back to article GCSE, A-level science exams ARE dumbed down - watchdog

Questions expecting short answers and the use of multiple choice have made biology and chemistry exams easier in the UK, according to assessment assessor Ofqual. The examinations watchdog analysed GCSE and A-level exams for the two science subjects - comparing papers taken by thousands of youngsters between 2003 and 2008 - and …

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On a brighter note

My son's school is planning to introduce GCSE Computer Science into the curriculum form September, that is assuming enough pupils want to take up the option. Might have to get out my Acorn Electron from the loft during the summer hols...

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Anonymous Coward

Re: On a brighter note

You mean they are going to teach them how to use a spreadsheet and a word processor?

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Meh

Re: You mean...

Not at all-

Q1. Draw an Acorn atom, labelling the screen and keyboard (85 marks)

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Anonymous Coward

Re: You mean...

> Q1. Draw an Acorn atom, labelling the screen and keyboard (85 marks)

Draw it using pen and paper or Microsoft Paint?

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Re: On a brighter note

Learning how to use a spreadsheet is the current ICT course.

The CS A level is much more like the Computer Studies I did 25 years ago and I presume the GCSE is too.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: On a brighter note

@AC "...You mean they are going to teach them how to use a spreadsheet and a word processor?..."

You demonstrate perfectly the problem with people commenting about eduction who have no idea about how the system works:

ICT = Wordprocessors, spreadsheets, general operation of computers and the internet etc.

Computer Science = Computer Science.

Neither are intended to be the other, they fulfill their own purposes.

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Unhappy

Re: On a brighter note

"ICT = Wordprocessors, spreadsheets, general operation of computers and the internet etc."

It would save confusion if they just renamed it 'basic secretarial skills', in this case very basic..

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Anonymous Coward

Re: On a brighter note

I'm pretty bloody glad I've got basic secretarial skills then, because, call it ICT or typing class, it's bloody useful in my day to day life at work and at home.

Secretary is not an insult.

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Trollface

Re: You mean...

@Condiment

"Draw it using pen and paper or Microsoft Paint?"

c) Google Images

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Re: On a brighter note

They'd need to teach them how to type first.

The amount of people that claim to know how to use a computer that I see finger pecking away at the keyboard both irritates and angers me.

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ICT

ICT could also be Intra Corporate Transfer, this being the type of visa used to bring mostly Indian IT workers into the UK, such that those locals who have taken Computer Science GCSE but have no experience will be going straight on the Dole.

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Re: On a brighter note

Except they dont tech yo type proply in ICT

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Re: Secretary is not an insult

I doubt it was meant to be. I took the original comment simply to mean "Call stuff what it is using plain English". Good advice, even in the 21st century, but rarely taken to heart by politicians tinkering with the system.

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Re: On a brighter note

just who is it that has secretary these days

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Meh

Re: Finger Peck

I 'finger peck' at ~ 30 - 40 wpm (used to be faster), which does me just fine. Fast 'finger peckers' (ooer) use between 2 and 4 fingers and do not do the cliched 'hunt-and-peck' so beloved of the typing snobs. My eldest lad hacks away at around 60 or 70 easily, a speed I never believed possible without 'proper' multi-fingered typing, yet he does it. I find keyboard snobbery so irritating.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: On a brighter note

Speaking as a candidate on the GCSE choose for computing. I nearly blew my top when exam papers discard the zeroth index in arrays!

But apart from that, I've found the course to be MUCH better compared to the current IT curriculum, where I contemplate the slow murder of my teacher, when she asks for the tenth time, how do we copy folders/move folders. For giggles, sometimes I respond with the Linux. Last time I try to explain what a "Linux" is. :P

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Re: On a brighter note

That's not a brighter note. I could have got a nice bonus from the government if I was willing to become an ICT teacher (I had applied for Mathematics, though in the end I went back into private industry for the money). But I did not want to be an ICT teacher because I think the subject is a very bad idea. Teach children decent language skills, teach them maths, teach them history. Don't teach them word processors, spreadsheets and Wikipedia. So many children are lacking the fundamentals that teaching the tools to use those fundamentals is ridiculous. You can learn how to use Word in an afternoon, Excel in a couple of days. If you need to. It takes longer than that for a child to learn algebra however. So focus on that.

