Many awarding organisations and Ministries of Education are grappling with how to transition from paper-based marking to e-marking. Even though the use of e-marking is expanding at pace, with it being already used to mark the majority of school leaver exams in the UK, Ireland, New Zealand and Slovenia, there are still lots of misconceptions around it. In this article we have dispelled the most common myths surrounding e-marking.
Myth 1: E-marking will create more work for our examiners
It’s a known fact that teacher workload, and especially that of marking, is often a challenge even for the most organised individuals. According to a Workload Challenge survey carried in the UK, 53% respondents felt that “the excessive nature, depth and frequency” of marking was burdensome.
Although there is often reluctance and resistance to implement new technology, many awarding organisations have seen their examiner workload significantly reduced by using e-marking.
A survey carried out in 2019 by an awarding organisation in South Africa, prior to piloting e-marking revealed that 25% of their examiners’ time was spent on admin tasks rather than marking itself. With the help of e-marking, administrative tasks such as the totalling and checking of marks are automated, and there isn’t a need for markers to keep papers in order, which results in more time for examiners to focus on the marking and complete their work more efficiently.
Once the transition to e-marking is made and the training is completed, examiners tend to prefer to mark online. The National Examination Centre in Slovenia found that after introducing e-marking, 94% of their examiners thought that e-marking helps them to organise their work more efficiently compared to paper marking.
“I never thought I would prefer to mark online, but you just go through candidate responses so much more efficiently and you don’t have piles of paper all over the floor.”
(Principal Examiner at Cambridge International Examinations on transitioning from paper-based marking to e-marking)
Myth 2: E-marking doesn’t seem very secure
In the paper-based assessment process, exam scripts are distributed out to examiners via secure transport and then sent back to a central office. There is no way to track what happens to physical exam papers once delivered – where they may be left, and if lost or destroyed there is no digital back up with paper. Returning the marked script back to the candidate means you don’t have a copy of the marker’s activities and any review needs the script to be sent back again.
With e-marking, all scripts remain together until they reach a secure scanning facility, where they are scanned into the system, encrypted and stored online with strict access control. Once they are uploaded in the system, only those examiners with verified log in details and permissions can access scripts, meaning that there is less risk of papers falling into the wrong hands or being seen accidentally by people who do not have permission. Candidates can have a soft copy of their response and their marking, making it quick and reliable to request and process reviews. Cloud providers are bound by robust data protection procedures and also have localised data centres with encryption capabilities so you can be assured that your data is safe and compliant.
Myth 3: E-marking won’t be suitable for our exams
E-marking has evolved since its inception and is now one of the most popular forms of marking for a variety of exam and assessment formats. In 2019, Ofqual reported 77% of examiners marking papers online in the UK, across GCSE and AS/A level.
Papers with multiple choice answers, essay questions and coursework can all be assessed online. There is even a way of slicing and dicing exam papers so that each question is assigned to examiners with the appropriate expertise.
Diverse formats, from video and audio to diagrams, spreadsheets, infographics and other visuals can also be marked onscreen. This allows awarding organisations to mark both candidate examination responses and coursework in a single system. There is also provision for the adding of annotations and using tools that can help examiners continue to assess to the same standard and in the same way that they normally would.
Myth 4: It’s better for us to wait until we can move to full e-testing and e-assessment
A full transition to e-assessment can take years of planning, while e-marking allows awarding organisations to make a more achievable first step in their journey to digital assessment. By finding out what your supplier's capabilities are (read this guide for tips on how to do this), you can get the reassurance you need that if you make a move to e-marking and want to implement full-scale e-assessment further down the line, there won’t be any major problems. E-marking doesn’t have to rely on you having e-testing in place. It can cater for all different types of exams, auto-marking of multiple choice questions and coursework, so you don’t have to wait until you’re ready to go completely electronic.
The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales initially began using e-marking to assess ACA exam papers, using human markers. Focusing on growth plans for their future, they then decided to extend their digital journey by transitioning from paper to on-screen test authoring and delivery modules, while retaining the e-marking system, to further enhance their ability to replicate a realistic working environment for candidates.
Myth 5: E-marking will compromise the quality of the assessment we provide
E-marking has a robust quality model that leads to fewer errors and fewer scripts being contested for re-marking. One awarding organisation found that 14% of the paper forms used to manually record marks were filled out incorrectly each year. Moreover, 10% of the traditionally marked exam papers were subject to enquiry and the majority had their marks changed. After the introduction of e-marking, the awarding organisation saw a 70% decrease in the number of re-marking enquiries.
Rather than waiting to see whether examiners are marking correctly, standardisation checks and seed scripts are used for quality control and provide information to senior examiners in real-time, allowing for timely interventions. The standardisation checks can analyse everyone in the examining chain, from the individual examiner up to the most senior examiner, making sure the marking scheme is being always applied accurately.
Careful measures are put in place to minimise human error during the e-marking process. Unlike paper-based marking, if examiners accidentally miss a question during e-marking, then they will be unable to proceed to mark the next question until they have entered a response. Marks will be auto-tallied, removing the possibility of miscalculating a final score and clear annotations mean that any discrepancies can be identified straight away. Providing scripts to markers on-screen saves time over secure transfer – time that can be used for check marking, double marking and reviews, ensuring all candidates get the mark they deserve.
In the case of coursework or work that requires objects and artwork to be assessed, this can also be integrated so that the quality of assessment and results are not affected. Media players, high-quality image viewers and detailed annotation functionality ensures that nothing is lost when assessing work that doesn’t involve a script being marked.
Anonymity is introduced to e-marking which means that candidate and institution details are hidden, so it removes any conscious or unconscious bias leading to results that are truly reflective of the quality of candidate work rather than being influenced by any external factors.
Implementing new technology that has the potential to disrupt your current ways of working is not an easy task and it is normal to have a few concerns. However, a good e-marking supplier will take the time to listen to your concerns and needs, design a solution that meets your specific assessment processes and priorities, and carefully plan the transition from paper-marking to e-marking.
Do you have any concerns around e-marking or want to find out more?