back to article Our CompSci exam was full of 'typos', admits Scottish exam board

A computer science exam paper set by the Scottish Qualifications Authority was infested with errors and an impossible question, prompting teachers to call for an immediate inquiry. Teachers have expressed their disappointment, calling the paper “a disgrace”, especially since it comes at a time where the subject faces an “ …

  1. AMBxx Silver badge
    FAIL

    By design?

    Surely this is just good preparation for the world of work?

    1. Dr. Mouse Silver badge

      Re: By design?

      "good preparation for the world of work"

      You said it! However, at least in the big wide world you can ask questions to determine the required information. In an exam, you are stuck with what's written.

      1. Buzzword

        Re: By design?

        Try preparing a response to a tender document. You're stuck with what's written - there's little scope to ask questions, and you spend most of your time second-guessing what the poor civil servant who wrote the thing was trying to say. Extra points if it comes from a non-English-speaking country.

        1. Tom 7 Silver badge

          Re: By design?

          I've found the best thing to do with a tender document is to work out who it was written for and ask them for a job.

          1. Smooth Newt
            Thumb Up

            65 kg tablet

            They just meant the tablet which Moses used, the one with ten commandments written on it.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: 65 kg tablet

              Venerable IT cartoon time.

              http://www.ap-logic.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/tire-swing-cartoon.jpg

          2. Bob H

            Re: By design?

            @Tom 7

            Indeed, twice been down the road of hearing from a tame person on the other side that it's a stitch up and we have no chance. Once my MD put in a bid below cost just to ensure that it caused problems for someone down the line.

    2. Steve Evans

      Re: By design?

      Yup, sounds like a perfectly normal system requirements document to me...

      Welcome to the real world of end users, and sales driven documentation.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: By design?

        > sounds like a perfectly normal system requirements document

        The exam was an email with "make it work" written on it (and somehow spelled wrongly) and nothing else?

  2. Sir Sham Cad

    A spokesperson for the SQA told ,The Register that

    "Yeah, that's just as fucked up as we wanted it."

    Is this some strange backwards exam where failing it actually indicates a pass?

    1. Bernard M. Orwell Silver badge

      Re: A spokesperson for the SQA told ,The Register that

      "Is this some strange backwards exam where failing it actually indicates a pass?"

      Only if and when a cattle-prod is properly applied in the correct context and tense. The application must be made in presence of the examiner. [50 marks]

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: A spokesperson for the SQA told ,The Register that

      With high school exams now, that's pretty much it :)

  3. Dazed and Confused Silver badge

    WTF?

    has the weight of a fondleslab got to do with a compsci exam?

    1. ThomH Silver badge

      Re: WTF?

      Based on the article, I assume the question went something like this: "If an average fondleslab weighs 65kg then what quantum of REM statements if can be batched per processing hertz? Give your answer as an exact irrational number to two decimal places."

      1. Mage Silver badge
        Headmaster

        Re: WTF?

        Enid Blyton's "Dame Slap the Teacher" in the Faraway Tree series comes to mind, similar questions with no possible answer. Curiously the series has Google Buns. (1936 - 1951!)

        1. David 132 Silver badge
          Happy

          Re: WTF?

          Enid Blyton's "Dame Slap the Teacher" in the Faraway Tree series

          Not having read that particular series of books, my thought process when I read your comment went:

          1) "Dame slap"? Is that a classier, more aristocratic equivalent of the expression "to bitch slap" someone?

          2) If so, I really don't remember that kind of thing in Blyton books.Did my parents shield me from the ruder editions?

          3) In what other ways was my childhood excessively sheltered???? Did you lie to me, Mother???

          Thank you for that short existential crisis.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: WTF?

      Maybe they just got the munchies, like 65kg of "Tablet* :P

      Might need a big pot though and the deeil help ye' if it cowps o'er ;)

      http://www.scruss.com/tablet.html

  4. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse Silver badge

    Brilliant...

    Because every day in my career in IT I am confronted by the thundering realities of having to understand the weight of a tablet. I'm genuinely interested in undertanding (A) what the full question related to that news snippet is, and (B) what possible reason it has doing on a formal Computer Science exam paper?

    The Indians in Mumbai must be laughing their collective asses off.

    1. Mephistro Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: Brilliant...

      "The Indians in Mumbai must be laughing their collective asses off."

      From the looks of it, the exam was probably outsourced to India.

      1. DasWezel
        Angel

        Re: Brilliant...

        I'd argue otherwise, as most Indians I've dealt with have a much better grasp of English.

