Students who had “full access” to an A-level chemistry paper stolen from a Parcelforce van and then leaked online have been disqualified, AQA has confirmed.
The exam board said it reported the theft to police after students who sat chemistry paper 2 on June 20 said they recognised questions that had previously been posted online.
Today, the board confirmed the paper was stolen as it was in transit to a school. Police are “still working to find those responsible”, AQA said in an email to leaders, seen by FE Week’s sister paper, Schools Week.
Where the board has identified students who had “full access” to the paper before the exam, they have been disqualified. However, images circulated on social media were of too poor quality to offer a “clear advantage”, AQA said.
But after completing “extensive analysis” on the impact of grades, AQA said it had ruled out “a gain in marks or performance that would impact the grade boundaries”.
“This means that the students who sat this paper have performed just as we expected them to.”
A Parcelforce Worldwide spokesperson said they “cannot comment further on what is an ongoing police investigation”.
‘Not possible’ to replace paper
AQA said while images of the paper were circulating on social media, “they were of such poor quality that they would not have offered a significant clear advantage to students who saw these small extracts of the paper”.
“Nor would students seeing those images have known that they were of the actual paper, as many other revision aids, including past paper images were being legitimately shared.
“We understand that some of you were disappointed that we did not replace the paper, but unfortunately it really was not possible to replace this paper with a suitable alternative in the time we had.”
AQA said its analysis included looking at performance statistics on all three chemistry papers and compared results between 2022 and 2019 paper two exams.
It also modelled predicted performance and cross checked it against “the intelligence available to our exams Integrity team about individual students”.
The board added: “We’re very disappointed this happened, especially after all the hard work you and your students have put into these last two years to prepare.
“We hope that this offers you the reassurance you and your students need to feel satisfied that the results issued to our students are accurate, and that we’ve taken appropriate action against individuals known to have had an unfair advantage.”
Not the first theft of exam papers
An AQA spokesperson said: “We reported the theft of this exam paper to the police and are continuing to work with them to find those responsible. Our exams integrity team identified students who had full access to the paper before the exam and they’ve been disqualified from the qualification.
“Our research team carried out extensive analysis of students’ performance on the paper, and also compared it with performance on the same paper in 2019, and this investigation has found that students who sat this paper have performed just as we expected them to. This means there’s been no impact on grade boundaries.”
It is not the first time exam boards have had to take action following thefts of papers or the vans transporting them.
In 2003, AQA had to rewrite papers for half a million students after a Parcelforce van was stolen.
In 2005, a rewrite on a similar scale was required because papers were stolen from one van and lost from another.
More recently, in 2019, AQA had to replace four exam papers already sent to schools after a batch was stolen from a van.