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Answer Checking

February 25, 2016

The value of answer checking

How much value do students and teachers place on the accuracy of the answers provided at the back of the book?

Imagine a teacher asking their class to complete the set of exercises provided in the student book as homework. At the start of the next class, several students are confused as they could not get the same answer as the ‘correct’ one at the back of the book. On checking, the teacher finds the answer is inaccurate, but the damage has been done –  the students’ confidence has been knocked, the teacher has become wary about answer accuracy and your brand has been damaged…

So, while we don’t know the exact value of answer checking, we do know it is an essential part of the production process. Furthermore, its importance is growing as the portfolio of products aimed at assessment and exam preparation continues to expand.

During the recent production cycles for GCSE maths and science, Wearset has been expanding its capacity to conduct answer checking. Andy Cordiner (a former research scientist) explains further by answering some questions.

What is answer checking?

Answer checking is a service we provide in which we check the copy supplied by the author. This involves independently re-calculating the answer, but it also needs to extend beyond that, to other considerations. At Wearset, we ensure the answer provided by the author complies in four areas:

Accuracy – is the answer logically correct?

Compatibility – is the answer compatible with the preferred teaching method and the specification in terms of  its methods, calculations and significant figures?

Uniqueness – can the question be interpreted in only one way and provide only one answer, without ambiguity?

Relevance – is the question relevant to the section/lesson and ordered correctly?

Why is answer checking important?

We have seen the value of accurate answers to the perceived value of the product. Everyone understands that no author can be expected to provide 100% accurate original copy, which is why so much of pre-press is occupied with editorial proofing. Question-and-answer sections are no different – it would be infeasible to expect an author to consistently achieve 100% in an exam, no matter how well versed they were in their subject.

Not only this, we all know that a proofreader spots errors the author is blind to in their own work. All too often, editors avoid examining the question-and-answer sections as they feel they do not possess the subject knowledge of the author, resulting in resources being published without independent third-party review.

It is important that the given answers are not only correct, but that they reinforce the taught methods for providing answers using correct techniques, units and rounding/decimal places/significant figures.

There are also categories of questions that require other considerations:

• Mathematical and scientific symbols – assisting the typesetter in the absolute correct formatting of symbols and equations.

• Graphs and diagrams – the answer checker needs to ensure the artwork brief is accurate and clear.

• Exam-style questions – to reinforce best practice and promote fuller understanding, it is often necessary to ‘show your working’. Again, close working with the typesetter may be required due to space considerations, as answer sections tend to be placed at the end of the title.

How will this develop in the future?

There are several development routes that we are actively researching. Here’s an introduction to a couple:

Expansion by subject

At present, answer checking is applied to subjects with logic-driven, definitive answers. We would ideally extend answer checking to other subjects where it can prove helpful, such as humanities and social science subjects. This could prove a challenge, as answers can be more interpretive than definitive, given that the topics can be more subjective in nature. However, there would be room for improvement both in terms of removing errors and in placing greater emphasis on alignment to the examination requirements.

Pairing questions and answers

The continuous adaptation of text is a prime opportunity for the introduction of error. Having the facility to create a ‘fixed pair’ between the question and answer (even though they appear in different places) would not only improve accuracy, but would also save time. It would have further benefits when publishers chose to extend the use of the material across multiple resources.

So, who knows what technological advances could bring to the world of answer checking? I’m sure many of us can think of texts that would have benefited from the implementation of such processes!

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