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: Brilliant...

          "most Indians I've dealt with have a much better grasp of English."

          You clearly haven't dealt with all the "UK companies" specialising in digital marketing who send spam from addresses registered on APNIC.

    2. Midnight

      Re: Brilliant...

      "The Indians in Mumbai must be laughing their collective asses off."

      Of course they are. Who do you think eventually got the contract to write that exam?

    3. Dale 3

      Re: Brilliant...

      If your tablet weighs 65kg, it must be full of the wiruses and malwares. Don't worry though, because "David" from the Microsofts Customer Technical department will be calling you shortly. To save some time you could get your event viewer open now and have a look at all the errors. Keep your credit card handy.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Brilliant...

        For similar reasons I always switch off my power sockets to stop the electrons leaking out and making the house so light that it would blow away too easily ;)

  5. Esme

    reminds me of an IT course I once took

    Back in the mists of time, whilst unemployed for a while, having no paper qualifications in IT, I decided to take some to prove to some extent that I actually could do what I had in fact been doing for some years. I had to take a level 2 before they;d let me do level 3. OK, level 2 was just a case of a little writing and filling in a montain of paperwork, which I got done in about a fortnight. This just about proved that I knew what a PC was, could turn it on, and fire up Excel.

    Level 3 was with a different training provider, involved programming and was riddled with factual errors. I pointed this out to the training providers, who denied responsibility, saying that the content was created by another body. So I complained to them and they denied responsibility, saying that the content was approved by HM Government. HM Govt denied responsibility saying the factual accuracy was a matter for the training providers and the company producing the material.

    This left me with the option of deliberately giving incorrect answers in order to get a pass, or insisting on giving correct answers and arguing the fail result later. I took option three, left the course, sent a letter explaining why to all three bodies concerned, and made sure my fellow students knew about the errors in the course. A few months later, I was back in work on the strength of my CV rather than qualifications.

    Sad to see that after all this time it looks as if not much has changed.

    1. lpcollier

      Re: reminds me of an IT course I once took

      I had this issue quite a lot with IT/CompSci questions at school. This is 20 years ago, before many of these were electronic or multiple choice exams, so I could write what I liked on the answer paper. So I would tend to answer the question as written, with the disclaimer "based on the question as written, which appears to be in error, the answer would be..." then I would also answer the question that they appeared to be actually asking. I'm not sure that approach helped me, I think I just got branded a smart ass.

    2. Mike 16 Silver badge

      Re: reminds me of an IT course I once took

      -- Sad to see that after all this time it looks as if not much has changed. --

      Indeed. As your tale contains words like "PC" and "Excel", I can guess it occurred a few years after my experience.

      About to head off from two years at a local Junior College to "The Big U", I thought, "Might as well see if I can pick up a more appropriate job this summer than last summer's stint replacing auto tires with levers and spoons" (ask your granddad) so I took the Civil Service Exam. By the first few questions, I could tell that although it was 1969, the IBM360 had been introduced in 1965, and the 1401 was due to be discontinued in only 3 more years, the questions were clearly written from the point of view that "characters" were 6 bits, cards were invariably 80 columns, tape had seven channels, RPG was a hot new technology (ask your grandad again) etc. As I had attended a sufficiently backwater college, I was familiar with such things as Collators, Interpreters (that printed info on cards), accounting machines, Verifiers (mind the notch) etc. So I resolved to give the RIGHT, Wrong Answers.

      Just before end of summer, the Civil Service board got back to me with an offer, not for a summer job, but a full time position at a princely (from my blue collar perspective) salary. I decided to stay a student, and within a mere 12 years had matched that salary, but had nice diploma, in Latin, yet.

  6. Justicesays
    Trollface

    To prepare the students for the real world of working with computers

    The exam was outsourced to the lowest cost offshore company, and written by someone for whom English is a second (more likely third or fourth) language.

    Then it was QA'd by a similar team who's methodology was , do nothing until just before the release deadline, while complaining about work load , then just tick all the boxes on the test plan and declare it passed.

    Then sent direct to the printers by a onshore "manager" who understands nothing of the subject in question.

  7. JimmyPage Silver badge
    Coat

    Now those exam question leaks make sense

    it was to get the pupils to proofread them ...

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Now those exam question leaks make sense

      No it's just agile, release early and often

  8. Tom 7 Silver badge

    In my big school finals

    my electronics exam had many questions pertaining to Microporcessors.

