E-marking: Frequently Asked Questions

We’ve collated a list of the most frequently asked questions about e-marking. If you have a question not featured on this list, please email results@rm.com.


What is e-marking?

E-marking, also known as onscreen marking or digital marking, is the use of digital technology in the education or accreditation sector specifically designed for marking or grading an exam or assessment.

E-marking applications allow markers to mark exam responses which have been scanned and uploaded as digital images, or online assessment responses on a computer screen, rather than on paper. It is the opposite of traditional ‘pen and paper’ marking, and can be executed via a local application, or via a browser-based application delivered over the Internet.

There are no restrictions on the types of tests that can be marked using e-marking. E-marking is widely applied amongst high stakes examinations throughout the world, with two thirds of marking completed in this way in the UK. It is also used to assess other types of qualifications such as exams for accountants, as seen by its use by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants and ICAEW.

Who uses e-marking?

Enterprise scale e-marking applications are usually adopted by awarding bodies, which are the organisations who provide regulated qualifications in certain regions or countries. For example, Cambridge Assessment provide educational assessments for over 8 million learners in over 170 countries, marked by over 30,000 examiners every year. Cambridge Assessment have been using e-marking since 2014 to mark their assessments across the world. Government ministries also adopt e-marking for standardised national assessments.

How does e-marking work?

E-marking can be used to mark CBT (Computer-Based Tests) or exams taken with pen and paper. For pen and paper exams, the answer booklets can be scanned and the digital images uploaded to an e-marking software application. Exam answers are read and considered against an agreed mark scheme as usual, all accessed centrally through the e-marking application. Markers use the computer mouse and keyboard to award marks for each exam question. Multiple-choice exams can be either marked by examiners or can be auto-marked by the software application where appropriate. Most e-marking applications auto-tally marks for each exam, storing each student’s total score for retrieval by the awarding body.

What are the perceived benefits of e-marking?

The benefits of e-marking vary from organisation to organisation but can include:

  • Removal of geographical barriers. E-marking can be delivered completely online, eliminating the need for markers to travel to central marking facilities.
  • Increased speed of marking and issuing of exam results. By using e-marking, awarding bodies may be able to reduce the amount of time it takes to deliver exam results to students by reducing administration and by enabling markers to access and mark exams quicker.
  • Improved security. Hard copy scripts don’t need to be posted to markers’ houses, as the digital files are transferred securely online. This reduces capacity for paper scripts to be lost, damaged or stolen in transit.
  • Improved data capture. Data captured through e-marking systems can be used to identify and potentially resolve problems in the marking process. Item-level data about the performance of individual questions can also be used to refine future exams.
  • Real-time problem resolution. Marking issues can be detected as they happen rather than after a delay has occurred. Markers are able to highlight problems and get rapid feedback during the marking process.
  • Reduction in human error. The marker will be alerted if, for example, they have missed a question or miscalculated the total number of marks.
  • Improved quality of marking. E-marking systems can help to monitor quality via the introduction of ‘seed’ scripts, which have been pre-marked by a senior examiner, into an examiner’s workload. Marks awarded by the marker are compared to the pre-determined score and the examiner can be temporarily suspended from marking by the system if the scores are outside of a set tolerance.
  • Flexible working. E-marking allows markers to work remotely and to fit their work around other commitments.
What is the difference between e-marking and onscreen marking?

Absolutely nothing. The terms e-marking and onscreen marking can be used interchangeably to describe the process of human examiners viewing and marking examinations on a computer screen. Other terms also used to describe this process are digital scoring, remote scoring, online grading, online marking, electronic marking and onscreen rating.

Are e-marking applications difficult to use?

Every e-marking application is different, but all are designed to improve the speed and efficiency of marking. Even markers who are not computer literate may be taught to use e-marking applications with the appropriate instruction. Overall, e-marking applications are generally not harder to use than most day to day computer applications.

Do markers need special equipment to use an e-marking application?

No. Most of the time, an Internet-enabled computer and an Internet connection is enough to run any e-marking application, many of which will run in an Internet browser. Some e-marking software may run locally on a PC, in which case the correct installation and configuration of the local e-marking application is essential. Sufficient bandwidth (around 2Mbps) is always recommended for a quality e-marking experience.

Do markers prefer e-marking?

Many markers prefer the time efficiencies introduced by e-marking, and the auto tallying features. However, there are still some markers who prefer traditional pen and paper marking.

Are there any perceived barriers to e-marking?

E-marking requires the underlying technical infrastructure to drive it and an application to access it. For some awarding bodies, migrating from an existing infrastructure or building from the ground up may be perceived as a barrier. However, many organisations find that the costs dedicated to infrastructure are over time absorbed by the efficiencies introduced by e-marking, and in many cases organisations have found the introduction of e-marking to quickly begin showing cost savings.

Who were the early adopters of marking?

Early adopters in the UK include Cambridge Assessment which began testing e-marking in 2004. In 2010, the International Baccalaureate began using e-marking. By 2012, 66% of nearly 16 million exam scripts were “e-marked” across the UK according to Ofqual’s review of quality of marking in exams published in 2013 The proliferation of e-marking now continues outside of the UK with awarding organisations and universities in countries including India, Hong Kong, Slovenia and many Caribbean islands using e-marking for their high-stakes examinations.

What is the future of e-marking?

The use of e-marking is growing globally. Today, it is used to assess mainly high-stakes or ‘summative’ exams, but as the technology becomes more widely used e-marking may be used to mark other types of e-assessment and e-coursework at the ‘formative’ level in the classroom, with the introduction of media marking within some e-marking tools. E-marking providers are investing in new technologies, such as HTML5, to make e-marking more robust, more flexible and more scalable for the future.

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