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 …
Re: Why do we have a set pass mark for grades?
It would also mean that no matter how little was taught or how badly, you would still get the same number of passes. Surely the point of an exam should be to force you to study the subject properly or face getting a poor grade?
This is a very defeatist attitude. It assumes that all teachers and all students decide in the same year to do next to nothing.
If this does not happen, then all those teachers and students do is to make sure that they will fall behind the ones that do try. As what I was envisioning was competition, this is unlikely to happen.
Human beings are competitive, especially kids. Watch them play. They race, they throw, they compete in games of skill (marbles, conkers, hopscotch, computer games). It's coded into our make-up. You just need to engage their competitive nature in school to ensure that the best can be achieve. You also need to make sure that lesser grades than 'A' still have merit.
On a side note. I heard a news item about a boat builder who was complaining at the number of kids who are now sucked into the academic stream, who would have previously gone into some form of apprenticeship. He said that we needed bright kids to be the skilled artisans of the future, and all he was seeing after the competent ones had gone to university were the kids who were unable to master his skill. Was a very fair point well made.
Too many achitects and not enough brick layers.
Its about time the examination boards were overalled and stop them from creating easier exam papers to make their life easier for marking.
Also get rid of the this A* bollocks and return to A, A-, B+, B, B-, etc
Nothing should be greater than A.
</old age rant>
Except A+, I assume, or do you want to confuse the marking scheme even more? How about something even simpler. A, B, C, and YOUFAIL.
The names of the grades mean nothing, the percentage of people achieving them means everything. People focusing on the name "A*" rather than something else are part of the problem here.
And I think you mean "overhauled".
"Its about time the examination boards were overalled"
I'd make them wear sackcloth !
Re: "overalled" examination boards
Yes, I think they would do a much better job as caretakers...
Oi, my dad's a caretaker
(He failed his A-levels.)
"The names of the grades mean nothing, the percentage of people achieving them means everything. People focusing on the name "A*" rather than something else are part of the problem here."
Better yet, why even bother to go into the complexities of marking an exam, calculating a percentage result, then finding which band it fits in to? Why not just give the percentage mark out in the first place.
After all, why should two people come out of an exam with the same "grade" when one got 100% and the other got 65%?
And I think you mean "overhauled".
Yep... just failed English :(
A tale of 2 chemistries
Question 5: In comparison with steel, what is pure iron like?
Q1, part (c) Describe the action of heat on:
(i) Sodium hydrogen carbonate
(ii) lead(II) nitrate
For further marks, determine which question came from (a) the AQA Extracting metals and making alloys section on the BBC website and (b) the 1973 O&C Chemistry O Level paper
Re: A tale of 2 chemistries
How many other questions were on each paper? What were those questions? That's kind of key to your question. It's easy to take something out of context and make it appear that current standards are lower, but really if the current papers have 1000 questions and the 1973 paper had one, it's probable that the 1973 paper wasn't fit for purpose.
Re: A tale of 2 chemistries
I'm not sure it is all that relevant except if you were doing a full scientific study.
Question 1 on the 1970's paper is a "real" question with no help.
Question *FIVE* on the "modern" one is a three-option multiple choice about whether a metal is harder than another or not, given to you by the only three possible answers, two of which are opposites and one of which is not a comparison at all (it could be "more" magnetic but that's not what it says) . It's like a baby question from primary school, if you were around in the 1970's. That shouldn't be worth any marks at all, really.
As everyone else says, that's really a question you can answer with zero knowledge of chemistry, only English, and "pass" quite easily if you're more than 5 or 6 years old and have ever come across steel or iron (and even stand a good chance to get marks by a complete guess and even more by an educated guess based on the wording of the question).
And although the more modern questions do get harder in actual A-level papers, so do the 1970's and the number of questions (and even marks) stay similar throughout. Hell, why does the student even get TOLD how many marks a question is worth? Surely they should know how much detail they have to give anyway.
I just went through some 2000-era Chemistry papers online. I know nothing about chemistry. I never took a single chemistry lesson over and above GCSE "Double Science" (which didn't even once do a chemical formula more complicated than salt-water, or any kind of "bond" diagram when I did it - disgusting in itself for that time). According to the marking scheme, I got myself about 30% of the marks just on complete guesses alone, even on the "essay-style" questions. That's skipping the questions that I could have answered properly based on my own study into chemistry, or that I could answer in a few minutes with a chemistry book in front of me.
