By 2012, sixty-six percent of GCSE, A-Level and other academic exams in England, Wales and Northern Ireland were marked on-screen, accounting for more than 10 million exam scripts.
It’s not just in the UK that on screen marking (e-marking) is growing. Awarding bodies and ministries of education in India, Hong Kong and Slovenia are using e-marking for their scripts.
So what are the main drivers for e-marking?
1. The need to increase speed of marking and issuing of results
Increasing the speed of marking (whilst maintaining a high level of quality) is a key objective for many awarding bodies. Not only are they feeling the pressure to become more efficient internally, many are having to reduce the amount of time it takes to mark exams due to external influences, such as changes in regulations (to allow time for reviews and appeals) as well as meet deadlines for candidates to have places confirmed in higher education institutions for the start of the next academic year.
Examiners at Manipal University in India have reported a significant increase in the speed of marking thanks to e-marking. Many are finding that it takes almost half the amount of time to mark a paper, helping to reduce the overall time from exam to results issue.
Sudhanva Kimmanae, Head of Operations at MeritTrac, has even stated that in some cases, they’ve seen the exam lifecycle decrease from about three months to six weeks, from students sitting the exams to the results being issued. This decrease in time has had a considerable impact on students across India. With the faster turnaround time, students are able to receive their results before college admissions close, meaning that they can enter further education a year earlier than their predecessors.
2. The need for better examiner moderation
Awarding bodies need to guarantee that a high quality of marking standard is being met to not only give confidence that their marks are fair but also help reduce a number of papers being returned for review. Therefore it is important to ensure that marking is consistent, and to a high standard.
E-marking allows awarding bodies to monitor their examiners throughout the marking session. For instance, RM Assessor allows exam boards to check examiners are marking within the tolerance of their mark scheme, by issuing ‘dummy’ or ‘seed’ scripts that have already been marked by the principal examiner.
Stephen Miller, Head of Assessment Design and Innovation at the International Baccalaureate (IB), states by having all examiners marking to a set standard that is continually monitored ‘there is a reduction in the number of successful challenges leading to greater confidence in marking’.
3. To continually improve assessments
In any industry, continuous improvement is needed to survive and to remain competitive – and the assessment sector is no different. E-marking helps capture data throughout the marking process, allowing exam boards to identify areas for improvement ahead of their next exam session.
The National Examinations Centre (NEC) in Slovenia has found that the information collected by RM Assessor on examiners, topics and individual questions has helped them analyse the marking quality at a granular level. Using the gathered data, NEC now sends a report to markers and school principals who, in turn, suggest additional measures to improve marking quality.
Assistant Registrar at the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC), Anthony Hayes, uses the data from e-marking to monitor students’ performance to understand trends and pain points in the curriculum. He has told us “We can now see how a student is preforming on particular subparts of a question – we can even get the data down to the sub level of questions with part a, b, and c.”
4. To keep up with the times
As it increasingly becomes the norm, many exam boards adopt e-marking to stay competitive. Technology is ubiquitous, touching almost every part of our lives, communities and homes. With its ever-increasing presence, it follows that the educational assessment sector will continue to embrace it to its benefit.
E-marking can be seen as a stepping stone on the journey to fully digital assessment. It is a lower-risk solution and usually easier to implement than to move from pen and paper exams to computer-based testing, which can be integrated with an existing e-marking solution when the time comes.
 Review of Quality of Marking in Exams, Ofqual 2013