News & Reports

AlphaPlus has been working with Qualifications Wales since early 2018 to produce a good practice guide on knowledge-based mark schemes. This interactive guide has now been published for the first time. The project was led by Sarah Maughan, Director of Assessment at AlphaPlus.

Alphaplus Director - Sarah Maughan

This practical tool has been designed to support qualification developers and assessors during the design, development and review of mark schemes, helping them to consider some of the key principles that underpin different types of knowledge-based mark schemes. The guide also identifies some of the key issues with mark schemes that can affect the validity and reliability of an assessment.

Although it is not a regulatory document, the guide is intended to help awarding bodies and to complement their existing qualification development processes.

About the guide

The main purpose of the guide is to promote a consistent and evidence-based approach to the way that mark schemes are developed and used by awarding bodies, and reviewed by Qualification Wales and their subject experts as part of the approval and monitoring processes.

This guide is designed to support qualifications developers when designing, developing and reviewing mark schemes for knowledge-based qualifications, although many of the principles apply to mark schemes more broadly (e.g. competency-based mark schemes).

The focus of the guide is on the general principles of assessment such as validity and reliability, and has been designed to be applicable to as wide a range of subjects and knowledge-based assessments (including non-exam assessment) as possible. It references both levels-based and points-based mark schemes.

The guide can be used both:

  • to inform decisions throughout the design phase of the mark scheme; and
  • to support awarding bodies at the end of the process as they consider if the resulting mark scheme is based on evidence-informed principles of effective mark scheme development.

The mark scheme guide is not a regulatory document or a replacement for an awarding body’s own development process; this resource is intended to complement individual awarding bodies’ development processes and to ensure compliancy with Qualifications Wales’ regulatory standards.

The content of the guide is based on a research report – also by AlphaPlus – into the features of effective mark schemes in knowledge-based qualifications.


While the guide can be printed and used as a paper-based document, it is more effective as an online tool, as the dynamic links within the interactive PDF take the user to the logical next section of the guide. A key aspect of this is the content map at the beginning of the guide, which displays the document’s content as a diagram, clearly showing the hierarchy of the content and the varying complexity of the different types of mark schemes. As well as providing a high-level view of the guide, each box within the content map is clickable, providing a direct link to the relevant content within the guide. The user is gradually taken through the design principles and key considerations in the development of the required mark scheme.