According to some 2010 papers I found online:
"Define the term mass number of an atom. The mass number of an isotope of nitrogen is 15. Deduce the number of each of the fundamental particles in an atom of 15N"
is one of the highest scoring (3 marks of 70 total for the paper) out of 8 questions (2-3 parts per question) on an A-Level paper. 1 mark for defining the term. 1 mark for getting the electrons and protons right. One mark for getting the neutrons right. That's 4% of the entire marks of an A-level paper for being able to do something that I know already without ever having been taught Chemistry (and knew when I was 10/11, if I'm honest, without ever having studied it in school).
Yet, any paper I can find pre-1990 I barely understand the question let alone could stab at the answer.
Of course when making comparisons you have to take everything into account but, honestly, the comparison is easy (and scary) to make with a little research and backs up the OP's (slightly exaggerated and obviously not meant to be definitive) assertion. Finding online copies of 1970's exam papers is far from easy, though. Maybe that's why people don't try and compare properly, or think the 2000-era papers are "good".
Re: A tale of 2 chemistries
Q3. What do we wash with?
(I have on good authority this was seriously considered as GCSE chemistry question 2 years ago, (from my daughter's headmistress.))
Re: A tale of 2 chemistries
What type of steel are we talking about here?
Good old mild steel, 4360 steel, 303 stainless, P20 tool steel? inconel?
Also, define hardness? we talking rockwell scale hardness or tensile strength?
<<<gets to play with all sorts of steel at work
As clearly by even mentioning this (something we have all known for years), we are apparently devaluing the achievements of the current generation of students.
Easier for Whom?
I suspect that the main motivation behind the points listed (multiple choice versus written answers, etc.) was to make the exams easier to mark rather than to be easier to pass. If we return to the older/harder style then the the exam boards are going to have to dump their automated marking computers and/or stop outsourcing the work to unqualified 3rd world sweatshop workers.
It's gonna cost.
A-Level Biology, unit 1
Write 200 words on the topic of ursine defecation in arboreal environments.
Re: A-Level Biology, unit 1
Describe the religious affiliation of the senior executive office holder of the Vatican in the 21st Century. Contrast with previous office holders in the 18th and 19th Centuries.
Exams ARE esier
I did my GCSEs in 1990 and A levels in 1992. Even then, we had to have extra maths lectures in the first year of University (Sheffield) to 'bring us up to the expected standard' for our Physics course.
A few years later, I tried my hand at being a physics teacher. The head of department had his own notebook, where he had done his plan for the A level physics syllabus when he first started teaching 25 years earlier. Over a quarter of the book had red crosses through it because it was no longer taught.
When I did my exams, the syllabus and the exams themselves were set by the Universities (JMB in my case). So there was a definite progression and you could see where they were going. GCSE->A Level->Degree etc. Now, it's all about the league tables.
Standards are falling, our politicians just don't want to admit it.
Maths and Science
The national Maths challenges seem to me a positive step forward, my son actually enjoyed taking this years paper recently and curious if he makes it to the final. Motivating. Sure private schools are at an advantage but makes success all the more gratifying at a mixed ability comp. We never had that in my day lessons were dry as dust when I was 13. (took A Levels in 1974 none of that 1980s dumb down). Not everything is negative no need for quite as much when I was a lad. Though GCSE and A Level Maths need beefing up a couple of notches as noted here.
I'd like to see more initiatives along these lines in science too. A Physics challenge isn't a bad idea.
Re: Maths and Science
Back in the 1990's (and even the 80's I think), there was a NatWest maths challenge. It was quite a big fuss every year they held it. My older brother and I had both entered it multiple times at some point on the recommendation of our maths teachers (we weren't exactly boffins, but we were top of our respective maths classes) along with the others from the "top-set" of maths.
It had been around for ages. Schools entered it (even though I don't think there was any "prize" as such). Motivated students wanted to be put into it. In lessons afterwards, I can remember my hastily-scribbled answers (we'd arrived to the even 20 minutes late) being pored over by my peers in class (and even laughing at the ones I had no time to answer at all and had scribbled funny nonsense on instead).
There's always been events and motivations to learn. In fact, I'm disappointed there aren't MORE now. Why isn't there some free, national, online competition for just about every subject in the world for every pupil who wants to compete, with some decent incentive for pupils/schools to enter candidates for it? (Probably because it would show up those who get A's but aren't even on the same planet in terms of ability as the people who would win. Getting "A-star" and then coming 5000th in a competition of 5000 is hardly confidence-inspiring in the pupil, the teacher or the grade).
