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To mark or not to mark? That is the question.

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The summer term - that time of year when teachers all around the country are going into hibernation and giving up their family time, social life and general peace of mind in the pursuit of marking for exam boards, whether it be SATs, GCSE or A Level. 

But is the sacrifice worth it? 

What are the benefits and how could we make it more manageable?

Marking for an exam board is a big commitment. It should be – after all, these are our pupils’ final results.  However, it is time consuming, all consuming and often can seem like a thankless task.

I didn’t mark for an exam board until a number of years into my teaching career.  If I am honest – I really don’t enjoy marking. (Just putting it out there.)  When I had a young family it just didn’t seem like something I wanted to add to my list of jobs considering that it would impact on my home and family time.  Plus, you really need somewhere quiet to mark and toddlers and young children really don’t offer that for a guaranteed slice of time.  However, once my children were older and more self-sufficient, and I was working part time, I decided I would take the plunge and I signed up for GCSE English Literature.

A few years later and I am now a senior marker for English Literature Paper One.  I have come to the end of the self-inflicted hibernation that is the marking period and I find myself in reflection mode: thankful that it is over …  yet happy it has gone towards a summer holiday … and wondering, will I or won’t I do it all again next year?

And therein lies the problem – the internal wrangle over whether or not it is worth it.
                                                  Image result for pros and cons


  • Exam board marking is hard.  It takes up A LOT of time.
  • Deadlines loom for a month.  You have to be strict and set yourself daily quota targets.
  • Stress levels are high.  The pressure of getting each hidden seed within tolerance is intense.
  • Payment is perhaps less than minimum wage – especially at the beginning before you pick up a pace.
  • As you conscientiously mark away – you do so under the constant chatter about how unreliable the marking is … how little faith everybody has in the grades and how they expect to send so many scripts back for review. It's demoralising.


  • It is undoubtedly good CPD and professional development.  
  • You know the specification really well.  You know what the exams demand of pupils.
  • You become a source of expertise for your school and department. The school benefits.
  • It forces you to revisit or develop your own subject knowledge. 
  • You see a wide range of pupil responses and it recalibrates your internal benchmark for what a good response might look like.
  • Your frame of reference widens significantly beyond your own cohort and context.
  • Reading amazing responses from fantastic children really is a delight and a privilege.
  • Those meagre payments per script do lump together into a welcome extra pot of money.  Perhaps a holiday is an option this summer?   Maybe I can buy that new phone …. or whatever it may be that you keep putting off.

Marking pro - Lagos, Summer 2016!

So what can we do to balance the books so to speak?

Pupils need their exams marking.  They deserve quality and accuracy.  They deserve a fair mark.  

Perhaps if more people marked for exam boards the overall quality of markers might rise as the pool would include more experienced, current teachers, etc.  The pressure to get all those thousands of scripts marked in a short period of time might be eased and stories of exam boards reducing the selection requirements for examiners might become less familiar.  We are all quick to blame the board and examiners when marking seems unfair on results day – but somebody has to mark the scripts and it is not an easy task, especially for an already overworked teacher at the back end of the academic year.   The official Ofqual word on how it all works can be read here.

We need to make it easier for teachers to commit.  Marking needs to be done confidentially and that does create restrictions which means most teachers scurry home as soon as the bell or afterschool commitments allow and they mark into the night.  Often schools do not allow people to mark anywhere on site (even in secure spaces) because it counts as private work. This to me is short sighted. The knowledge and experience that an examiner gains is an asset for the school and the pupils.

This year one of the examiners in my team told me that her headteacher protected the gained time of anyone who worked as an examiner and that they were allowed to do this work either at school or at home during this time.  The headteacher understood the benefits to the school when an exam class teacher increases their knowledge and experience.  They made it easy and accessible for teachers to commit.  I think schools should make a concerted effort to support teachers who are prepared to give up their time to improve the calibre of exam teaching and marking for their pupils.

Everybody wants the best for pupils so why not look for better ways to ensure they get their entitlement of quality and accuracy?

Let’s support teachers to develop their knowledge and understanding of the systems that ultimately assess our pupils.

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Twitter.  @MissJoT


  1. You have shared a good topic for teachers about exam boards. You worked hard in your teaching career. Every time there is lot of pressure on teachers. Marking is not easy for teachers. This process should be easier for them. They make efforts for students to get better score in exams. Marking for boards is very stressful for teachers. It can be manage in a well manner. I salute all the for their contribution. Their knowledge and experience is endless. All the students should support them.

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