This blog has been updated for the June 2023 series and applies to OCR general qualifications and Cambridge Nationals.
Lauren McLachlan, Senior Customer Support Manager
We often get asked about the process of returning candidates’ scripts: how it works and what constitutes best practice. With that in mind, we’ve identified the issues that can occur when returning completed question papers – or scripts – and how best to avoid them! For a student-friendly guide to the journey of an exam paper between the exam day and results day, take a look at our short video explaining how GCSE and A Level exams are marked and graded.
When you return scripts to us:
Below are some examples of things that can go wrong and ways to avoid them so the marking process runs smoothly.
Please make sure you only use OCR candidate answer booklets for OCR exams. Sometimes we receive answer booklets from other awarding bodies. This causes issues at both the scanning and indexing stages as there are no OCR barcodes for us to scan and the candidate and centre details are in different places on the paper.
We have to check whether we’ve been sent an exam paper intended for another exam board and this can take some time! Once we establish whether the paper is meant for us it’s sent to an examiner to be traditionally marked, rather than on-screen. If it’s for another exam board then we’ll transfer it to them – but this does delay the marking process.
If you don’t have enough OCR answer booklets, you can request additional stationery by calling our Customer Support Centre and. In an emergency, we can provide you with a PDF version for you to download or you can download one from Digital File Despatch (DFD) where we publish non-interactive PDF versions of question papers.
You might need to print or photocopy question papers (we’d always recommend you print them using the non-interactive PDF versions rather than photocopying them). Please check every page has printed or copied correctly and the pages are collated in the right order before giving the question paper to the candidate. If you can, try to produce them double-sided – that way we’ll be able to process the scripts as normal. We may have to send single-sided sheets to an examiner to be marked traditionally, rather than on-screen, which can take longer.
If a candidate sits two exams in a session one after another, please don’t let them use the same answer booklet for both exams. Always make sure all the exam materials are collected in from candidates at the end of each exam. At the start of the next exam, new answer booklets should be given out to candidates.
Make sure you complete your attendance register accurately. All candidates need to be marked as either ‘present’ or ‘absent’ (or ‘transferred to another centre’ or ‘withdrawn’ where applicable). Remember to add the details of candidates not printed on the attendance register, e.g. late entries or ‘pirate’ candidates and cross through the name and candidate number of candidates who have been withdrawn.
If you have entries for an exam where the whole cohort was absent, you still need to return the attendance register (in a script return envelope), marking all candidates as absent.
Include a copy of the attendance register with your scripts. When packing them, please place the attendance register on top of the scripts. If you have more than one packet of scripts for an exam, place the attendance register in the first packet.
Please don’t use treasury tags or staples to attach additional answer booklets, word-processed pages or cover sheets to the script. All fastenings are removed as soon as scripts are taken out of the envelopes and removing them can slow down the process of scanning the papers. Instead, place the additional booklets/sheets inside the question paper or main answer booklet (between the cover and second page). We check each script for any additional items such as word-processed pages and additional answer booklets.
The exception to using additional fastenings is if you are printing or photocopying question papers, e.g. onto coloured paper – please staple the sheets together before giving them to your candidates so they remain in the correct order. When stapling, please make sure you staple them along the left-hand side, up to 0.5cm from the edge. This will enable us to cut off the spines in the normal way and reduces the risk of staples jamming the scanning machine.
As word-processed scripts are typed and printed on separate sheets, the actual question paper or answer booklet is usually left blank. Please make sure the front cover of the question paper or answer booklet is completed and has the candidate’s full name, candidate and centre number, and the unit/component code. Make sure your candidates add these details, plus the page number (e.g. page 1 of 6), in the header or footer of each separate word-processed page. It’s a good idea to annotate the attendance register to show this was a word-processed script (you can write ‘word pro’ for example).
You no longer need to use a word processor cover sheet, but if you would like to use one, we have provided one for you to use. If the candidate has used a word processor to answer questions but has also written answers in the booklet, it’s useful if you do use a word processor cover sheet to indicate this. The cover sheet should be inserted into the question paper or answer booklet along with the word-processed pages.
Where the candidate has used a scribe for all or part of an exam, make sure they complete the front cover of the completed question paper or answer booklet so it contains all the candidate and centre details. You’ll need to complete a scribe cover sheet by printing a pre-populated cover sheet from Access Arrangements Online. Simply insert the cover sheet and any additional answer booklets inside the question paper or main answer booklet and place in the script envelope. Candidates who use a scribe sometimes provide answers in more than one paper or booklet. Please make sure they complete the front cover of both. Return them to us with one cover sheet indicating that more than one answer booklet has been used.
Don’t put scripts from different exams into the same script envelope, even if the address on the script return label is the same. When we receive scripts, we scan the barcode on the address label which you attach to the outside of the script envelope. All the scripts in the packet are then scanned and digitally ‘attached’ to that code. Although we make every effort to spot issues, putting scripts from different exams in the same packet means they might be matched to the wrong unit or component and this can cause delays in marking.
Please do not overfill the OCR script envelope and when returning a bag containing only a few exam scripts, we recommend you include a piece of cardboard to make the package more substantial.
Please don’t include anything other than exam scripts, cover sheets, the attendance register (or the additional cardboard) in the packets. We often receive unused question papers or other exam-related material which is scanned and then slows down the marking process. Any unused or spare question papers can be released to your teachers after the published finishing time or after all candidates in your centre have completed the exam, whichever is later (see section 31 of the JCQ Instructions for conducting examinations).
Only attach one label per packet, making sure the unit or component number matches the scripts enclosed. When packets of scripts are returned to us with either an incorrect address label or no label at all, this can delay the marking process. Make sure the label is securely attached – please don't write on it, alter it or obscure any of the details including the barcode (which is scanned when the packet arrives).
We send the script return labels in the same despatch as your question papers and we provide one label for every 40 candidates. You can request an emergency replacement label from Interchange within three days of an exam. Only one label per exam can be generated from Interchange – if you need more, please call our Customer Support Centre. Don’t print duplicate copies or photocopy labels as the barcode on each label is unique.
Each year we receive empty envelopes and, because we need to be certain that no exam papers have been lost in transit, we investigate each case – which stops us looking into ‘real’ issues.
You can keep unused script envelopes – as long as they’re within the ‘use by date’, they can be used in a future exam series.
Lauren is the Senior Customer Support Manager. The Customer Support Team provides support, training and guidance for centres administering OCR qualifications. Before joining the Customer Support Team Lauren worked as an exams manager in a busy sixth form college and exams officer in an 11–16 high school. Her experience in these roles has given Lauren a diverse range of knowledge that helps to assist and support our customers.