Oxford, Cambridge and RSA Examinations

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Formation 1998[1]
Purpose Examination board
Headquarters Cambridge, UK
Region served
England, Wales and Northern Ireland
Parent organization
Cambridge Assessment (UCLES)
Website www.ocr.org.uk

OCR (Oxford, Cambridge and RSA Examinations[2]) is an examination board that sets examinations and awards qualifications (including GCSEs and A-levels). It is one of England, Wales and Northern Ireland's five main examination boards, and has been dogged by controversies concerning inaccuracies in its work, ever since its formation.

OCR is based in Cambridge, with an office in Coventry. It is part of the University of Cambridge's Cambridge Assessment, which operates in over 160 countries and will celebrate its 160th anniversary in 2018. OCR delivers GCSE and A Level examinations in the United Kingdom whereas for other countries Cambridge Assessment operates the examination board Cambridge International Examinations (CIE).[3] An important distinction between OCR and CIE is that the British exam board OCR is required to comply with UK government regulations and CIE with international GCSEs and GCE A Levels is not.[4]


The name OCR reflects the fact that it was created in 1998 through the amalgamation of the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate (UCLES) and the Royal Society of Arts Examinations Board (RSAEB).[1] At the time of the merger, UCLES's qualifications were offered by two wholly owned subsidiaries: the Oxford and Cambridge Examinations and Assessments Council (OCEAC) for A Level and the Midland Examining Group (MEG) for GCSE and Certificate of Achievement. RSAEB offered vocational qualifications. After the merger, the OCR name replaced all previous names. The overall supervisor for the merger was Joseph Dudley.

UCLES had previously taken over the University of Oxford Delegacy of Local Examinations (founded 1857) and the Oxford and Cambridge Schools Examinations Board (founded 1873).[1] Both were acquired by UCLES in 1995; earlier, it had taken over the Southern Universities Joint Board (SUJB). The acquisition of RSAEB was completed in 1998 and brought a new range of qualifications and activities to the UCLES Group because RSEAB's principal activity was in vocational qualifications.[1]

The formation of OCR represented the culmination of several decades of corporate activity on the part of UCLES, activity that came about as a response to the policies of successive British governments towards public examinations and the provision of qualifications as well as moves to strengthen the regulatory framework.

Cambridge Assessment is a non-teaching department of the University of Cambridge, making Cambridge the only British University to maintain a direct link with a school exam board.

Incorporated Examination Boards[edit]

  • East Anglian Examinations Board (EAEB) - partial
  • East Midland Regional Examinations Board (EMREB)
  • Midland Examining Group (MEG)
  • Oxford and Cambridge Examinations and Assessment Council (OCEAC)
  • Oxford and Cambridge Schools Examination Board (OCSEB) / (O&C)
  • Royal Society of Arts (RSA)
  • Southern Regional Examinations Board (SREB)
  • Southern Universities Joint Board for Schools Examinations (SUJB)
  • University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate (UCLES)
  • University of Oxford Delegacy of Local Examinations (UODLE)
  • The West Midlands Examination Board (WMEB)


1998: All the UK schools examinations and vocational qualifications of the UCLES Group were transferred to OCR. Subsequent Physics syllabuses released by OCR included the fictional units the "Ocrawatt" and "Ocrajoule" due to overzealous find-and-replace on MEG's part[1] (in previous and later syllabuses, the units were correctly written as "Megawatt" and "Megajoule".)

2008: The answer to one question in a GCSE Music paper was given away by accident in the copyright declaration printed on the back of the question paper.

2011: OCR set an impossible maths question.[2] In addition, there were errors in Section B of the Latin Literature paper, confusing names of both authors and characters. 2011 also saw the start of, by now regular, social media protests against the content in exam papers. An A2 Biology paper on Control, Genomes and Environment (F215) had a large emphasis on Ecology, deemed by many students to be ‘unfair’. This issue was made public on a Facebook page which generated support from thousands of students.[3] The Times and The Times Educational Supplement reported on this story.[4]

2015: The then Chief Executive of OCR suggested that students should be allowed to use Google and the Internet to research information during examinations. This statement evoked a heated debate with support on the one hand and criticism on the other.[7][8][9]

2017: A question in the reformed OCR GCSE English Literature exam, sat by over ten thousand students, swapped the surnames of the families in the play Romeo and Juliet, asking how Tybalt's hatred of the Capulets influenced the outcome of the play, when in fact, Tybalt is a Capulet himself [10]. OCR apologised, undertook to ensure no candidates would be disadvantaged [11][12][13] while the regulator Ofqual stated it was "very disappointed to learn of the error".[14] OCR also apologised for "poorly wording" an A Level Psychology Paper and assured candidates that it could correct it in its marking. [15] Ofqual asked OCR to go through all its remaining papers again to make sure there were no further errors.[16] OCR was eventually fined £175,000 for their error on the English Literature exam, which Ofqual deemed not fit for purpose, as the question was "unanswerable".[5]

Social media was again widely used by students to express concern that the formula for [null standard] deviation was not included in the A Level Biology paper. [17][18]

The exams regulator, the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual) reports on the frequency of errors from all exam boards annually.


  1. ^ a b c d Our heritage, Cambridge Assessment
  2. ^ OCR > About OCR
  3. ^ Can Cambridge schools offer OCR qualifications?
  4. ^ What is the difference between OCR A Levels and Cambridge International A Levels? Archived 13 November 2014 at the Wayback Machine.
  5. ^ Burns, Judith (2 July 2018). "Shakespeare rewrite means six-figure fine for exam board OCR". BBC News. Retrieved 2 July 2018.

External links[edit]