Skip to main content

How is calibration carried out?

Who is involved in calibration?

Calibration involves academics in a specific discipline from a range of institutions across the higher education sector as well as representatives of disciplinary associations or Professional, Statutory and Regulatory Bodies (PSRBs). Participants represent similar courses and are familiar with their standards as they regularly make judgements about the quality of student work, through active involvement in teaching, assessing, marking and moderating within their own institutional and professional contexts. After calibration is undertaken between representatives from different institutions, participants return to their home institution and disseminate what they have learnt, ideally leading to similar activities held internally.

A process for calibration

A process for calibration can involve agreeing a statement of the academic standard or focus for the calibration (e.g. final year projects, communication skills) and participants collaboratively considering student work typical for courses in their discipline. Typically, this would include working with the following:

  1. ‘Instantiations’ of student work (e.g. written coursework, video of performance, artefact, exam answers) (representing high, medium and low ‘levels’ of student attainment) from the same module or unit – ideally, the subject matter and assessment task should be typical of the broad subject or discipline.
  2. A mark for each instantiation, determined through an expert process (e.g. a panel of expert examiners comprised of experienced academics in the broad subject or discipline from 6-8 diverse higher education providers).
  3. Contextual information regarding the module, such as learning outcomes and assessment brief, but not assessment criteria.
  4. External reference point/s, such as extracts from the relevant subject benchmark statement, FHEQ or professional standards.
  5. An explanation of the reasons for the mark awarded, ideally with reference to the contextual information and external reference points.

Examples of student work are therefore discussed with the aim of reaching a consensus as to whether these exemplars can be deemed to have met the required standard, taking account of the widest possible range of arguments. The discussion focuses on making reasons for judgements explicit and considering them in detail. This enables the participants to gain an in-depth understanding of the standards. The aim is that repeated participation in calibration activities will result in ‘calibrated academics’ (Sadler, 2012).

Enquire about our external examining services here


Sadler, D. R. (2012) Assuring academic achievement standards: from moderation to calibration, Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy and Practice, 20(1), pp. 5-19.