Using Comparative Judgment to judge a GCSE English Language mock examination

Ireni Thalassinos, Head of English, Lewisham Southwark College
At Lewisham Southwark College we have an unprecedented number of GCSE entries due to recent policy and assessment reforms. This year we are expecting to enter around 600 students for GCSE English. The scale of the entry means that setting and marking a mock examination is quite a major operation.
We decided to use a Comparative Judgement approach to reduce the burden of marking from the GCSE English mock examinations and to ensure that staff working across disparate sites with different cohorts were all applying the same standards.
All students sat an AQA foundation level past paper in English Language. The second section of the paper requires students to write two essays in half an hour, which are perfectly suited to judging. As one essay was descriptive and the other was persuasive we decided to judge them separately.
The essays were soon scanned in, and uploaded to ready for judging.
The 20 GCSE English teachers then gathered for a judging session.
It was clear from the start that everyone was engaged in the judging. Indeed Shoshi, the GCSE co-ordinator said that it was rare to see teachers so enthusiastic about marking!
‘I feel less isolated in the marking process’ (Karen)
‘For the first time I can actually say that I enjoyed marking and have no doubt that our students will be awarded a fair grade’ (Toyin)
There was a pleasant hum of conversation about the various qualities of the essays, and the difficulties in some cases of making decisions. Within one hour, every essay had been judged by at least 8 different judges. After a short break the judges returned, so that within 2 hours both essays had been judged.

Judges at Lewisham Southwark College 
Now we had a rank order of the essays we were able to apply the mark bands to the rank order. The essays have three mark bands, each representing a range of marks.  We estimated that we would expect around 40 per cent of our students to be working in band 3, so we took a look at the script that was 40 per cent of the way down the rank order. Individually the staff considered the mark band descriptors and decided if the script was in the band or not. The consensus was that the essay was in, so we moved down the rank order. After looking at five essays we found two essays in a row that were clearly out, so we were able to draw the cut-off between band 2 and band 3 at that point.
We then repeated the exercise for the other mark bands and the other essay. Within 2 hours and 45 minutes we had judged all the essays and assigned them all a band. Within 2 weeks of sitting the mock, the students had their marks.
The whole process was very straightforward – everything is done online so it just works – and allowed all the teachers to participate no matter their previous experience of marking. We wasted no time with marker training, standardisation meetings, following up missing marks, and re-marking. For teachers it made the whole process of marking a mock feel more manageable. No one went home with a pile of scripts to mark!
Best of all we can be confident that all students will receive a fair mark. Teachers enjoyed the fact that they were sharing the judgements – their judgment wasn’t the be all and end all.
The next stage will be to give students their feedback. We want every student to know their band – and have at least one target coming out of it. Teachers will still need to take time to look through their students’ scripts to set targets – but at least they won’t be wasting time deciding on whether an essay deserves 9 or 10 marks.

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