The year is 2020, the month is September and the world is in the grip of the Covid-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, the Assessment teams in AQA have begun drafting question papers for exams that will take place in Summer 2022.
Yes, it really does take that long to produce over 500 different exam papers.
The process is built around the plan-do-review model, which means we constantly check the exam papers to make sure they’re the best they can be. But what does that look like, in practice? Well, there are six stages:
This is the preliminary stage in assessment design where we agree what content the papers should contain. We do not discuss the precise details of the questions, but rather what areas of the specification will be assessed; the number of marks for different components and the paper’s overall structure. A blueprint is also available to guide writers.
Next, the writers will produce a draft question paper and mark scheme which adheres to the principles agreed in the blueprint.
The draft materials are then reviewed to check they are accurate, consistent with the blueprint’s guidelines and assess the agreed-upon content. We also check to make sure they are free from errors.
Once the draft is updated to reflect the review, it is then typeset which means the content is exported into the question paper template for the first time. Here, the questions begin to look like an exam paper.
The paper and mark scheme are subjected to further quality checks to correct any potential issues. Quality-assurance checks are focused on spelling, grammar, total marks (i.e., ensuring the number of marks is correct), coherency of the questions and verifying that supporting material in the paper – such as graphs and tables – are accurate and correctly assigned to the right question.
This is the last stage in the six-step process when the paper and mark scheme are signed off and sent off to be printed.
However, this is not quite the end of the story. We then produce our modified papers for students with particular access requirements: some students need their script in Braille, enlarged and or in a large print version e.g. size A3 and/or 36-point font. For each question paper, there may be up to seven different versions before the final copy is reached and given final approval.
So, who is actually behind the process? Exam writers and reviewers include many subject specialists and experts who provide their insight and judgment on what makes a high-quality assessment. Many of these experts are practising teachers or have recent or relevant experience in their subject area.
So, as the Summer 2022 period kicks off, the assessment team’s hard work over the past two years will finally come into fruition. However, time to celebrate will be short as they begin preparing for the 2023 and 2024 exam series.
Everyone at AQi would like to wish all students the very best of luck with their exams.