The pandemic has had a huge impact on exams at every level of education across the globe. Different approaches have been adopted: to continue exams as planned, to introduce online invigilation, or to cancel or postpone exam sessions altogether. As education systems strive to return to some semblance of normality, exam security remains a key priority for both paper-based and computer-based examinations.
Exam security is a key priority for awarding organisations, with continuous work undertaken to clamp down on opportunities for cheating, malpractice, bias or grade interference during the assessment process. However, the administration of exam papers and completed scripts presents a number of vulnerabilities.
Awarding organisations can and do put in place procedures to minimise risk, but processes can still be affected by human error. Luckily, advances in assessment technology mean that e-marking can significantly reduce and, in many cases, entirely eliminate potential vulnerabilities in the marking process.
When we talk about security in the context of examinations, we perhaps think first about the safety of papers in transit, and indeed this is a large part of it. It is also wider than this, however, for example cracking down on cheating during the administration of a paper – whether that’s by students, or by an invigilator offering assistance to a student or students during the exam. Moreover, it’s also about protecting examiners from potential intimidation and eliminating opportunities for bias.
With traditional pen and paper marking, completed exam scripts may be in transit numerous times, for example from exam centre to examiner, to reviewer, back to the examiner, to awarding organisation, and so on. When awarding organisations have a double-marking process, the number of transfers can be even higher, and for international schools sending scripts to examiners abroad, the process is even more complex.
While there are obvious and sensible precautions to take to safeguard these processes, there is no way to make it infallible. No matter how small the risk of this, awarding organisations are invested in safeguarding both their examiners and the integrity of their marking process.
How e-marking can help
With e-marking of paper exams, exam scripts can travel just once to a secure scanning centre. Alongside physical security, scanning staff are vetted, packets unopened until scanning, and scanning time monitored to ensure there is no risk of scripts being altered. Moreover, scanning creates an immutable copy of the script as it was received – rendering further change impossible.
Stakeholders then access the script online through a secure e-marking portal such as RM Assessor, and it is here that the risk of other potential security breaches can be vastly reduced.
Access to the script can be locked down to only those who need to see it; restrictions on access can be put in place in cases where there might be potential conflict of interest; conscious or unconscious bias is reduced through the anonymisation of candidate details. Scripts can even be split into different sections to be marked by separate examiners, further reducing the risk of impartiality or risk of what’s known as the ‘halo or horns effect’. What’s more, the system keeps an audit of the marks allocated to a paper – so a final grade cannot be doctored without retaining evidence that a change took place.
In short, e-marking allows awarding organisations to manage risk across the marking process from beginning to end, giving them increased visibility, and placing stringent access controls on scripts to remove accidental or deliberate wrong-doing.
To find out more on how e-marking can help improve security and the integrity of marks given, including how to choose an e-marking supplier you trust, download our e-book ‘The definitive guide to e-marking’.