What Are Exam Boards (and FAQs)?

In GCSE, General by Think Student EditorLeave a Comment

When studying GCSEs, A-Levels or other qualifications, you will probably have come across the term “exam board”. In fact, you may even think that you know what they are. However, the term “exam board” can often get a bit confusing and can lead to a whole range of questions. Are they just for GCSEs? Is there more than one exam board? So different exam boards matter?

In short, an exam board is an official organisation that is responsible for developing a course and then creating, setting and marking or moderating exams or coursework. In the UK, there are 8 main exam boards. These are AQA, Pearson, OCR, WJEC, CCEA, SQA, City & Guilds and NCFE.

Continue reading to get a better understanding of what exam boards are and to get the answers to your questions about them. From which qualifications have exam boards to how or even if exam boards are regulated and much more.

What are exam boards?

An exam board is an official organisation that is responsible for different qualifications. These exam boards also have to develop and deliver exams to students, meaning that it’s their responsibility to create, set and then organise the marking of the exams for these qualifications. You can learn more about this by checking out this guide by the government.

Exam boards may also be referred to by other names, including examination board, examination body and awarding body. While this can cause some confusion, these terms do all mean the same thing. You can learn more about this by checking out this article by Wingu Academy.

Do all qualifications have exam boards in the UK?

As we’ve already looked at, exam boards are responsible for developing and delivering qualifications and their exams or alternative forms of assessment. However, does that mean that all qualifications have exam boards?

As the role of the exam board is to develop and deliver the qualifications, yes, all qualifications will need to have an exam board. However, how these exam boards work can vary massively based on what kind of qualification it is.

From my research, there seem to be 3 main types of exam board function based on the qualifications they offer. These are for national qualifications, such as GCSEs, A-Levels, etc., for vocational qualifications, such as NVQs, or professional qualifications, such as AATs, and for university qualifications.

These “types” of exam boards are very similar but there are a few small differences between them. Despite this, some exam boards will offer a mixture of these different qualifications.

Have a look at the following section to see more about what exam boards do and how these slightly differ between these “types”.

What do exam boards do?

In the previous section, we looked at how there are several kinds of exam board. As a reminder, these were exam boards for national exams, such as GCSEs and A-Levels, exam boards for vocational qualifications, such as NVQs, or professional qualifications, such as AATs, and exam boards for university qualifications.

When thinking about exam boards in general, you’ll probably be thinking about exam boards for national exams. This is especially as there can be a lot of variation even for the same or very similar courses for GCSEs, A-Levels and similar qualifications.

These types of exam boards will create their specification for the course, which will not only lay out the exams and forms of assessment but also what students will need to be taught and what they can be assessed on. They will also set the exams, including when these will be for each exam season, and then be responsible for marking them and creating the grade boundaries that these marks will be sorted into.

Exam boards will then be responsible for the appeal process and arranging the remarking of exams or coursework.

Admittedly, these roles of exam boards apply to all these “types” so these processes are carried out not only for national qualifications.

For more information about what exam boards do, check out this guide by the government. You can learn more about the roles within an exam board in this article by Jobs.ac.uk.

University exam boards are a bit different. These exam boards hold meetings at the end of the university year to review each student’s grades.

In these meetings, the exam boards are determining if students have met the requirements to pass their stage at university. Then they are also deciding the degree classification for final year students.

You can learn more about this by checking out this page on the University of Bristol’s website.

What are the exam boards in the UK?

Now that we’ve looked at what exam boards are and what they do, let’s look at some examples of exam boards in the UK and what type of exam boards they are.

The following list will tell you what some of the main exam boards in the UK are.

  • AQA
  • Pearson
  • OCR
  • WJEC
  • CCEA
  • SQA
  • City & Guilds
  • NCFE

You can learn more about these ones by checking out this page on the JCQ website.

Each of these names are commonly heard in reference to schools in the UK with many offering GCSEs/ National 5s, A-Levels/ Highers and other equivalent qualifications.

Other than these main ones, there are many UK exam boards that offer fewer mainstream qualifications. These will typically be more vocational and may even qualify as professional qualifications.

Some of the exam boards that offer qualifications like these are as follows.

