Public Examination: From authentic marking to informing students’ learning

Public Examination: From authentic marking to informing students’ learning

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By Shagufta Shehzadi

(Hira* is a pseudonym used to protect identity of the real student.) 

“You have to pay Rs.1500/- against each paper for reviewing. And, only your marks will be recounted in the concerned papers”. More than a shocking statement for Hira, because she is having 5 siblings, and belongs to a low-income family. It is easy to say, but difficult to manage 4,500 rupees to get three paper reviewed simultaneously.

A brilliant student obtaining consistently higher scores in the previous school based examinations, she was confident of her attempt in all three papers in board level examination too. But, the result she received was contrary to her expectations, unfortunately.

Hira’s parents thought of her as a future doctor. She didn’t want to disappoint them; she had burnt the midnight oils to get admission in a medical college to make the dream of her parents come true.

However, to her dismay, all of a sudden, a dreadful result poured cold water over her dream, as well as on her trust over the examination system.

There was no way out, other than managing the said amount to be able to review the papers and leaving no stone un-turned to fulfill her ultimate dream.”

Getting examination papers rechecked is quite an ordeal for a candidate. Only those can feel the pain of paper rechecking troubles who have been through this process. This is not only the story of Hira, several other students bear this agony every year. Every second day of result declaration by examination boards brings several wretched reactions from students.

“We receive hundreds of students’ applications to review their papers every year”, a focal person from one of the public examination board informed me.  Shockingly, a national newspaper reported that a board of intermediate and secondary education received 13,000 applications to re-examine the papers in the year 2016, alone.

Similarly, a huge number of students observed a strike demonstration in the year 2016, against inefficiency in marking by an examination board.  In some cases, students get higher marks than the marks allocated to the questions they have actually attempted. This means it doesn’t matter if students have left over questions un-attempted.

The critical questions to ponder on here are as to why students do not trust their result and decide to get their exam papers reviewed? What measures can be done to raise the level of students’ trust on result? How can we ensure an authentic and valid result?

During the masters program at the AKU-IED, I got an opportunity to visit one of the public examination boards. I observed, in the current scenario, that teachers are recruited on ad hoc basis for paper marking, randomly.

For each subject, panels of 20 to 25 or sometimes more examiners are selected for marking papers, with one head examiner. The head examiner’s job is only recalculating the marks given to each paper by each checker. Each checker gets packets of papers (vary in number) to mark; the more rapidly an examiner marks, the more s/he gets. Ultimately, an examiner generates more money for the papers he/she marks, hence, the haste. Some “experts” can easily mark up to 800 papers in a day, definitely with astonishing speed!

The irony is that they do not have a uniform paper marking mechanism. Each individual checker marks the paper using his/her individual understanding, judgment and expertise.

An examiner’s response shocked me when he was asked about what he knows about marking scheme and how does he do the marking? The examiner responded, “iss ka sahi jawab hamaray damagh mein hota he”, or the right answer to the question we are marking is already in our mind (pointing to own head).

An individual with no assessment literacy, without a marking scheme, is dispensing hundreds of students’ answers. This situation compels one to ask whether it is fair enough to decide the students’ future based on such worst marking process. Will each candidate get right marks assessed by examiners with no assessment literacy?

The current system hardly ensures objectivity and hardly brings valid result. Instead, it allows dilemmas of student-anxiety, stress, depression and disappointment from the education system. In such scenario, low grades in their exam causes loss of students’ confidence in their own abilities and they become demotivated to continue studies in next grades.

Without well framed educational policies that strongly enjoin reforming examination system, no commendable improvement can be observed anywhere in the public examination boards. I believe that the educational system of this country is in dire need of massive reforms, particularly the prevalent public examination system.

An assessment system must inform teaching and learning processes commensurate with the requisite standard of marking the papers. In order to bring reforms and make examination effective, it is necessary to educate relevant human resource and build the capacity through training within the examination boards. Those who do paper marking should be selected on the basis of their expertise and mastery over the subject, as well as their teaching experience in particular class. Selected examiners should be equipped with marking scheme and rubric and extensive training on their use shall be given. To make more consistent marking, and marking with less frequent errors, double marking of random selected papers shall be made and feedback from senior marker shall be necessarily provided to markers. The essence of examination is to inform classroom teaching and students learning; it’s not only about judging/ranking students abilities.

In a nutshell, the examination system and its efficacy is a considerable factor in determining the students’ and ultimately the nation’s future. If the education policies put in place by the government are implemented and assessment literacy is ensured then there would not be any need to re-examine a paper. It should be kept in mind that examination boards are not to extort money in the name of remarking. Rather, it is their duty to improve classroom teaching and students’ learning. If marking procedures are not taken seriously, it will definitely spoil the future of students.

The contributor is a graduating student of Aga Khan University-Institute for Educational Development. Currently enrolled in M.Ed program with specialisation in Educational Assessment. 

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