The Oxford 3000™ – The language of fair exams for international schools

The Oxford 3000™ - our unique tool for Fair Assessment

OxfordAQA is the international exam board that puts fairness first.

A central aspect of our Fair Assessment approach is the language we use in our International GCSE, AS and A-level exam papers.

At OxfordAQA, we have a unique tool to make sure the language in our exam papers is as clear as possible. It gives international students who speak English as a second language the same chance to achieve a top grade as native English speakers.

This tool is the Oxford 3000™, a list of the most important words to learn in English. We use the Oxford 3000 in all our International GCSE, AS and A-level exam papers.

So how does it the Oxford 3000™ work?

And how do we use it to make assessment in international education fairer and more accessible?

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How does the Oxford 3000™ create fairer international exams?
1. The Oxford 3000™ removes obstacles to optimal student performance

An exam is not valid if complex vocabulary prevents students from displaying their skills and knowledge in a subject. We use the Oxford 3000 across our International GCSE, AS and A-level exams to make sure that all students can focus on the key terms and understand the task they have to complete in an exam question.

2. The Oxford 3000™ makes sure OxfordAQA International exams test subject competence only

There are only two types of vocabulary in OxfordAQA exams:

  • Subject vocabulary that is part of the specification and therefore part of the knowledge and skills that the exam is assessing


When we design the question papers for our International GCSE, AS and A-levels, we either remove any word that isn’t in one of these two core vocabulary list, or clearly define it within the question. The result are clear and precise question papers that give every student the best possible chance to show what they can do.

“OxfordAQA exams were the first time our students could just answer the science, rather than worrying about the language of the exams”
Samina Rashid, Head of Science, Dubai, United Arab Emirates
3. The Oxford 3000™ makes UK-curriculum international education accessible

Removing complex language is important in any exam. But it’s even more important in examinations tailored to international schools, because many students are not native English speakers.

All words in the Oxford 3000 lists are mapped to a language competency level in the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR), from A1 to B2.

This means that all our OxfordAQA exam papers can be benchmarked to a maximum B2 level in the CEFR framework, as a level of English that is accessible to non-native English speakers at GCSE, AS and A-level.

At OxfordAQA, we achieve valid exams through the Oxford 3000 - a unique tool to make sure that the language in our exam papers is as clear as possible
4. The Oxford 3000™ creates an equal playing field for every international student

Focusing on the most frequent and important words in English, our exam papers create educational fairness in two ways:

International student for whom English is a Second language are not disadvantaged, because the language in our question papers is accessible and guarantees that they can give their best to demonstrate their subject skills.

International students who are native English speakers don’t have an unfair advantage either due to their mother tongue. The language in our International GCSE, AS and A-level exam papers is benchmarked to a maximum CEFR B2 level.

With the Oxford 3000™ as a unique tool, OxfordAQA International Qualifications provide international schools with valid, accessible and fair examinations that give every students the best chance to demonstrate their subject skills.

Who creates the Oxford 3000™ word list?

The Oxford 3000™ is generated by dictionary experts at our partner Oxford University Press.

They select the words based on two criteria:

The Oxford 3000™ contains the most frequent words in the Oxford English Corpus, a database of over 2 billion words from different subject areas and contexts which covers British, American and World English.

The Oxford 3000™ contains the most relevant words from a specially created corpus of Secondary and Adult English courses published by Oxford University Press. The list therefore covers important vocabulary that learners will come across in the classroom.

The Oxford 3000™ is validated by experts and was developed in consultation with James Milton, Professor of Applied Linguistics, Swansea University, UK, and reviewed by Paul Nation, Emeritus Professor in Applied Linguistics, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand.

Learn more about the Oxford 3000™ here.

The Oxford 3000™ is a unique tool in OxfordAQA’s Fair Assessment approach and one aspect of how we create exams that are valid. OxfordAQA’s Fair Assessment approach is made up of three core principles. Learn more about each principle:

  • Fair Assessment
  • Oxford 3000
  • Validity