And I'm speaking as someone who has programmed professionally, on and off, for over a decade. Keep programming at university level where it can be taught properly. Make spreadsheets and word processors some optional (and short) vocational certificate to put it back in its place. And spend the time showing school children how to write, to perform mathematics and a bit of history. Actually a lot of history. Our politicians would get away with less if more people knew their history.

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Re: On a brighter note

It's been dressed up as all kinds of imaginatively titled qualifications over the years, including CLAIT (Computer Literacy and Information Technology) and the ECDL (European Computer Driving Licence).

Erm, since when were computers classified as roadworthy vehicles? CLAIT in particular evolved from secretarial / office courses, and like them the next level up was IBT (Integrated Business Technology), which was all about creating databases, querying them, plugging the query results into spreadsheets, creating pretty graphs, then inserting the graphs into a written report.

To be slightly fairer, many contemporary courses include use of other software e.g. graphics / animation packages, but the first unit (which is likely to take up a fair amount of Year 10) will be the office skills. A tiny part of what we'd regard as Computer Science is lumped into the Design & Technology curriculum as "Control Systems" (e.g. writing a simple greenhouse monitoring system that opens the vents above a certain temperature, turns on heaters below a certain temperature, waters the plants when they get dry... essentially a whole bunch of pseudo-code "if...then...else" )

Whatever happened to the days when pupils were taught programming (of sorts) from lower primary in the form of LOGO?

TO CIRCLE (well, a Trictohexacontagon, to be precise)

REPEAT 360 [FD 1 LT 1]

END

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Facepalm

Exams getting easier

Who knew?

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Childcatcher

About bliddy time

In my school we practised for the exams by doing past papers - they were invariably much harder as you went back further in time (I think we had about 10 years worth).

Bring back log tables.

....and the birch

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Childcatcher

Re: About bliddy time

@JetSetJim, Completely agree - for A level maths i took in 92, we went back to about 1980. The questions back then were so hard in comparison, i'd never have even passed if i was given a paper from back then. IThe paper i took was appreciably the easiest i'd ever seen and that was 20 years ago. I got a C which i believe would have been more than 50%. I wonder what you have to get now for each grade, and I'd like to see past papers from then till now.

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Flame

Re: About bliddy time

Agreed here too. Took A-levels in 95 and 96, practicing on past papers got harder the further back you went. Same with GCSE's two years prior.

Given that everyone I know that's involved in education laments falling standards, that the universities often go on records saying that standards are falling, yet somehow (!?) average grades just keep getting better and better... yeah, we have a problem.

It's an irritation to me that every time people try to discuss this when the results come out, they get shouted down as just wanting to belittle the hard work that's gone in to it all and puff themselves up with declarations about how hard their personal challenge was. It's really not the case at all. My personal challenge wasn't all that hard back then and it sounds like it would be even easier now.

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Joke

Luxury!

We had one abacus between us, and that had half the beads missing.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: About bliddy time

I call nonsense, we did Maths A level papers dating from 95 right back to the 60s and the content barely differed. We did so many because I was one of those 'Maths/Further Maths/Statistics' guys - yes, I have 3 Maths A levels, plus an S level in Maths*. If there was a past paper to do, we did it.

Almost all of the A level Maths papers I have are of the format "Answer 3 from 6", the questions are long and don't provide 'Noddy context' that allows you to answer step by step. I also encountered many questions from the 60s papers in the 90s exams.

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Re pauly: About bliddy time

A fellow classmate of '92 here. I did maths and suckered up for the additional punishment of further maths before going on to Uni for a degree in the subject. In the first year of uni, the biggest class was "remedial maths" to teach all the incoming engineering students the maths they should have studied at school (even at that point, maths was not a requirement to do engineering!). This course was 9am on Mon/Wed/Fri with compulsory coursework to hand in to your tutor. I still get a smug glow in me knowing I handed in all the coursework after a long weekend near the start of the first term (much to my tutor's surprise) and then got a lie-in for the rest of the year on those days.

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Re: About bliddy time

Just a thought ...

Could the exams getting harder, as you looked further back in time, be because the curriculum has changed over the years and you were taught different things than they were back then? I can't help thinking that if you took a paper from today and sent it ten years back in time, the children would (have) be(en) thinking "blimey, exams are hard in the future. I don't know hardly any of that stuff."

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Headmaster

Re: About bliddy time

Anyone with 10% of a brain can see grade inflation for what it is: the government's desire not to be tarred with the brush marked "failing our children". Because sure as shit smells, teaching didn't get better that quickly, and nor did our kids get brighter.