Competitions don't provide 1% of the incentive of needing to get good grades that are hard to achieve when it comes to learning.
Syllabus is fine but exams are easier, and the books are better
I've been helicopter parenting around the OCR GCSE Maths.
The content of the course is excellent, though obviously different to what I remember from O level. I certainly don't miss logarithms, and the extra statistics/data is much more use. But the exams really don't go anywhere near the level of the course. If you want an 'A' you have to get pretty much everything correct, as there aren't any tougher, high-mark questions. And you have to get an 'A' as decent sixth-forms discount everything else!
We often hear that the teaching has improved. Well, I don't remember bad teaching but I do remember (1976) absolutely shocking textbooks. The "official" textbook for OCR was a revelation, and things like a matching revision guide will inevitably mean that any willing child will be much better prepared for the exam than we ever were.
So, good news on the whole, but I wish that the exam would separate out the candidates more. But don't get me started on number-free physics....
Except that in the "good old days" it was hard because absolutely every topic was learn by wrote with no thought going in at all.
Ask anyone over a certain age what 7x12 is and they'll tell you in a second. Ask them 14x6 and they'll have trouble.
Understanding is much more useful than memorizing.
HOWEVER - we do allow people to "pass" when they really shouldn't.
Wrong in the first sentence.
14x6 isn't valuable in an era of LSD.
Learning by rote works for everyday things.
Just compare the output of a Peking schoolkid to one from Islington to see that.
If you're spending 10 seconds working out what someone else just KNOWS, they you've already lost.
Re: Wrong in the first sentence.
10 seconds? Haha
We did back papers too and they were harder. That was in 1981.
with the premace that multiple choice is for quicker marking then at least you can feed the papers into a machine and it can optically scan the sheet and spit out an answer, that way, the marking/grading is reduced to basically a minimum wage person feeding a machine, and entering a student number/name, and technically not needing to know anything more then middle school english, they coudl even be foriegn/illegal if they can simply copy what they see! soon i think we will get to the point that our pouchlings will get an instant result to all their exams, be it because they are taking them on electronic paper/tablets, or, if they are taking it on paper it will be simple to feed it into a machine at the back of the exam hall and get a result texted to you.
U Pass! congrats! U have an A!
(standard messaging rates apply)
while not minding the idea that they should take the exams electronically, they could even make the exams harder as there will be no need to decipher bad writing, however i can see you might require a few people to sort out those questions that might be right but are worded badly, which of course defeats the purpose of an electronic exam - to make more people members of the unlimited leisure class, but then again the format works for quite a few IT based exams i do not see why the education system cannot do the same.
@ The author
Anna leach ? Youre new around here are you?
"making it harder for clever clogs to show off their abilities".
I think you'll find around here the correct phraseology would be :
"making it harder for nascent boffins to show off their abilities"
Observation here from a product of the irish education system. Finished secondary school in Ireland in '93
Sat 7 subjects at the Irish equivalent of A level (used UK A level papers in exam prep). Places for uni were really competitive with a points system that worked on picking your best 6 subject results and each grade roughly broken down into 5% increments awarding increased amounts of points. A was 85%, B was 70%+, C was 55%+ D was 40%, less than 40% was a fail.
uni entry was down to your results total against the demand for the course. Bloody stressfull and tough work !
I did notice some subjects introducing multiple choice around that time. But they had negative marking for incorrect answers at least a token effort against the guess culture that slowly followed.
Seeing comments here about almost 25% getting the top marks and A* going for 70% belittles the relative worth so much its tragically comical from an international perspective.
And don;t get be started on Oxbridge B.Sc. earners being awarding an automatic MSc 1 year after graduation....
Alien as I'm a legal alien stealing your lovely London IT jobs.
Why not tell them the actual percentage?
Here's a radical idea: instead of A,B,C why not just tell students how many marks they got out of 100? Universities could immediately decide which percentile they want their applicants to fall into - for Oxbridge you might need 90%, for Scuzzo Uni it could be 65%.
If different exam boards set less challenging questions, perhaps the universities could take that into account when making their offers. Board A - you'll need 80%, Board B you'll only need 75% (because they have higher standards).
If they introduced A* to identify elite students, giving out the actual percentages surely does that job much better.
