Regulating GCSEs, AS and A levels: guide for schools and colleges

Reviews and appeals

What to do if you think a student's mark is wrong or an exam board hasn't followed its processes properly

The reviews and appeals system for GCSEs, AS and A levels has a number of stages, illustrated in the diagram below.

A diagram of the appeals system for GCSEs, AS and A levels

Our rules set out in detail the way exam boards must carry out each of stages.

Reviews of marking and moderation

Schools and colleges can ask exam boards to review whether there were any errors in the exam board’s:

  • marking of any exam or non-exam assessment
  • moderation of a teacher-marked assessment

Our rules also allow (but do not require) exam boards to accept requests for reviews of marking directly from individual students. Each exam board can decide whether – and, if so, in what circumstances – it will accept requests from students. Most exam boards choose not to accept requests directly from students. Where this is the case, the exam board must make sure schools and colleges give students the opportunity to appeal against any decision they take not to ask the exam board for a review of marking, and also any decision they take not to seek access to a student’s script.

Private candidates are entitled to request a review directly from the exam board. Alternatively, a private candidate may ask the school or college through which they entered for the qualification to seek a review on their behalf.

If a school or college (or a student, where the exam board allows them to) requests a review, the exam board must carry one out in line with our rules, and communicate the outcome of the review to the school, college or student.

Information to help decide whether to ask for a review

Exam boards must make mark schemes available to schools and colleges before their deadline for accepting reviews.

Schools and colleges can also ask exam boards to give them access to marked AS and A level scripts. This can help them decide whether or not to ask for a review.

Exam boards set a deadline for the receipt of requests for returned scripts. When asked by a school or college to do so, by their deadline, they must provide a copy of the student’s marked script in time for the school or college to decide whether to ask for the marking to be reviewed. Where a school or college wants a review completed quickly, due to the timescales imposed by university admissions arrangements, an exam board may offer a different approach.

From summer 2020, exam boards will have to make GCSE scripts available (on request) before their deadline for requesting a review of marking. Some exam boards will do this sooner.

Reviews of exam board marked assessments

When reviewing any assessment it marked itself, an exam board must arrange for a reviewer to consider whether the original marker made any errors when marking an assessment. Reviewers must be specifically trained to undertake reviews, as the process of reviewing the way a question or a paper has been marked is different to marking the question or paper afresh. Exam boards must also monitor the way reviewers undertake reviews, to assure themselves reviewers are complying with our rules and are acting consistently.

A reviewer must:

  1. consider the original marking
  2. decide whether there were any administrative errors in the marking. An administrative error typically occurs when a marker misses a question or does not properly total the marks for all questions. If any such errors (however large or small) are found they must be corrected and the grade adjusted if necessary
  3. check, for each task or question for which there was only 1 possible right answer and therefore mark, whether the right mark was given for the student’s answer. If the marker made an error when marking any such questions the reviewer must remark the question (however large or small the error). The new mark replaces the original one.
  4. decide, for questions or tasks for which a range of responses can earn credit, whether the original mark could have been given by a marker who properly applied the mark scheme to the answer and exercised his or her academic judgement in a reasonable way. An error is likely to have been made if the reviewer concludes: a) that the original mark was unduly lenient or harsh, given the correct application of the mark scheme, b) a marker who had the appropriate subject knowledge and who had been trained to use the mark scheme would have been acting unreasonably in giving the mark, or c) there was no rational basis for the mark
  5. re-mark the questions in respect of which the errors were made - however large or small the effect of the error.

If the reviewer finds a marking error, the reviewer’s mark will replace the original mark and the exam board must change the grade if necessary. Any new mark and grade awarded after the review could be higher or lower than that originally given. If the reviewer does not find a marking error the original mark must not be changed. The exam board must tell the school, college or individual student (where the request was accepted from an individual) the outcome of the review.

Occasionally, a reviewer might find 2 or more different errors on review which, when corrected, result in no overall mark change (they cancel each other out).

If the review raises questions about the accuracy of other students’ results the exam board may choose to extend the review to other students’ papers. If it finds errors in the marking of those students’ papers, they may replace the original mark, and the grade if necessary. Any new mark and grade awarded after the review could be higher or lower than that originally given.

Reviews of moderation

A school or college can ask for the outcome of an exam board’s moderation to be reviewed by the exam board if the moderation resulted in a change to the marks the school or college gave to the work. Exam boards do not provide reviews where the marks given by a school or college were not changed following moderation. The request for a review of moderation must be made on behalf of the whole of the school or college’s cohort for that component.

The exam board must publish its deadline for receiving such requests and its fees.

The exam board will ask someone trained to do so to review the decisions taken by the original moderator to consider whether the moderator made any errors. The reviewer will look at the sample of work the original moderator reviewed. As with reviews of exam marking, the reviewer will judge that there was an error if they conclude that:

  • there was an administrative error
  • any of the moderation decisions were unduly lenient or harsh
  • any of the moderation decisions were unreasonable, from the point of view of a moderator who had the appropriate subject knowledge and who had been trained to moderate the assessment
  • there was no rational basis for the moderation outcome

The exam board should also make sure that any adjustments applied as a result of the original moderation were appropriate. If the reviewer does not find a moderation error and the exam board judges any adjustments made were appropriate, the exam board must not change the outcome.

