Making the grades video transcript

A qualification is a way of demonstrating that someone has achieved a certain level of learning.

It acts as a passport to the next stage in a student's life, whether they are entering the world of work or going on to further study or training.

To gain a qualification, students often take examinations, which assess their knowledge, understanding and skills.

AQA sets the exam papers for around half of all GCSEs and A-levels... which means that every year; we mark more than 7 million exam scripts and award the grades for nearly 2 million students.

So how does what a student writes in an exam turn into a grade?

There are two main stages: marking the exams, and awarding grades.

Here's how the process works…

When students sit an exam they write the answers in a booklet.

At the end of the exam the completed booklets – known as scripts – are sent to examiners for marking.

Examiners are usually qualified teachers. They are trained to mark to the required standard.

They practise marking scripts using a mark scheme which provides sample answers to each exam question. This ensures their work is accurate.

The exam marking period usually lasts for around 12 weeks.

Throughout this time, the examiners' work is rigorously checked to ensure their marking is consistent, fair, and to the required standard.

As part of this checking process, highly experienced senior examiners review a sample of marking by each examiner to ensure they are applying the mark scheme correctly and that students are being given the right marks. They provide detailed feedback to ensure the examiners keep on track.

If an examiner is not marking correctly, they are not allowed to continue and their scripts are given to a different examiner.

Once the exam scripts have been marked, we set the grade boundaries.

Although exam boards aim to always set papers with the same level of difficulty, in practice papers do vary slightly.

As it would be unfair for students to get a lower grade just because they sat a more difficult paper, grade boundaries are set for each individual exam.

The process for deciding grade boundaries is called awarding and its overall aim is to ensure that standards are maintained from one year to the next.

Awarding is carried out by senior examiners, who are experts in a particular subject, and the process is overseen by the qualifications regulator.

Once the exam scripts have been marked, a group of senior examiners meet to set the grade boundaries.

They look at scripts on the grade boundary from last year and a range of scripts from the current year.  They compare the scripts to decide the mark for this year's boundary which represents the same standard as last year.

They also use statistics to guide their judgment. These statistics look at how this group of students performed in previous tests and the results they might be expected to achieve in this exam.

After careful consideration, the senior examiners decide what the minimum mark for each grade should be to ensure that standards are maintained.

The exam board then applies the grade boundary to the marks each student achieved to produce their grade for the exam.

In a nutshell, this whole process means that a student who performed to the same level should get the same grade, whether they sat the exam this year or last year.

As well as being fair to students, this means the qualification will continue to be valued by potential employers, colleges and universities.

Making the grades – a guide to awarding, brought to you by AQA.