A lot of teachers have considered becoming an examiner for some reason or other. Some teachers will strongly recommend becoming an examiner whilst others will tell you to avoid it at all costs! I was a History GCSE examiner for three years in a row but now I have relocated to the UAE to teach I am unable to continue as an examiner in the UK. There are several pros and cons to becoming an examiner so I thought I would reflect and share my experience. Different examiners for different exam boards and subjects will have different experiences so it is worth asking around with colleagues or teachers online to get a broader view.
- Extra money. This is obviously great! Extra money always comes in handy! It is worth finding out how much money you will receive as different exam boards and different subjects pay different amounts – the payment can vary considerably too! I have always received the payment during the summer holidays – extra spending money on my travels! You also usually get paid for attending the examiner conference that takes place where you discuss the exam paper and travel expenses are usually paid for too.
- Valuable, relevant and useful CPD. Every year I was an examiner, shortly after the exam had taken place, I attended the examiners conference. I sat around a table with the other History examiners and we discussed the exam paper very carefully and thoroughly. This discussion was so insightful and helped me gain further understanding of the exam technique and what specifically was required for each question and how the exam was assessed. Becoming an examiner can also benefit your students too. When I was explaining exam technique to my students, the training I had received whilst becoming an examiner meant I felt more confident explaining what each exam answer required and what not to do! This was the best CPD, in regards to teaching GCSE History, that I had ever received. My advice would be to become an examiner for this reason alone and even if you only do it the once it will prove to be useful and further support your teaching.
- It is an opportunity to network and meet other teachers, teaching the same specification and topic as you. As mentioned, for the exam I was marking, it was compulsory for all examiners to attend the conference (held on a Saturday) to discuss the exam paper and mark scheme. There were some teachers that I remained in contact with and we later went on to swap and share resources. I also saw some familiar faces at the conference – my friends who I trained with in Aberystwyth during my PGCE year so it is a great way to reconnect with old and meet new teachers!
- Timing. The time of year exam marking takes place is a good time to do this. If you do teach GCSE and/or A-level classes then it is likely you will have gained lesson time if pupils have left. Obviously, you cannot mark exam papers in school (exam boards have strict rules and regulations about this) but what it does mean is that you can focus on your school work/planning/marking during gained lesson time and this will leave you with time outside of school to focus on exam marking. Each time I was marking exam papers it was in June or July. Some examiners did so in January, although that option is not available anymore with most exam boards, and I would have struggled to cope with the workload in January. I found June/July to be a good time to stay on top of my school work and mark papers during evenings and weekends.
- Add to the CV. Becoming an examiner does show a commitment to further develop your continuing professional development and enhance your CV. It illustrates time management, the ability to meet deadlines and manage multiple complicated projects. There are also opportunities to progress to a leadership role as an examiner too. Hopefully teachers don’t just do it for the money!
- The money – is it worth it? Yes, as mentioned the extra money is great but many teachers believe that actually considering how papers you have to mark and the stress it can cause that it isn’t worth that extra bit of money. As I mentioned however, the money varies so it is worth looking into how much you will be paid and whether it is enough for you to consider the extra workload. Exam boards often tell you how much you are paid per paper ( ranging from £2.50 to over £4 per paper) so you will need to know roughly how many papers you mark and there is also tax to take into consideration too.
- Time consuming! I had to mark about 400 exam papers and obviously every single paper is important. It is not fair to rush through papers but instead give careful thought and consideration to every question on every paper. The exam paper belongs to someone. The student who completed it. It is their grade. It is their hours and hours of revision. It is their future. Therefore it is morally right that each paper deserves time and dedication, also… you’re being paid to do that too!The History exam paper also contained large essay answers which take longer than in some subjects although all exam papers require a lot of time and commitment. You should also know that not only is it the marking that takes time but also inputting the data electronically. I would always double check the results online because recording the right results and information is so important!I am very fortunate because I was able to dedicate time to marking without any other serious commitments. I told my friends, family and partner that whilst I was exam marking I would be very busy to which they understood and were very supportive. However, several of the examiners I know have children and they told me that they relied heavily on the support of their spouse or family members. Of course, I am not suggesting people with children can’t become an examiner but it is an extra factor to take into consideration as it does impact your out of school hours.
