Assessment Issues: marking to the full range

3. Marking to the Full Range: Reliable Marking?

Numerous studies have shown across a range of subjects that there can be inconsistency. For example, in a comparative marking study in Law across several universities, both pre- and post-1992, it was found that:

  • “The use and understanding of criteria did not eradicate marker variation.
  • Moderation of grades: uniform application of standards was only achieved through the use of a rigorous process of moderation. This involved all members of the marking team being thoroughly briefed by the author of the questions used to test student knowledge.”

(Hanlon et al 2004).

A study comparing experienced and novice markers on a franchise HE in FE course found that

Universities must ….communicate expectations of ‘standards’ to staff …. on their own, assessment criteria cannot generate common interpretations of the required level and standard of work. Instead, internalising and using criteria require a more strategic approach to inducting and socialising staff into an academic community. Unless this socialisation takes account of professional, social and affective dimensions, criteria and guidelines will have limited effects on communicating reliable standards and on raising standards of achievement.” (Ecclestone 2001). (see references page).

Langan et al (2008) have also shown that there can be variability in tutor marking of presentations.

Laurie Taylor has dealt with this topic regularly and inimitably in his columns for the Times Higher – see Consistency in Marking 02/11/07  , Maintaining Standards 06/04/07 or Abolish Degree classifications 06/10/06.

More reliable marking

Using the full range is more likely to occur in a programme team which has been able to achieve confident and competent marking through the mutual development of sound grade descriptors based on a few key learning outcomes and linked to a shared understanding of what candidates must provide to merit particular levels of achievement across the full range of performance.

Working in pairs or small groups can help (Price 2005). You could try to:

  • Have shared discussion of expectations
  • Decide on active moderation of selected scripts – not just those highlighted by the university’s moderation policy
  • Pair with someone with a different marking profile from your own
  • Make a marking, moderation and feedback plan well before the marking season starts
  • And very importantly, make sure you are represented when any descriptors are reviewed, whether at unit, programme, departmental or faculty level. You will have to use them for your own marking.



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