As pupils, it’s hard not to feel that exam boards are the most powerful organisations in our lives. They seem to shape what we study from the day we first entered the classroom to the day we plan to leave it – and it’s they who are awarding us our marks at the end of it all.

AQA, Edexcel, OCR and all the rest of them determine what we need to learn and when – and decide the questions we need to answer and how we need to answer them. It’s these guys that determine how we revise, what we revise, and what the results of our A Level or GCSE revision are.

That’s the thing, really, isn’t it? It’s not that they are just in control of what we study – but that they mark us too. And so, every mistake we make they notice and mark us down on. It was only a mistake!

However, it is not only us A Level or GCSE students that make mistakes. The exam boards do it too! Over the years, there have been lots of different stories hitting the news of how examinations have had errors in, or how examiners themselves had made mistakes – and stories of how these errors have affected the candidates themselves.

And while we’re not here to show up the failings of the exam boards themselves, it’s important for us all to know that we’re not the only ones to make mistakes. Even the people who are checking our errors make them too!

Let’s take a look at some of the worst howlers that exam boards have ever made. And you check can check out common mistakes and how to avoid them yourself here!

avoid mistakes in exams
Mistakes aren't inevitable.

Mistakes Happen to Everyone

When you are at school, it can feel like you are the only people in the world facing so much continual criticism, evaluation, and assessment – and that only you are not allowed to make mistakes. Everyone else can tell you what to do all the time, without ever being checked up on themselves – and without their actions or mistakes having consequences.

However much it feels as though you are endlessly making mistakes, you are not, in reality, the only to be doing it. We all make mistakes, and when you are feeling as though your life depends on every single one – in your exam preparation or exam questions, in your practice test or at some other point in your school career – know that everyone else is doing it too. And that it only matters so much.

Even the people marking your mistakes – those who give you your exam results – do it. And whilst this might not be the most comforting news, it should show you that mistakes are a part of being human – not just something that gets in the way of college admissions or university places.

Find out the most common exam mistakes.

Some of the Worst Exam Board Mistakes

Exam boards are run by people. Your papers are marked by people. And all of the results are added up, administered, and sent out across the country by people too.

What do we know about people? Perhaps the one thing we know more than any other is that people make mistakes. And there is no reason why the people who run the exam boards shouldn’t either. That, by the way, applies to all sorts of exams: a multiple choice or an oral exam, for GCSE or for A Level. All of them work in the same way.

So, give them the benefit of the doubt that they are not really allowed to give you. And remember that these mistakes are honestly very rare.

Here are some exam board mistakes that we might actually all be better off forgetting.

The Case of the ‘Wrong’ Maths Paper

Imagine being in the midst of your GCSEs. You’ve been doing your exam prep for months, you’ve got your exam schedule, and you finally feel like you’re ready for your GCSE maths exam.

On the exam date, you and your fellow students sit down in the exam hall and are told to open your exam papers.

However, you open the paper to see that none of the questions that it asks have anything to do with what you have studied throughout your secondary education. Your GCSE seems actually to have been compiled completely at random.

Well, this actually happened back in 2016 – and we can’t imagine that the students were very happy about it. They took to the internet to express their rage. What they said was actually quite mild.

Do your best to avoid exam mistakes yourself!

common exam mistakes
Yep, you went wrong - but you can still make it right

And Typos in the Test Papers

Typos in the test paper is really a bit of a classic error for examination boards. Which is surprising, given that each of the exam papers – whether for GCSE mathematics, English literature, or religious studies – is checked over by about five different pairs of eyes.

In a particularly notorious instance, mistakes were found in three different exams: maths, Latin, and physics.

For some reason, it is maths that, out of all of the GCSE subjects, is most error prone. This case had published an exam paper that had pages included that were identical to the previous year’s exam.

Meanwhile, in the Latin paper, the names of writers and characters in different literary works were incorrect. This might even be fun, if the GCSE results of students like you weren’t depending on it.

By the way, these papers went out to a total of fifty thousand students in over a thousand schools and colleges. A little bit embarrassing.

People Who Mark Exam Papers Make Mistakes?

This one’s a situation that you may well desperately fear. Back in 2012, a whistleblower came forward to tell the world about the mistakes that markers make when marking GCSE exams and other final exams. It all caused a bit of a hoo-hah.

The trouble was not even that markers were marking papers incorrectly. Rather what was happening was that they would mark the papers happily enough, but they would make their errors when adding up the marks scored on each separate page, for example.

The result was that the final total reached would correspond to a completely different grade in the grading system. As a result, schools spent a total of £5.5 million for the exam fee for having their scripts remarked.

Not a very pleasant story – and all because of counting errors.

Markers are Under Too Much Pressure to Mark Correctly

The trouble in all this was that the people who are employed to mark every GCSE exam are encouraged to work at a completely unsustainable rate. In some cases, we are talking about a need to read eight papers an hour – an incredible amount!

With this, it is almost not surprising that the people who work for exam boards make mistakes – given that it sounds almost as stressful as having to take an exam.

It doesn’t give them much time to actually determine whether exam candidates deserve one or another of the GCSE grades – and it gives them no time at all for revising their own mistakes.

However, don’t blame the workers for the difficulties in your general certificate of secondary education. With low pay and ridiculous timetables, they have it hard too.

Check out the funniest exam mistakes ever (actually, they are real!)

revision beats exam mistakes
Keep on going - and those mistakes will disappear

What to Do if You Spot Mistakes in Your Exams

But what should you do if you feel like, mid-exam, you’re looking an obvious mistake right in the face? We’re not talking here about practice tests or practice exams, but actually the real thing. What should you do?

Well, firstly, the most important thing is absolutely nothing. If you are in a written exam keep going; if you are in an exam with multiple choice questions – and you can still make out the sense of the question – keep going. There is no point making a ruckus in the middle of the exam hall. Nail the exam – and then think about that.

In most cases, you will be able to take the question paper with you – not the answers. Ask the invigilator or examiner in the room whether this is possible or not. You want to hold onto the evidence for that mistake!

Show it to your teacher and see if they agree. It might be that the stress of the moment has you seeing mistakes where they don’t exist. However, if they do agree, you’ll need to get in touch with the exam board – who should take full responsibility.

Unfortunately, you may have to sit a retake if too many errors are found in your paper.

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