- Work load issue. I didn’t become an examiner until I had been teaching for a few years with schemes of work in place and I felt that it was the right time for me to do it. It is undoubtedly a huge workload to complete X amount of exam papers in Y amount of time. Take into account other factors; do you have gained time? Are there other events taking place in school that will prevent you from marking e.g. school trip? Is this the right time for you to take on extra responsibility? Do you have any important social events that could interfere? I did cope with the workload but there were times I found it challenging and days were I felt I didn’t want to see another exam paper again… it can become very tedious!
- Postage, packaging, returning, inputting data and so on! Exam marking isn’t just exam marking. It involves attending the examiners conference usually in London, Cardiff or other city. They often take place at weekends but not always. It will involve packaging and sending exam papers either to your Team Leader for checking or back to the exam centre. As briefly mentioned, most exam boards ask examiners to input results online – should exam papers get lost a record of results are online and there is a database to check any exam results if necessary. These jobs are easy to do but they do all take time.
- Have a rest! I did find there were points were I needed to rest or take a break. Go the gym, read a book or do whatever you enjoy to switch off from marking so when you return to marking you are refreshed and focused!
- Don’t stay up all night marking! There is a deadline provided and usually there can be 3 weeks to mark exam papers. I know a teacher who stayed up late and worked none stop to get the exam papers marked two weeks before the deadline! Yes the exam papers were finished sooner and out of the way but the examiner didn’t get paid more money for finishing early. Most exam boards are flexible if you do require an extension to the deadline, let them know in advance and they can often accommodate requests. I always met the deadline and found the deadline reasonable. It is important that you still focus on your day job – teaching- and don’t let that suffer! You will have to seek permission from your Head Teacher to become an examiner too, so don’t think you can take a week off work during the time you are marking exam papers!
- Contact your team leader if unsure. There were some answers I really struggled with as they were borderline between boundaries or difficult to read (illegible answers are a problem) so I would email my team leader either with a picture of the answer for a second opinion or to ask general questions. The team leaders don’t mind as that is their role – to assist and support you as an examiner.
- Read the rules and regulations! As boring as this sounds I strongly suggest doing so. There are rules about where and when you can mark exam papers e.g. you are often not allowed to mark in public or post online about being an examiner. I was told of an examiner who was specifically told at a conference to not mark exam papers in public, then on the same day was seen by the team leader marking papers on the train home! I also once saw on Twitter a teacher sharing a photo of an actual exam answer because it was funny! Exam boards take professionalism very seriously.
- Become an examiner for a subject you teach! As obvious as this sounds, I have been offered to become an examiner for a subject and exam board that I haven’t taught before. I don’t feel I could do this or would be comfortable with this. Although, I have subject knowledge of that subject I feel it needs to be in depth and detailed in order to assess (that example was also A-level!). Exam technique is important but knowledge and content obviously is too! Most exam boards have an application process and will appoint teachers who have experience teaching that subject/specification/topic. However, it is clear that exam boards are struggling to recruit teachers to mark and then quality of assessment can become an issue. Also, if you were to mark for another subject or specification then you would not benefit as much in your own teaching.
I am not urging teachers to become examiners or to avoid it! I simply think before applying there are several factors to consider. There is an interesting article that can be found here published in The Guardian by Andrew Jones Head of Religious Studies, which also explores exam marking and asks is it worth it?
Thanks for taking the time to read my post. If you have any feedback or further advice/questions about examining then please do not hesitate to get in touch. You can get in touch via my contact page on my blog or send me a message on Twitter.