Page last updated at 11:23 GMT, Thursday, 20 November 2008

Confusion over GCSE print error

exam room
The problem affects 119,000 GCSE candidates

Tens of thousands of GCSE students have faced confusion because of a printing error in a physics exam.

Exam board AQA sent out a faulty paper on which students were meant to write answers to multiple choice questions.

It says the problem affects a modular physics paper being taken by up to 119,000 students.

AQA has apologised and says students will not be disadvantaged. An exam invigilator who alerted the BBC said the mistake would cause confusion.

He said: "I've just come out of the exam hall and everyone is fuming in there.

"One of our staff spotted the mistake and we have called the exam board. It took three-quarters of an hour to get through.

"Now we have been told that pupils should put their answers on the question paper."

There seemed to be much confusion in the exam hall. I felt stressed by this mistake and am worried my exam will be lower because of this
teenager, Surrey

Normally, the answers are entered on a grid which is then marked electronically.

One 15-year-old from Surrey, who does not want to be identified, was very distressed after taking the exam.

He told the BBC News website: "I was very confused with the exam answer sheet. There seemed to be much confusion in the exam hall with teachers not knowing what to do.

"I felt stressed by this mistake and am worried my exam will be lower because of this."


AQA has apologised for the error and says the problem is limited to the physics paper. Students will not be disadvantaged by the error, the exam board insists, but the paper will not be re-scheduled.

A spokeswoman said: "AQA became aware this morning of a problem with a physics paper (PHY1AP) being taken by candidates today.

"Due to a printing error on the Objective Test Question answer sheet (which candidates would normally use to show their answers) candidates are unable to use the answer sheet to answer the questions.

Answer sheet from March 2008

Most computers will open PDF documents automatically, but you may need to download Adobe Acrobat Reader.

"The advice we have issued to centres is that candidates should instead use their question booklet to answer questions.

"However, if candidates have attempted to use the original answer sheet, or have used any other means of answering, we can reassure them that all their responses will be marked.

"AQA apologises for this error and we are reviewing our monitoring procedures to establish exactly how this has occurred. As always, we will take all steps to ensure we protect the interests of all our candidates."

The printing errors involve the answer sheet for the physics paper - which is separate to the question paper.

The exam invigilator who contacted the BBC said the possible multiple-choice answers for one question had been put in a slot for another and that in another case, were missing altogether.

The exams are taken in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

A teacher from a large school in Shropshire contacted BBC News to says he was "appalled at the incompetence of the exam board in failing to check for this very obvious mistake".

The teacher, Geoff, added: "The problem caused stress for students worried about their exam and the advice that AQA gave me (after a half hour wait for the phone to be answered) conflicts with what they are now saying.

"They also adopted an amazingly confrontational tone with me pointing out that the onus would be on us to explain what advice we had given students and how they had entered answers - when it is all their fault!

"This has disadvantaged all students who were in the exam room and the only fair thing AQA can do is to rerun the exam - free of charge - for all the students who sat today."

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