  • AAT
  • Association of Business Executives
  • Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music
  • ACCA
  • Association of Corporate Treasurers
  • Association of International Accountants
  • APMG
  • BCS
  • British Safety Council
  • Cambridge Assessment Admissions Testing
  • Civil Aviation Authority
  • CFA
  • Chartered Insurance Institute
  • CIM
  • CIMA
  • CIPD
  • Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply
  • Chartered Institute for Securities and Investment
  • CIOT
  • Gemmological Association of Great Britain
  • General Medical Council
  • Heriot-Watt University
  • ICAEW
  • Institute of Chartered Shipbrokers
  • Institute of Export
  • Institute of Financial Accountants
  • Institute of Financial Services
  • Institute for the Management of Information Systems
  • Institute and Faculty of Actuaries
  • Chartered Institute of Linguists
  • LCCI
  • Membership of the Royal College of Physicians of the United Kingdom
  • Market Research Society
  • NCC
  • National Examination Board in Occupational Safety and Health
  • Royal Academy of Dance
  • RCS Edinburgh
  • RCS England
  • RCS Glasgow
  • Royal Statistical Society
  • Trinity College London
  • University College of Estate Management
  • University of London International Programmes

You can learn more about these by checking out this page on the British Council website.

What is the JCQ?

Having gone to secondary school and sixth form in the UK, the term JCQ often came up, especially in exam season. From posters to PowerPoint presentations from teachers, the little JCQ logo almost seemed like it was everywhere. However, I was still confused about what it actually means and many others still are.

As previously mentioned, the main 8 exam boards in the UK are AQA, Pearson, OCR, WJEC, CCEA, SQA, City & Guilds and NCFE. These 8 exam boards all also all members of JCQ. In fact, this organisation is the membership organisation of these 8 exam boards.

JCQ stands for Joint Council for Qualifications. In this way, JCQ is a council that is responsible for making sure that the member awarding bodies can communicate effectively with each other as well as with other parties. As a single organisation these exam boards can present a “single voice”, enabling them to send out a clearer message.

This can be especially important as JCQ will need to respond to proposals from the government, communicate with the media and arrange things for exams on behalf of the individual exam boards.

You can learn more about JCQ by checking out this page on their website.

Are exam boards regulated?

As previously mentioned, an exam board is the official organisation behind developing courses and setting their forms of assessment. As all qualifications must have some kind of exam board to develop and set the qualification, you might be wondering if there is any regulation involved in the development or assessment processes.

First of all, let’s establish what it means for an exam board to be regulated. When something is being regulated, it means that it is being controlled by some kind of law or certain rules. You can see more about this by looking at its definition on this page of Cambridge Dictionary.

In the context of an exam board, this would mean that there would need to be certain laws or rules for exam boards to adhere to when developing qualifications. Therefore this means that how regulation works will vary from country to country.

In the UK, not all qualifications are regulated. By extension, this means that not all exam boards are regulated.

Despite this, there are official government bodies that regulate exam boards in the UK. In fact, there are 4 of these for each of the UK countries.

Look at the following table to see what these regulators are and which country they operate in.

Country Regulator
England Ofqual
Scotland Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA)
Wales Qualifications Wales
Northern Ireland CCEA Regulation

You can learn more about these by checking out this page on the JCQ website.

These regulators are responsible for making sure that all regulated qualifications are up to the correct standard and that assessment is actually showing the students’ achievements. For more on this, have a look at this page on the government website.

Are GCSE exam boards different?

One of the main qualifications that you hear about exam boards of is you’re taking GCSE qualifications. As previously mentioned, different types of exam boards can work in different ways. Due to these factors, it’s important to look at GCSE exam boards in greater detail.

For GCSEs in the UK, there are 5 exam boards. In England, there are 4, these are AQA, Pearson Edexcel, OCR and WJEC under its English brand, Eduqas.

In Wales, the main exam board is WJEC. For Northern Ireland, the main exam board is CCEA.

The difference with GCSE exam boards and other kinds is that they are in line with the curriculums for England, Wales and Northern Ireland. This means that while each exam board has its own specification for the courses they offer, the content will still need to be very similar for it to still be in line with these curriculums.

You can check out this page on the government website for more on the GCSE curriculum. For more on what the national curriculum is, have a look at this Think Student article.

While this section has briefly gone through GCSE exam boards, you should check out this Think Student article which goes into much greater detail.

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