How Fair Assessment can support students to achieve the grades they deserve

As the international exam board that puts fairness first, we ensure that every student has the best possible chance to get the grade they deserve.

The fairness of an exam offered by an international exam board can make the difference between students getting the grade they deserve and a grade that does not reflect their knowledge and skills. In high-stakes exams such as International GCSEs or A-levels, that difference can be life-changing.

OxfordAQA is the international exam board that puts fairness first. We have created a Fair Assessment approach for international schools using unique tools such as the Oxford 3000™ word list.

This approach makes sure that our International GCSEs, AS and A-levels are accessible for all international school students, including those for which English is a second language. Fair Assessment also means that everyone has the best chance to show their competence in a subject.

Fair Assessment for international schools is underpinned by three core principles:

Validity, reliability and comparability are all different and highly technical aspects of assessment design, for which we draw on the expertise and research that our partners AQA and Oxford University Press have developed in over more than 100 years of experience.

They all contribute to the same goal:

Creating fair assessments for international schools that give every student the chance to achieve the best possible grade.

Here are the most important ways how Fair Assessment helps your students achieve the grades they deserve.

Valid international exams – Making sure all students are assessed fairly
“They found the OxfordAQA question style crystal-clear. The case studies were easy to assimilate, and they knew straight away how to apply the content because the contexts were familiar.”
– Manorama Subramanian, Senior Business Studies & Economics Teacher at GEMS International School in Dubai

A valid exam accurately measures the subject skills and knowledge that the assessment is supposed to test – and nothing else.

OxfordAQA International GCSE, AS and A-levels are tailored to international students and maximise the potential that all international students can show their best, with clear language, question formatting and internationally relevant contexts.

1) The Oxford 3000™ – the language of fairness

The number of students in international schools that were born in the country the school is based in is growing, and so is the number of international students who are not native English speakers.

OxfordAQA International GCSE, AS and A-level question papers use a unique tool to ensure that international students from all language backgrounds can demonstrate their ability in a subject. This tool is the Oxford 3000™, a list of the 3000 most important words to learn in English.

The word in every single OxfordAQA exam question is either a word that is subject vocabulary for the specification, and thus part of the subject knowledge that a valid exam tests, or it is part of the Oxford 3000™ word list. If a word is not in one of both lists, our expert assessment designers remove it or explain it in the question itself.

The result is a crystal-clear language that help students to achieve their grades in three ways:

By exclusively focusing on the most frequent and relevant words in English and subject vocabulary, international students from all language backgrounds are able to show their subject skills in the GCSE, AS and A-level exams we offer as a UK-curriculum international exam board. 

Students do not lose time or nerves by having to decode complex wording that has nothing to do with the subject they are assessed on. They can immediately focus on the task and subject knowledge that the question wants them to demonstrate.

The words in the Oxford 3000™ are mapped to a maximum language competency level of B2 in the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) and contain only the most frequent of relevant words in English.

As a result, no student is disadvantaged – or advantaged – due to their language background; everyone is tested on their subject knowledge only.

Read more about the Oxford 3000™ here.

The Oxford 3000™ - our unique tool for Fair Assessment
2) Fair formatting fosters performance

The format of questions papers and individual exam papers significantly impacts how well students perform in an exam. Any formatting that makes it more difficult for students to understand what they are being asked to do is unfair and invalid – it prevents students from demonstrating the subject ability the assessment is supposed to test.

We draw on the same expertise and research for which our partner AQA is market leader for domestic UK qualifications, ensuring that the format of our exam papers makes it completely clear what students are being asked to do.

One example is the highlighting of key words. Research done by assessment experts at AQA showed that by simply putting the word “shape” in bold in an exam question, the success rate for this question increased from 8.3% to 37.5%.

How we achieve valid exams by formatting our question papers fairly.

It is this expertise that AQA has developed in over 100 years, that make our OxfordAQA International GCSE, AS and A-level exams as clear as possible.

“They know the keywords and understand exactly what to do. […] We made the switch to OxfordAQA A-level Science two years ago and got the best set of A-level results we’ve ever had.”
Peter Haagensen, Head of Science
3) Globally relevant content instead of UK-centric contexts

Does an International GCSE student in Dubai or China need to know that a ‘caravan’ in the UK means a mobile home or vehicle you can live in, in order to answer a Maths question?

The answer is no, as such an example in a question paper potentially prevents a student who has never been to the UK from understanding and answering the question altogether.

As an international exam board, it is central to our “fairness first” approach that we only use context and examples that are culturally appropriate, understood in any part of the world and relevant to the lives of international students and tomorrow’s global citizens.

With this, our exam paper questions help, not hinder, international students to show what they know in a subject – with engaging and relevant content they can relate to.

4) Reliable mark schemes and rigorous marking

Fair Assessment that makes every student achieve the grade they deserve needs to be integrated into international exams from the start – long before a student takes up the pen in the examination hall.  

At the very start, our OxfordAQA assessment designers create the mark scheme alongside the question paper. This process ensures that we have a clear idea of the answer we expect from students when we write the question, and for which points students will be rewarded.

Clear mark schemes are one element of how we achieve reliable exams

We offer free Marking Guidance training to OxfordAQA teachers well ahead of our summer exam series, so that they can use this guidance to show their students which answers will receive high marks, and why.

The clear mark schemes we design also create reliability – ensuring that all examiners interpret them in exactly the same way and award marks consistently for all students.

Learn more how reliable mark schemes and marking helps students get the correct grade.

5) Comparable exams: Fair grades for future success

Two mechanisms ensure that OxfordAQA qualifications give students in international schools the best chances to progress to university and beyond.

Our grade boundaries are set each year to represent a consistent standard over time.

OxfordAQA’s International GCSEs and A-levels use the same procedures and standards as AQA, our joint venture partner who are the UK’s market leader for domestic GCSEs and A-levels.

Senior examiners for the UK specification attend the awarding meeting for the international qualification and compare the quality of work across the two qualifications.

As a UK-curriculum international exam board, we align our globally relevant syllabus content closely to the national UK curriculum.

Most importantly, our assessments emphasise on equipping students with the higher-order skills that are the foundation of the latest reform of exams in the UK.

For universities and employers, this means that they can be confident that students taking OxfordAQA International GCSE, AS and A-levels can demonstrate the same advanced critical thinking skills as students in England.

For students, parents and international schools it means that OxfordAQA International Qualifications represent a gold standard that will lead them to the universities and careers they aspire.

  • Fair Assessment
  • Oxford 3000
  • Validity
  • Reliability
  • Comparability