DM: DOCUMENT MANAGER Großbritannien Vol 12 No 02 - April 2004
AQA Assessments and Qualifications Authority in Great Britain
Successfully passing the exam
In the UK, all exams at schools and universities are taken at the same time with the same tasks and are scanned and marked centrally.
Exam papers require extremely high accuracy scanning, with unusually high volumes and basically within a tight timeframe.
DM shows how one examining authority has tackled this difficult combination of requirements.
The Assessments and Qualifications Authority (AQA) is the largest public examination board in the UK. With over 50% of the market share, they process over 8 million scripts each summer from examinees sitting their public GCSE and ‘A’ Level exams. The timely and accurate evaluation coupled with the awarding of degrees to examinees means an immense administrative task for any accrediting body. For AQA, this means that literally millions of documents containing information from schools, colleges, examinees, examiners and moderators must be accurately recorded and processed – within time-critical deadlines, of course – in order to meet pre-established deadlines for the publication of results.
Based on AQA’s growth plans for the future, it was clear that the administrative workload would increase even further, which in turn would have an impact on internal costs and meeting delivery deadlines.
To address this issue, AQA initiated a strategic programme to implement web-based data collection methods. Where appropriate, these systems were further augmented by extending the automated OMR form processing applications to use ICR technology. This further enhanced the existing data collection methods. It was also the right opportunity to eliminate previously manual data entry processes, allowing “quick wins” without compromising the traditionally high data accuracy required by AQA.
AQA commissioned Informed Imaging to specify, deliver and support a complete AQA-wide forms processing solution to meet their stringent specifications. To handle the enormous volume of paper, which can easily exceed 100,000 documents per day at critical times, Informed Imaging selected the most reliable and flexible hardware and software components the market offered.
At the heart of the forms processing software is an e-Flow platform from Top Image Systems, with Informed Imaging contributing extensive application development and customisation. The e-Flow system has an excellent reputation worldwide for handling the largest and most complex forms processing tasks possible, and it proved to be the ideal solution for AQA.
For many years, AQA used OMR scanning technology and EDI to capture almost all of its data, but relied little on manual data entry methods. The AQA system currently processes at least 24 different types of forms used within the organisation, including examiner comment sheets, assessment forms, multiple-choice test forms and feedback forms. Each document contains specific data that needs to be extracted, whether by OCR, handwriting recognition, tick box or barcode recognition. The captured data is then verified according to form-specific rules and seamlessly passed to the Oracle database, with a minimum of human intervention. This grants AQA massive savings in labour costs and very significant productivity gains.
The best possible scanning hardware and software was required for the ICR application upgrades. After extensive testing, Informed Imaging recommended the Scamax 5000 scanners from InoTec GmbH, and the DpuScan high-performance image capture software from Janich & Klass. This system (already installed at AQA in 2001) consistently produced the excellent results in terms of reliability and processing speed required by AQA, and is also easy to use. Today, four Scamax 5000 scanners allow AQA to scan over 250,000 sheets daily, with image quality high enough for OCR and ICR as well. The vital services of maintenance, support and training, essential with production scanners of this calibre, were contracted to Scanning Resources Limited (the InoTec scanner distributor for the UK) as they brought expertise and trustworthiness, as well as a thorough knowledge of the scanners, which was important to ensure AQA received support at all times.