Multiple Choice Qs are not
Necessarily easy. Exam questions need to be very carefully written and the answers in a multi-choice section need just as much attention. A-E should always be the option -0.5 points for a wrong answer liberal use of multi stage questions involving interpretation of diagrams/tables can make these sort of Exams more challenging than the traditional written exam.
I'm only here because of the picture on the front page.
There I said it.
Back in the 60's we did maths like this at school:
A certain council has a long straight road, and three identical snow ploughs which clear snow at a constant rate (so speed is inversely proportional to depth of snow). One day it began to snow steadily. The council sent a plough along the road. After an hour they sent the second plough behind the first. After another hour, they sent the third plough. Some time later it was still snowing steadily, and the second and third ploughs simultaneously crashed into the first. How long had it been snowing before the first plough was sent out?
You'd get 30-40 minutes for a question like that, but you'd also be able to choose a different hard question. Oh look, someone's posted the solution if you're interested:
Everyone must have a degree, it's the only way you'll be worth anything to society as I understand and the only way to make that happen is to lower standards. Of course degrees will become a requirement eventually because having one will only just prove you're not mentally retarded.
my 2c worth...
there ar all sorts of issues with exams these days...
the biggest problem is that schools are teaching kids to pass an exam and not so much teach them the subject.
My daughter has her exams coming up in a few weeks, but with all the coursework marks she is almost guaranteed to get A's and A* across all subjects,... she handed in one piece of coursework a few weeks ago and the teacher handed it her back a few days later with what she needs to change to get an A*... the work was then handed back in with the amendments made ... their is no exam in this particular subject, its all coursework....
that said, there are many in her class expected to do not so well... and she did put a really good effort in in the first place, and it was only minor amendments to a few sentences....
The exam boards compete for examinees - and so it is in their interest to offer examinations that 'support' greater success in the candidates. So no surprise that pass rates and grades achieved continually rise - the few exam boards that stood firm against the trend went bust.
Teaching for Exams
Almost all of this hoo-hah is based on ever rising exams results
What so many people seem not to understand is that this HAS to be because of league tables and the national curriculum. This has caused schools to focus on teaching to pass exams - quelle surprise!
What it does not show is that the questions have got any easier (perceived difficulty of old past papers due to curriculum changes doesn't count). It just proves that schools are focussing on what gets better results.
What it also proves is that the exam system esp when taken at ages 16 & 18 etc is not a very good way of judging a person's worth.
And it was ever thus......
stockings and suspenders?
Odd picture to accompany an article about school exams, it's showing on el Reg front page on the story carousel
I despair of the education system...
I've interviewed four people face to face in the last two weeks, all with an Msc in electronics. Not one could read a circuit diagram or tell me the gain of a simple inverting amplifier op-amp stage. How on earth did they get their FIRST degree? I've also interviewed three people who claim to be profficient in C but not one could tell me what 'void', 'static' or 'const' meant in a simple function prototype. It would have been cruel to ask about constant pointers. And these are the best of about 40 CVs.... Guys, a second degree will not get you a job. Ability will. The lack of skilled staff is costing industry a fortune.
For the record I'm a grumpy old engineer who got a polytechnic degree in the '70s. I'm certain it was harder, we came out much better equiped and the tax payer got their monies worth. Now you just throw away your own money to come out with nothing saleable. Recruiting in the '80s I could get a dozen people in a week who could answer, without hesitation, the questions I'm asking today. Where have they gone?
Anyone want a job in real-time embedded C and/or elctronics design?
As there is nothing funny in this, I didn't bring a coat.
Re: I despair of the education system...
You're hiring? Where do I apply?
Multiple choice exams
The "easy" multiple choice exams with obviously "wrong" answers and "leading" questions to point you to the "correct" answer is all a plot by the New World Order so as to condition the public into voting the "correct" way when the EU becomes a state, eventually leading to World Government.
It's ok, I'm a Geordie. I don' need no steenkin' coat.
The scary thing is where it all ends.
There you are aged 70, laying on a operating table for your heart bypass. When in walks the surgeon and he/she has the brain power of Jade Goody.
"Hiyaaaa I dunt know much abahht all vis heart ser...serg...fixin' but I ave the sertificates and stuff! Funny innit!"
Is that what you want? Cos that's what'll happen!
and in other news, the grass is green and the sky is blue. Exams in many subjects are getting easier, which devalues the grades of those of us that took them years ago. Still, at least the goverment gets to look like it's doing better on education.
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