More and more awarding organisations are moving away from marking exams with pen and paper to marking on computers.

According to Ofqual, onscreen marking (or e-marking) is the main type of marking for general qualifications in the UK. It’s not just in the UK that e-marking is growing: RM Assessor was used in over 150 countries to mark over 13 million exam scripts in 2015.

So, what are the drivers for awarding organisations, both in the UK and around the world, to move to e-marking? The answer, in our experience, is that there is no one single reason. Different exam boards and accreditation bodies have different reasons for adopting e-marking technology.

Improved examiner monitoring

The ability to detect marking issues as they happen is a significant benefit of adopting an e-marking system. Slovenian exam board NEC benefits from examiners being able to highlight problems and get rapid feedback from principal examiners and their assistants. Marking inconsistencies are highlighted and addressed during live marking, rather than as the result of an enquiry afterwards.

Better marking quality

Another driver for NEC to adopt RM Assessor was marking quality. Because RM Assessor doesn’t require examiners to manually record marks as the paper-based process did, technical errors such as miscalculations were eliminated, and enquiries on results of the Slovenian National Assessment have dropped.

Stephen Miller, Head of Assessment Design and Innovation at the International Baccalaureate (IB) cites improved quality of marking as a reason to implement e-marking:  ‘All examiners are marking to the principal examiner’s standard. With increased marking quality, there is a reduction in the number of successful challenges to marking, leading to greater confidence in marking.’

Removing geographical barriers

In India, our partner MeritTrac has found that onscreen marking works for global organisations by delivering ‘faster, high quality, anonymised and standardised marking for large volumes of scripts’, according to Rajeev Menon, Head of Innovations and Product Development.

The Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) operates throughout the Caribbean with examiners spread across the islands and has streamlined their operations and increased efficiency by implementing e-marking of its paper exams. E-marking removes the need for the dispersed examiner community to travel to a centrally located marking centre to mark the exam scripts. Exam papers will be scanned and distributed digitally to examiners to mark from dispersed locations.

Vanessa Ryan, a marker for the Caribbean Examinations Council and a full-time single mother, said that the move to e-marking gave her the flexibility to mark from home. This flexible working arrangement means that she no longer has to find child care for her children whilst she travels to marking centres.

The International Baccalaureate, which has 7,500 examiners in over 150 countries, makes use of scanning centres both in the UK and the US to reduce the movement of scripts: improving security and speed.

Increasing speed of marking and results issue

Increasing the speed of marking whilst maintaining a high level of quality is a key objective for many awarding bodies and government organisations across the globe. Markers at Manipal University in India have reported a significant increase in the speed of marking, with one marker reporting she can now mark 40 papers in the same time she used to mark 25.

Although this increase in speed is great for the markers, MeritTrac have witnessed a huge change in speed when it comes to the overall examination cycle too. Sudhanva Kimmane, Head of Operations at MeritTrac, told us that in some cases, they have seen the exam lifecycle decrease from about three months to one and a half months, from students sitting the exams to the results being issued.

This decrease in time across the overall assessment process has had a significant impact on students across India. With a faster turnaround time, students are able to receive their results before college admissions close, meaning that they can go to college or university that year, rather than having to wait until the next academic year according to MeritTrac.

Using data to improve future assessment cycles

In 2014, RM Results’ Senior Business Analyst, Martin Adams, presented at our marking quality roundtable event at the Royal Society on how data captured through e-marking marking systems can be used to identify and potentially resolve pinch points in the examination marking window.

Slovenian exam board NEC has found that the data collected in RM Assessor allowed marking quality to be analysed at a granular level, with information available on examiners, topics and even individual questions. The NEC now prepares a report based on this data, which is sent to markers and school principals who in turn suggest further measures to improve marking quality.

Assistant Registrar at CXC, Anthony Haynes, has spoken about how he has used the data from e-marking to capture granular information about student performance. Anthony said: ‘Using e-marking we can now see how a student is performing 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.’

Awarding organisations adopt e-marking for a combination of the above reasons and more, and signs are both in the UK and internationally that its growth is set to continue. In 2015, the number of exam markers using RM Assessor was over 32,000 – that’s around the same as the entire population of Monaco. This increasing number suggests a willingness to embrace innovation on the part of awarding organisations, in order to reap the many benefits of modernising the assessment process.

For more information on high stakes e-marking, click here.