for the current year represent the same standard of attainment as in the previous exam series. In making this final judgement, the Chair must account for the demands and difficulty of the assessment, and changes to the marking standard applied by markers, and centres and students’ familiarity with the assessments. The Chair’s recommendations are recorded and submitted for approval to senior managers responsible for standards, and eventually the Responsible Officer. Regulators will also sign off grade boundaries and outcomes before results are issued to candidates.
We then apply these grade boundaries and calculates the grade each student has achieved. This process ensures that a student who has reached the same level of attainment should get the same grade, regardless of when they completed the qualification.
To ensure that we can have confidence in the standard of qualifications, this process is overseen by the qualifications regulators (Ofqual in England, Qualifications Wales in Wales and CCEA in Northern Ireland).