KCSE candidates

Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education candidates at The Hill School, Eldoret in Uasin Gishu County tackle their Kiswahili Fasihi examinations paper on November 13, 2018. 

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Secrets of KCSE exam marker

What you need to know:

  • The duration of stay at the centre is mainly pegged on two factors.
  • First, the number of examiners that report to the centre, and, second, the number of scripts.

Have you ever wanted to find out what goes on during marking of KCSE exams? Ever wondered whether the marks you were awarded were fair? If you’ve ever sat a national exam, you might have been curious to know what goes on during marking. 

Theirs is probably the only face that is never seen in the exam season, but they could be the most crucial stakeholders in the exam period. DANIEL OGETTA spoke to an examiner, who sought anonymity, partly because the examiners are sworn to secrecy. Below is her story.

After a busy year teaching and striving to be done with the syllabus, I exhaust myself further by marking 1,000 exam papers or more. I am sure I speak for all examiners. It is always a 6am to 9pm marathon task. 

Whenever I leave home for the national exam marking, I am always prepared for two weeks or more of intense and exhausting activity – marking the KCSE exam papers. Such that whenever it ends, I can’t think of anything else, other than my children, my spouse and my house.

The duration of stay at the centre is mainly pegged on two factors. First, the number of examiners that report to the centre, and, second, the number of scripts.

Sometimes, when few markers report for duty, like it happened with geography markers this time, the scripts have to be marked in more than one centre.

During that period, my friends and family don’t see or hear much from me. I suppose by now they are used to my annual disappearances. You may wonder whether, with so many scripts to mark, attention might wander, especially if you are marking a subject that involves explaining the response correctly to get the marks. 

Marking scripts is sacred, yet mentally taxing. It also involves immense sacrifice. And, always, it is a delicate affair that tests professionalism, speed, accuracy, efficiency and experience. Woe unto first-timers! 

Knowing very well the marks will affect a student’s life forever, I am always guided by the tenets of good marking. 

Sometimes I have tired eyes, a tired wrist — and worse — a tired mind due to the repetitive activity. But, I always strive to ensure I’m at my optimum when handling the scripts.

As markers, upon arriving at the centre and settling in, we first declare our interests before delving into the marking. These could be where you teach, or if your child is in a particular school and you suppose that by marking that school’s scripts, you could be biased. You will then keep off such scripts as a professional.

Matter of life and death

Exams are treated like a matter of life and death. Given the stakes, a marking centre is always highly guarded -- by bullets and bravado. And oaths of secrecy. The marking process is militaristically guarded, too. 

No joke is tolerated around scripts. It is always serious business and frowning faces. And dead silence. Seriousness engulfs the centre throughout, except during breaks. Just like students during exams, we, the examiners, are not allowed to have our phones in the marking rooms. 

In ordinary times, marking centres are usually schools. So when we go in as markers, we sleep in the same dormitories the students sleep in, the same 5foot by 2.5foot beds, and we use the same amenities the students use when in session. Nothing special. From the meals to the mattresses. And, during meal times, we also queue like students do. It would almost be impossible to secure 6 by 6 beds, given our numbers, but we sure need to have comfortable beds.

That is why I said marking calls for sacrifice. In these Covid-19 times, the sacrifice is twice as much, starting with travelling to the marking centres. Remember, travelling was restricted. This then means that fares increased considerably. 

Since marking of scripts is a contract between the Kenya National Examination Council (Knec) and the teacher, I sometimes wonder if Knec has a menu for us. And if so, does it ever follow up with the supervisors manning the centres to ensure it is followed? 

We should be handled with dignity. 

Due to Covid-19, there are also restrictions to be followed. Because of our large numbers, we understand that achieving social distance would be difficult. But, as I said, marking is a sacred undertaking and the heavens protected us. Even though we were in our thousands, none of us was reported to have contracted the deadly virus. 

Still, I, sometimes worried about contracting the deadly disease miles away from my home and family.

Teaching, like theology, is a calling

If the Ministry of Education can improve these conditions, then it should. The sacrifices we make do not correspond to the remuneration we get. We sacrifice a lot. The ministry should strive to ameliorate these conditions in subsequent engagements with the markers.

I have been marking exams for long, under different ministers of education. The ministers come and go, and we know them by how they handle us. 

Before Dr Fred Matiang’i’s time at the Ministry of Education, the markers would be allowed to mark the scripts during the day and in the evening leave the centres to relax and forget the exhaustions of the day. That changed the year he entered the ministry. And, it has remained so to date. 

These days, once you get in, leaving the marking centre is restricted. One can only leave under special circumstances. No one is allowed to leave the exam centre until the last paper is marked and entered by the team that does the data entry. 

Just like we teach all sorts of students, we also stumble on all sorts of papers and you can imagine the personalities of the students from how they write, what they write and sometimes the notes they leave for the examiner. 

For example, you may find a note reading, “Please ensure I pass, if I fail, my parents will kill me.”
And we read them, even though they do very little, if any, to alter the marks the students were bound to achieve.

If I were to rate myself, on a scale of one to 10, I award myself 10. I earnestly believe I did a splendid job and even sacrificed more than ever to mark scripts. It’s for the love of my students.

Well, there is much to be said about the process, some good; some bad and calls for improvement. 

But, teaching, like theology, is a calling. We read, mark and award marks and sometimes wonder what our students wrote. And that is normal.


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