NCEA External Assessment: Grade Score Marking

Grade Score Marking allows the recognition of the quality of evidence within each assessment item by assigning a score to that item.

All external achievement standards have been written with a single outcome to allow aggregation of assessment evidence from across an examination paper.

Question marking

Each question in each NCEA examination paper is awarded a single N, A, M, or E grade. This grade is awarded using the criteria from the standard. Each response is marked for the quality of the evidence it contains. Markers are instructed to ensure a high quality response is not marked down for a minor error. Marking is “top down”, which requires the marker to initially look for evidence for Excellence, as described by the Excellence criterion in the standard. Only if this evidence is missing or deficient, do markers look for Merit evidence, and then down to Achievement. 

The grade is based on the whole response to the question and takes account of all evidence in the candidate’s answer. Some questions may have parts, bullet points, or other scaffolding, but this does not affect the award of a single holistic grade.

Grade Score Marking has brought an additional refinement to marking. Recognition of the quality of evidence within each grade is made possible by assigning a number to show upper and lower levels of grades. For example, lower Merit = M5, upper Merit = M6; both 5 and 6 are Merit scores. The scores indicate that the student has met the criterion for a Merit grade in the question.

Possible grade scores for a question:

Not Achieved Achievement Merit Excellence
N1 N2 A3 A4 M5 M6 E7 E8

Overall result for a standard

The judgement about overall performance against the standard is made by aggregating the scores from the questions. For example, in an examination paper with three questions, a candidate may score M5 for Question One, A3 for Question Two, and M6 for Question Three. For the whole paper, the candidate’s score is M5 + A3 + M6 = 14. This score will be written in the “total” box on the front cover of the candidate’s answer booklet.

During marking in each year, cut scores are set by senior markers. The senior markers use the standard and a large sample of papers on each score to decide where the scores that separate the grades fall. These scores are called the cut scores. It is essential to the integrity of Grade Score Marking that holistic judgement across actual papers is used to determine the cut scores.

When judgement statements are published on the NZQA website, they appear as score ranges (e.g. Merit range 14 – 19). In this example, the lower cut score (between Achievement and Merit grades) for a Merit grade is 14; any paper with a score of 14 written in the “total” box would receive a Merit grade. In this example, the upper cut score (between Merit and Excellence) for a Merit grade is 19; any paper with a score of 19 written in the total box would receive a Merit grade. All papers between and including 14 to 19 receive a Merit grade.

Each set of cut scores relates only to that particular assessment. Each year, new grade score ranges will be set using marked examination papers and the standard being assessed. These cut scores are published on the NZQA website at the same time examination papers are returned to candidates. This allows candidates to check whether their grade as shown in their online results is correct.

Prior to implementation, five years of research at NZQA confirmed that Grade Score Marking is a fair and effective method of standards-based marking.

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