Making the grade
Examination papers require extremely high accuracy scanning at unusually high volumes, generally within very tight timescales.
DM looks at how one exam board has addressed 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 it processes over 8 million scripts each summer for candidates sitting GCSE's and 'A' level public examinations. The timely and accurate delivery of grades to candidates represents a huge administrative task to any Awarding Body. For the AQA, literally millions of documents containing information from schools, colleges, candidates, examiners and moderators must be accurately captured and processed within critical deadlines in order to meet the pre-determined dates for the publication of results.
Based on the AQA's future growth plans, it was clear that administrative workloads would continue to rise which, in turn, would impact on internal costs and on delivery deadlines.
To alleviate this problem the AQA initiated a strategic program to implement web-based data capture methods and, where appropriate, to complement those arrangements by upgrading the automated OMR forms processing applications to use ICR technology to improve the existing data capture methods. The opportunity was also taken to eliminate previous manual data capture processes where 'quick wins' could be achieved, without jeopardizing the traditional high levels of data accuracy demanded by the AQA.
AQA engaged Informed Imaging to specify, deliver and support a complete AQA-wide forms processing solution capable of meeting its stringent demands. To handle the enormous volumes of paper, which can easily exceed 100,000 documents per day at critical periods, Informed Imaging chose the most reliable and flexible hardware and software components available in the market.
The core forms processing software is based on an e-Flow platform from Top Image Systems, with extensive application development and customisation by Informed Imaging. The e-Flow system has an excellent reputation for handling the very largest and complex forms processing tasks around the world, and proved to be an ideal solution for the AQA.
The AQA has used OMR scanning technology and EDI over many years to capture almost all of its data, with very little reliance on manual data entry methods. The AQA system currently processes over 24 different form-types used within the organisation, including examiner mark sheets, estimated grade forms, multiple-choice tests and feedback forms. Each document contains particular data that must be extracted using OCR, handprint recognition, tick mark recognition, and barcode recognition. The captured data is then verified against form-specific business rules and seamlessly routed to the Oracle database with the minimum of human intervention, providing the AQA with massive savings in labour and very significant productivity gains.
The best scanning hardware and software available was necessary for the ICR application upgrades. After extensive tests, Informed Imaging recommended the Scamax 5000 scanner from InoTec GmbH, along with DpuScan high performance image capture software by Janich & Klass. This system (installed in the AQA in 2001) consistently demonstrated the excellent levels of reliability and speed, as well as ease-of-use, demanded by AQA.
Today, four Scamax 5000 scanners give the AQA a capability to scan over 250,000 sheets per day at image qualities high enough for OCR and ICR. To provide the vital maintenance, support, and training needed for production scanners of this calibre, Scanning Resources Limited (the UK InoTec scanner distributor) was chosen because they demonstrated expertise, responsiveness, and thorough knowledge of the scanners, which was vital to ensure the AQA would be supported at all times.