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Why do so few candidates score 4 out of 8 on this question? The issue of under-used marks in levels-based mark schemes

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Hughes, Sarah 
Shaw, Stuart 


Marks on a question which are rarely achieved by students are 'dead marks' or 'under-used' marks. Under-used marks may have a detrimental effect on reliability and can reduce the discriminative powers of a test. It is necessary to ensure, therefore, that there are as few under-used marks as possible. This study aimed to: identify under-used marks in a History examination for 16 year olds; explain this occurrence; and present recommendations to ensure that under-used marks are minimalised. Some under-used marks were identified. Interviews with markers explained the under-use of marks in terms of three issues: the specific skills being assessed, particularly the progression from description to explanation; features of the questions, including the predictability of question structure; and the familiarity of the topic being assessed. The research highlighted some concerns which were already articulated by senior examiners and which resulted in a re-designed mark scheme which aims to support examiners judging the quality of answers.



Marking, Psychology of assessment

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Research Matters

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Research Division, Cambridge University Press & Assessment

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