The Secrets of Marking Lead Auditor Exam Papers

SQMC explain how to be a well-rounded Lead Auditor, and not just an 'exam passer'.

You know, there is an art to passing an exam and it involves more than you probably imagine...

There’s that old question: "do I want to get the answer right, or do I want to make my exam marker happy?".

Or, do you want to get it nearly right and make your exam marker happy, or get it technically right but make your exam marker sad?!

I expect you didn’t really imagine exam marking to be an emotional rollercoaster type of activity, but trust me it is.

There's method to the sadness

Of course there is a defined and approved process for marking exams which is subject to external scrutiny against a set standard. Markers are trained and have a set of acceptable answers to work from. There are also calibration activities which take place measuring one marker against another to ensure standardisation. But if you could watch an exam marker at work you might be surprised. It really is an emotional rollercoaster.

The International Register of Certificated Auditors (IRCA) Lead Auditor course runs over five days and covers forty hours of learning, culminating in a two hour closed book exam on the final day. For the trainer who has worked with the course participants for the week and has formed bonds with them through helping, humour, understanding, care, laughter, one-to-one working etc., our hope is twofold: firstly - and obviously - it's that each participant will pass their exam, and (perhaps more importantly) that they will display an attitude, an approach, an understanding expressed within their answers that they have truly understood and taken on board what it means to be a really good auditor. Not someone who has taken the knowledge on board, but portrays no real evidence of those vital characteristics and personality traits that make successful auditors. A good, successful auditor adds value to organisations and to the entire auditing process.

What we're looking for in a new auditor, for the future of auditing...

Imagine a budding auditor is asked what is important to cover in a closing meeting of an audit, and why. Using ISO 19011:2011 as the superb reference guide that it is, a student can find a plethora of good and important topics to be included, and as markers we see the key ones nearly always mentioned and then peppered with a few of the less obvious ones. It’s the "and why" that is the most interesting part of the response for trainers and markers. This is the most telling piece of information coming back to a trainer about the type of auditor they have contributed to developing. Perhaps we may read a response of ‘making auditee aware of non-conformances’. Of course we would expect this to be covered at a closing meeting, but consider these two descriptions of why it would be included in a closing meeting:


Answer 1 – "it must be made clear to auditee that they are failing to meet the requirements of the standard."


Answer 2 – "if the auditor can clearly show the auditee where and how they are not meeting the requirements of the standard then they can see how to deploy their resources to correct what has gone wrong and prevent recurrence, and make improvements, by explaining the gap between the requirement (the standard) and the evidence."


Not only does the 2nd answer provide evidence that the student knows the answer, but also that he/she understands the answer in terms of their responsibilities as an auditor, as well as those behavioural characteristics expected to be deployed in accordance with the principles of auditing. Certainly within SQMC we are always gratified to see well rounded auditors leaving our Lead Auditor courses, and we have received compliments from IRCA for our course design and its focus on achieving well rounded auditors - not just ‘exam passers’ (while our pass rate remains one of the highest in the world).

Another example

There are questions where the student is asked for an explanation of a term used in management systems (for example, the terms 'monitoring and measuring' or 'verification and validation'). Whilst a dictionary definition is acceptable, the rounded auditor will elaborate with an example from the workplace which gives comfort that not only can the student access a dictionary and retain the information, but that the student fully understands what the terms 'look like' when operating within a management system; and therefore would know where to go to look for evidence of same.

They are small indications, slivers of information sometimes, but they gladden the heart of a trainer of Lead Auditors to know that they are sending out into the world auditors who understand the purpose of auditing, the principles of auditing, the positive process approach to auditing, and an auditor with a solution-orientated, morally courageous attitude. It's all part of the drive to make management systems pay out, rather than be a drag on their potential.