If the reviewer finds an error in the original moderation and/or judges any adjustment made to be inappropriate, the exam board must correct this and, where necessary, adjust students’ marks so that all students receive an accurate mark and, where required, adjust students’ grades.

If a review of moderation finds that a student had been given a grade that was too high, we have set a rule that requires that students’ grades will not be lowered. This is because the review affects many students, and schools and colleges are likely to be unable to get permission from everyone for a review to take place. There is no equivalent protection where a grade is judged to be too high in other circumstances, for example if the exam board finds it issued the wrong result due to an administrative error.

Requesting reasons for the outcome of a review

A school or college (or student, where the exam board accepted a request from an individual) can ask the exam board to give reasons for the outcome of a review. The exam board must provide the reasons on request. Because the turnaround time for reviews can be important for a student’s progression, we do not currently require exam boards to provide reasons at the same time as they communicate the outcome, as this might delay the outcome being communicated.

From 2020, we will require exam boards to provide reasons automatically (rather than waiting for a school or college to request them), but some exam boards may start providing reasons automatically sooner.

An appeal can be made before the exam board provides reasons, and any deadline for appeals must be at least two weeks after schools and colleges receive reasons.

Exam boards will have their own ways of providing reasons for review outcomes.

Student requests for a review of teacher-marked (internal) assessment

Some assessments that contribute to a GCSE, AS or A level are marked by teachers within schools, rather than by markers employed by exam boards. This is often known as internal assessment.

Our rules require the exam boards to include specific arrangements for students to request reviews of internal assessments in their agreements with schools and colleges.

JCQ has published information about the processes schools and colleges need to put in place.

Appeals

If a school or college remains concerned about an outcome following a review, it can appeal to the exam board. Appeals can be on the grounds that:

  • an exam board did not apply its procedures consistently or that procedures were not followed properly and fairly
  • in GCSEs, AS and A levels (as well as project qualifications), there was an error in the original marking or moderation, or in the review of that marking or moderation - i.e. that
    • an administrative error (such as adding up marks incorrectly) had not been corrected
    • the mark scheme was not properly applied
    • the mark could not have been given by a trained marker, who had appropriate subject knowledge, and who had exercised their academic judgement in a reasonable way

Appeals can also be made in respect of:

  1. Decisions regarding requests for reasonable adjustments and special consideration.
  2. Decisions regarding actions taken following an investigation into malpractice or maladministration.

The setting of a grade boundary cannot be the subject of an appeal.

An exam board must make sure that those making appeal decisions are competent to do so, have no personal interest in the outcome, and were not involved in the original marking or moderation or the review of the marking or moderation. The final decision must involve at least 1 decision maker who is not connected to the exam board.

Our rules allow (but do not require) exam boards to accept appeals directly from individual students. Each exam board can decide whether – and, if so, in what circumstances – it will accept appeals from students. Most exam boards choose not to accept appeals directly from students. Where this is the case, the exam board must make sure schools and colleges give students the opportunity to appeal against any decision they take not to ask the exam board for an appeal.

Private candidates are entitled to appeal directly to the exam board. Alternatively, a private candidate may ask the school or college through which they entered for the qualification to appeal on their behalf.

If a school or college (or a student, where the exam board allows them to) seeks an appeal, the exam board must carry one out in line with our rules, and communicate the outcome of the appeal to the school, college or student.

An exam board may choose to offer the school or college (or individual student whose appeal was accepted by the exam board) the opportunity to attempt to resolve the disagreement without the need for a full and formal appeal hearing. This is not something we require, and the opportunity for a full appeal must remain available.

The exam procedure review service (EPRS)

Schools and colleges who are unhappy with the result of an appeal can ask Ofqual to review the case through the EPRS. We will look at whether the exam board has followed our rules and its own procedures, and, if not, whether your result is inappropriate.

This service is only available to schools, colleges and private candidates (such as home-schooled students). You can only apply if you have completed an exam board’s appeal process. You need to apply within 21 days of receiving your draft report from the exam board.

We will respond in 10 working days if it is something we can look into. If we decide to hold a hearing, we will let you know the appeal hearing date and how to prepare for it. If we don’t think there should be a hearing we will tell you why and let you respond before we make a final decision.

For more information about EPRS please contact us.

Exam procedure review service
Ofqual
Earlsdon Park
53-55 Butts Road
Coventry
CV1 3BH

eprs@ofqual.gov.uk

Timelines for reviews and appeals

Each exam board must set and publish its own timelines, including the deadlines by which requests for a review or an appeal must be received. The exam boards have set common deadlines for 2019.

Our rules do not specify set dates for the completion of reviews and appeals, but do set out minimum timescales that exam boards must meet. These ensure common, minimum timelines for students, schools and colleges.

Fees

Exam boards can charge a fee for reviewing a mark and for considering an appeal. They have to publish the fees they will charge, and be clear about any circumstances in which they will not charge.