So, you either mark more generously, set easier questions, or have combination of the two.

However if you want to see denial and delusion on a truly epic and utterly depressing scale, just pop over to The Guardian article on the topic, and skim through the comments.

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Re: wanting to belittle the hard work

The irony is that it's easy exams that belittle hard work, since no matter how hard to work or how well you do, the best you can leave school with is a certificate that is demonstrably worth less than the one your parents got.

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Anonymous Coward

Well, questions may be getting easier, but when I recently marked one of my son's practice papers for Physics GCSE (think it was the 2nd paperso not the 3rd paper which is the "hard physicsy one" to quote his revision guide) I was at first a bit disappointed at the number of questions he got wrong and how he'd only end up with something like 2/3rs of the marks ... however I was then shocked when I switched over to look at the marking guide to find that his mark was 2 marks above the A/A* boundary ... and I think you could get a B with less than 50% of the marks.

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2/3rd marks

At the beginning of the 90s you needed ~70% for an A. So that sounds consistent.

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Anonymous Coward

No surprise...

I did Biology GCSE 17 years ago and got a B. I know for a fact I could not have got more than 46% since I only answered 46 points-worth of questions out of the 100 available.

Aren't bell-curve adjustments wonderful?!

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FAIL

Re: 2/3rd marks

Seems like you took your Maths exam in recent years. According to the original poster a score of roughly 66% was two marks *above* the boundary for A*. So where 20 years ago you needed 70% just for an A, you now get the grade above A for between 60 and 65%. That's not consistent at all.

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Facepalm

Need to go back further

I would say that by 2000, A level physics had around a quarter of the syllabus cut from a decade earlier when I took it; easier to know less to a higher standard if you ask me. In addition the multiple choice had gone from A-E to A-D; an immediate improvement for anything you need to guess at. Finally the written paper rather than have a scenario and a number of things you needed to calculate had become a fill in booklet with all the intermediate steps layed out for you; makes life much easier. I cannot speak for other exams by A level physics as definitely much easier by 2000.

Exams have got easier and rather than it being disingenuous to hard working students to day to belittle their work, it is disingenuous to students in the past to suggest they where lazy and not that the exams are easier.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Need to go back further

The problem is that today you can not tell the hard working/clever students from the lazy/stupid ones because the exams they take are unable to distinguish between them.

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Anonymous Coward

Further anecdotal evidence

My dad's a private chemistry tutor and has railed against the exam boards for a decade. He feels that Edexcel has made some improvement in the last few years, having taken on an amount of the Nuffield syllabus, but a number of the others are a joke.

It's just so unfair to let this grade circus continue. If there's no rigour in the syllabus, then what kind of student will result?

Having studied chem eng myself (and fled to IT), a major concern with sending my son to a state school is that they'll be compromising on both the syllabus and the exam (i.e. double science "award" rather than individual subjects). With the alternative being a cool £15+k/yr that guarantees little other than the fact that we'll be working so hard to keep up we won't be able to give them our full attention, I'm not entirely pleased!

I know from my own experience that parents play a *big* part in attitudes and achievements, further reducing my appetite for an extended period of penury because they're at a private school.

We've got a few years until we need to face that issue as the first little 'un only starts at primary in Sept, but it's at the back of my mind...

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Thumb Up

Re: Further anecdotal evidence

Parenting and the support and goals you give your child does play a massive part in education. Some (many??) state schools are fantastic, but quite a few are poor. That is compounded by a lot of children not caring about their education and so are disruptive which affects other kids in the class. IMHO due the demise of 11+ and streaming the brighter kids have a much greater chance of being dragged down by their surroundings.

Private schools can not make a child more intelligent, they are not magic. What they can do is give then child the best opportunity to make the most of what they have.

I'd say that parents who send the children to private schools have a passion and enthusiasm about their kids, the kids are surrounded by hard working parents with a goal. Their normality is hard work and ambition and that gives them confidence.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Further anecdotal evidence

I'd agree, but if I'm having to find £15+k out of taxed income, I'm going to be spending all my time working and will then have to rely far more on the school to educate my child.

Also, a few of my dad's students are from very good private schools and were in dire need of help with their Chemistry. There really are no guarantees! You're possibly buying a better demographic and hopefully better facilities and more motivated teachers.

Why are we in a situation where state schools are practically obliged to go with the easier boards and compromised qualifications in order to inflate their grades to meet government targets? Why am I having to think about this sort of expense when my taxes are supposed to be paying for this already? How much longer do I have to argue like this to sound like a Daily Wail commenter?

