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The exam marking operation

Useful links

  • Moderating school assessment marks [link to Moderation]
  • Aligning marks to achievement standards [link to Determining HSC results]

Around 5,500 Year 12 teachers work in teams as HSC markers each year. Led by a senior marker, each marking team has six to eight members. Teams generally look after a single question or small section of a paper, meaning that up to eight markers will mark the average exam. Supervisors of marking  are responsible for the whole paper in their course.

When all exams have been marked, our evaluation and reporting processes help us ensure the continued quality and success of the marking operation.


Marking kits guide each marking team

To ensure marks are fair, appropriate and consistent, the supervisor of marking and their senior markers develop a marking kit for each exam paper.

Each kit includes:

  • the marking guidelines, which describe performance at different mark levels

  • the marking scheme, which adds further detail

  • sample student responses (benchmarks), with annotations, if needed.

The chief examiner consults with senior markers and the supervisor of marking to ensure questions are marked as the committee intended, and signs off on the marking kit.

Teams practise marking until results are consistent

The teams are then briefed on the question they will be marking and trained to use the kits. They discuss typical responses at different mark levels and practise marking a range of responses. Senior markers review the actual marks and pattern of marks from each marker. Practice marking continues until the senior markers are confident that their teams are applying the kit accurately and consistently.


Short-response questions are marked by one marker

A single marker generally marks answers to short-response questions, as marking kits can clearly show the range of student responses that are fully correct or worth some marks. These questions may ask for one word or number, or one or two pages of writing or mathematical working. Senior markers use check marking, common scripts and statistical reports to ensure their team has marked these questions consistently.

Extended-response questions have two or more markers

Answers to extended-response questions, such as essays, creative writing, projects and performances, are generally double marked.

In double marking, two markers assign a mark separately. If these assigned marks differ significantly, the response is referred to a senior marker.

Atypical responses are referred to the senior marker or supervisor of marking

Atypical responses are answers outside the range of responses described in the marking guidelines. They may be valid alternative interpretations of a question, or they may be non-serious or offensive.

Markers discuss any valid alternative responses with the senior marker and supervisor of marking, who then allocate a mark based on the response’s quality.

Senior markers may allocate zero marks for non-serious attempts, or may refer the matter to the supervisor of marking. Significant matters are referred to the Director, Assessment and Curriculum. NESA’s Examination Rules Committee considers cases where a student might have broken the exam rules.

Responses that exceed stated parameters may be penalised

Students who write overly long responses to exam questions have penalised themselves by limiting their time for answering other questions.

Some exams limit students’ work to a certain size, length of time or number of words. Responses that exceed these limits may receive a mark penalty.

Ensuring consistency

Senior markers constantly monitor marking teams

Senior markers identify markers in their team who are applying the marking scheme incorrectly or inconsistently by regularly:   

  • reviewing a sample of each person’s work to check they agree with the marks awarded (a process called check marking)

  • asking everyone in the team to mark the same response (called a common script) and reviewing their awarded marks for major differences

  • checking statistical reports that show the pattern of marks each marker gave in a session.

If these processes reveal any inconsistencies in a marker’s work, that marker is briefed again.

Supervisors of marking also use statistical reports to monitor and fine-tune the marking operation.

We test our computer systems

We carefully test the computer algorithms that perform calculations for the HSC each year. We also create reports after each step so our measurement experts can check our systems are producing accurate results.

Adding up the raw exam marks

Optional question scaling ensures fairness

Once marking is complete, your marks for each question or task in each exam are added up to produce your raw exam mark for the course.

For exams with optional questions, we might adjust these initial raw marks to compensate for the difficulty of the optional questions compared to the compulsory part of the exam. This process, called ‘optional question scaling’, ensures you are not unfairly advantaged or disadvantaged by choosing an easier or more difficult optional question.

Some exam marks are weighted

In some exams, we will weight the raw marks to get a total mark out of 100. For example, in the English (Standard) exams, Paper 1 is marked out of 45 and Paper 2 is marked out of 60, giving 105 marks in total. We apply a weighting factor to each raw mark out of 45 for Paper 1 to convert it to a raw mark out of 40 for a total of 100.

Evaluating and reporting

The marking process is reviewed every year

When marking is complete, NESA officers evaluate the process for:

  • training

  • management

  • issues with exam papers or marking guidelines

  • quality control processes

  • reliability

  • logistics

  • resources and appointments

  • hand