SINGAPORE: A total of 32 students who sat for their GCE O-Level Additional Mathematics examination last year have been given the option of retaking Paper 2 of the Additional Mathematics exam, after their answer scripts went missing in the United Kingdom.
The affected students were from two secondary schools – 20 from Nan Hua High School and 12 from Hong Kah Secondary School which is now known as Jurongville Secondary.
A Cambridge examiner’s bag containing the answer scripts was mistakenly taken by another passenger on a train from London to the north of England, said the Singapore Examinations and Assessment Board (SEAB) on Monday (Jan 14).
The incident happened on Nov 21, about three weeks after students sat for Paper 2 of the Additional Mathematics exam.
The examiner’s bag had to be placed in a luggage rack near the door of the carriage when the train became crowded, said SEAB, adding that the examiner and passenger’s bags were “similar looking”.
The examiner reported the loss to Cambridge Assessment the next day.
“Cambridge Assessment immediately launched an investigation into the loss, and carried out extensive searches through the rail companies and police to locate the examiner’s bag,” said SEAB.
“Unfortunately, the scripts have not been recovered and the search is still ongoing.”
Such an incident is unprecedented, according to Cambridge’s director of assessment Juliet Wilson, who said she has not encountered this in her 20 years with the exams group.
“I have come to Singapore to show you how importantly I take this incident and how sorry Cambridge Assessment is,” said Mrs Wilson at a media briefing on Monday.
“We would like to really offer our sincere apologies to the candidates who have been affected and their parents and to absolutely reassure you that we are doing everything we can so that the candidates will get a valid and fair assessment.”
This is the second time in less than a year that students in Singapore have been affected by missing exam scripts.
Last February, it was announced that 238 GCE A-Level students had part of their H2 Chemistry answer scripts stolen from a courier company van. The incident happened while the papers were in transit from Cambridge Assessment’s office to the examiner for marking.
Commenting on the latest incident, chief executive of SEAB Tan Lay Choo said: “We were very upset and disappointed when we heard the news from Cambridge Assessment, especially since this happened so close to last year’s incident.”
She added: “Our priority now is to ensure that the affected candidates are not disadvantaged by the incident, and that they are given a valid and fair assessment for the Additional Mathematics examination.”
STUDENTS GIVEN OPTION OF RE-EXAMINATION
The affected candidates were told of the missing papers on Monday, during the release of the O-Level results.
They were awarded a grade based on Paper 1 of the Additional Mathematics paper, which makes up 44 per cent of the final grade, relative to the entire cohort's overall performance in the subject.
To check for consistency, SEAB said the affected candidates’ preliminary examination results were also considered.
Of the 32 candidates, 29 passed the subject and 20 scored distinction. Almost all had been awarded better or the same grades as their school preliminary exam results, SEAB said.
In addition, affected students have been given the option to retake Paper 2, based on the same curriculum, on Feb 15 this year. They will have to indicate their intention by Friday. Results will be released by the end of the month, and the better result of the two will be counted.
Should they opt for re-examination and get a better grade that allows them to enter a school or course, SEAB and Ministry of Education will facilitate their admission or posting.
Hong Kah Secondary student Ngui Kai Xian said she will not sit for the paper again as she was satisfied with her C6.
"My A-Maths has always not been so good, so I am happy that I passed," she said.
At Nan Hua High School, the affected students accepted the news "calmly" when they were briefed on Monday afternoon, said principal Tan Jong Lek.
She added that the school is working closely with SEAB, and is committed to ensuring that the students’ interests and well-being are taken care of.
"We have also deployed one of our teachers, who has many years of experience under her belt, to work with and support the affected students who wish to take up the option of re-examination," said the principal.
EXAMINERS ALLOWED TO TAKE SCRIPTS HOME
Mrs Wilson explained that examiners, who are contracted by Cambridge Assessment from all over the UK, are delivered scripts and are allowed to take them home to mark as they are on a “fairly tight deadline”.
The examiners are subject matter experts who also typically hold day jobs, Mrs Wilson said, adding that Cambridge Assessment has very “robust procedures” for examiners around security of scripts.
Asked about the time lag between the incident on the train and when SEAB was alerted, she said that they were “very hopeful” that the scripts would be recovered.
SEAB explained that the students were not told sooner of the lost scripts so as not to give them “undue anxiety and distress”.
“We think the best time to tell them when everything is known, so the results will be there, not just for A-Math, but also for the other subjects, and the real impact of the lost script on them will be clearer," Ms Tan said.
MOVING TOWARDS ON-SCREEN MARKING
In the meantime, Cambridge Assessment has already started to improve its procedures, Mrs Wilson said.
Cambridge Assessment sent a reminder to all examiners to reiterate the importance of keeping scripts secure when they are in their possession.
“We are also reviewing our procedures for examiners and looking at guidelines and instructions we give them, and in the future, we will be moving to more on-screen marking, so that we can mitigate this kind of occurrence,” she said, describing it as a “very very unusual occurrence”.
On-screen marking involves sending the scripts to Cambridge Assessment, where a high-resolution image will be scanned and accessed by examiners through authorised access. In 2018, about 65 per cent of all O, A and N-Level written scripts were marked on-screen.
Cambridge Assessment said it is on track to mark almost all of 2019's O, A and N-Level scripts on-screen by this year. Mrs Wilson cautioned, however, that there are challenges in doing so.
“We need to train the examiners in a new way of marking,” she said. “The absolute imperative is that we are offering a fair and valid assessment to the candidates, so we need to make sure we train the examiners to do that however they are marking.”
SEAB’s Ms Tan also said that the exams board will consider scanning the scripts in Singapore instead of transporting them to the UK.
She added that SEAB will meet senior officials from Cambridge Assessment later this month when the missing scripts will likely be discussed.
"We'll also be looking into whether there is cause for us to seek penalty," Ms Tan said.