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Stop

Re: Further anecdotal evidence

I agree about the demise of the 11+. I was in the first year in Northamptonshire not to sit it and so had to go to the 'new' Comprehensive (the old 'Secondary Modern'). They didn't know what to do with us brainy kids and I spent the next 3 years learning nothing new in Maths and to a lesser extent other subjects. This was an insult not only to me, but the Junior School teachers who had gone out of their way to get me the text books for the 11+ years, even buying some of the books themselves! As we started the fourth year of the Comprehensive, they suddenly realised that they would have to build a sixth form block to house us all in 2 years time - apparently the LEA meetings were interesting!

Streaming must be done to seperate those who do not feel inclined to study and will disrupt anything, from those who want to work and will do well if they are given the opportunity.

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Happy

Grade Inflation

So I guess my couple of "A"s from the early 70's are now A+++++++++++++ results?

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Flame

Re: Grade Inflation

When University was only for the VERY BEST students I didn't get in, instead studying 4 * HND at Polytechnic. Now 50% get into University and you only have to be slightly above average to get a degree.

Who gets the job interview? Me, who was not quite the very best, or the young oik who was only average, but got a degree.

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Meh

Re: Grade Inflation

My two N grades and dismal E grade in History from 1989 would probably get an A and two B passes now.

I did really well at O level in 1987 with 8 good passes so it was a bit of a shock.

I remember my sixth form year only a few kids got A passes at A Level. The rest scraped C and D grades.

Now I rarely hear of anyone getting lower than a B.

Is it against the law to let kids experience fail nowadays?

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Re: Grade Inflation

These days? I think they call that a MSc.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Grade Inflation (Jason 7)

Not only are the grades supposedly higher they get more or them.

In the late 70, early 80 when I did O's and A's the typical number of O levels taken was 5-6, with only the very bright trying for 6 or 7.

Those basic 5-6 O levels would always be Maths, English, History, Geography, and at least one science (Physics, Chemistry or Biology).

Today the typical GCSE count will be 10-15 GCSE (equivalents) and for the past few years ICT could get the dumb kids the equivalent of 3 or 4!

Likewise those taking A levels today will typically do 5. Around 1980 maybe ~10% would try for more than 3 as the work load was just too much, and most of those would include something like Pure & Applied Maths, or the equivalent English & Lit.

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Re: Grade Inflation

The oik

It ticks boxes " lots of our staff are graduates dont chew know"

I wish I'd done a bullshit degree in Sociology, Philosophy or Film Studies instead of an HND in Mechanical Electronics.

I was under the deluded inpression that if you did something Difficult you'd get well rewarded for it.

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Unhappy

Re: Grade Inflation

I did well at O levels, but the A levels were so so much harder, I did not enjoy them at all, cept for the pratical chemistry, at the end of the term I filled the lab up with potassium permanganate purple fumes, infact the ceiling was well stained.

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Re: Grade Inflation (Jason 7)

Yeah my passes in 1987 were pretty general as I didn't have a clue what I wanted to do after school. -

Eng Lang

Maths

Physics

Geography

History

Computer Studies

Art

General Studies (sat at Sixth Form)

The only two I didn't pass were Eng Lit (D) and Electronics (U) I only did that to avoid doing French or German.

I cant imagine what else kids would have time to cram in?!

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Who gets the job interview?

My standard interview is very simple - I chat with them, ask them what they've read recently and what they thought about it - then I give them a simple two chip analogue schematic from one of our products and ask them to tell me how it works... it's basically the same interview technique that I received when I applied for (and got) a job at Dolby Labs in the early 70's testing Dolby "A" modules.

Almost every single applicant fails.

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Meh

Re: Grade Inflation (Jason 7)

Hmmm, if it's that bad maybe I should have just stuck with my 6 1965 O levels, and not bothered with the pain of all the later studies (was advised to skip A levels and go into industry on an apprenticeship).

Oh and everything was separate in those days none of this 'general science' muck.

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Happy

Re: Grade Inflation

After some reflection I've decided to update my LinkedIn profile to indicate that I have degrees in both Math and Art (my two "A" levels) and 8 modern "A" levels (my "O" level passes).

This seems only fair.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Who gets the job interview?

Hi,

Are you looking to hire now ?

I'd like to go back to doing Electronics instead of IT.

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