    I'm afraid to say some of the kids coming out of uni now after an IT course wouldnt be able to hazard a guess at what that could be.

    1. hopkinse
      Joke

      Re: In my big school finals

      Microporcessors? Are they tiny bacon rolls? :-)

  9. Stevie Silver badge

    Bah!

    The junalist what has spoken about regarding this has went to far.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Bah!

      Sounds exactly like the grammar from the, ahem, "Western" SQA office.

  10. Eclectic Man

    It just goes to show the deplorable lack of competent computer science teaching in this country, when the examinations are seriously flawed.

    @Esme > You should have sent in a proposal at 4x(your standard daily rate) to rewrite the examination questions.

    1. TonyJ Silver badge

      "...It just goes to show the deplorable lack of competent computer science teaching in this country, when the examinations are seriously flawed..."

      Serious question - is it teachers who write the exams?

      Or is it outsourced to education "experts" to write the exams?

  11. ChrisElvidge

    Can anyone get to see this paper?

    And publish it for all to see?

  12. Dr. G. Freeman

    here's what's covered, courtesy of the BBC

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/education/subjects/zfs3kqt

    Having not done National 5 (went straight from Standard grade to Higher in my day, none of these intermediate qualifications malarkey) I think the weight of the tablet may be in the technical implementation section, along the lines of "you have a list of stuff, weights given, what's the best spec for a tablet computer weighing X, and why have you chosen them ?"

    1. swampdog

      Q5 is wrong

      http://www.bbc.co.uk/education/guides/zxwmxnb/test/answers?question1=b&question2=a&question3=a&question4=b&question5=a&question6=a&question7=c&question8=b&question9=c&question10=a

      1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

        Re: Q5 is wrong

        Wrong in what way? It looks OK to me. SELECT * FROM StudentLocker ORDER BY YearGroup ASC, LockerNumber DESC

        ORDER BY HouseName, LockerNumber gives the same result, but that isn't the point, I think.

        The punctuation goes wrong when it starts talking about football.

        "The second level of sorting only takes place when there are any matches, like a phone book with people with the same surname. They are then compared on forename or in football tables when teams have the same points. They are then sorted on goals scored."

        It should say:

        "The second level of sorting only takes place when there are identical values in the first level, like a phone book with people with the same surname. They are then compared on forename. Or, in football tables when teams have the same points, they are then sorted on professional fouls."

  13. Herby Silver badge

    And we complain...

    When Volkswagen cleans up ITS act in order to pass its test, and blows smoke the rest of the time.

    Tests are tests, and instructors (or car manufacturers) will teach to the test if they know the subject matter. Then after the test is passed, life goes on and we get sloppy programmers/cars.

    Oh, well......

  14. Anonymous IV

    Verity Stob has been here before

    She took an Open University course, and one of the TMAs was gibberish.

    Andrew Orlowski took up cudgels on her behalf...

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I am absolutely not surprised about this.

    This High School Exam setting and marking organisation *was* based entirely at a quiet pretty traditional location near Edinburgh in Dalkeith, the town centre of which is scummy enough at the best of times - going to Greggs is a cultural event there, so is a stabbing - but totally lost its academic cred when it joined up organisationally with the techie college "cert in Hospitality" exam board types in offices in Weegieland in the West.

    What I mean is, High School exams used to be VERY accurate and respectable in Scotland. Intellectually rigorous even. The (back then only) Dalkeith office used to be really decent.

    Then after that they lost written exam papers *inside their own building* for weeks, for pity's sake. Add some out of control abusive (sexist, bullying) local plebs hired by equally plebby managers far away in Weegieland .... I am allowed to say the young ones were mostly ex-Forces and not the brightest, yes? Can I also mention, hugely, comically, absurdly FAT and DUMB Weegie managers inflicted remotely on some of the Dalkeith staff? (my sis is an honorary Weegie so I can!)

    There are some good people in there, some very academic, but mightily oppressed and some just serving out their time, some using maximum protection of unions to keep the abuse to a minimum (some of the abusers get fired every so often I suppose) ! Reverse snobbery could be a big problem there in my opinion. If you're not sufficiently intellectually stupid, and not a dodgy grafting chancer, you get mobbed.

    I did tell the intellectual ones what "Brain Dumps" were, just to f**k the stupid people up before I went though.

    They were slightly surprised but very interested!

    Flame me if you like, I know what i saw! ;)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "[...] quiet pretty traditional location near Edinburgh in Dalkeith, [...]"

      It was once the location of a thriving IT office in the former stately home of the Lord of Buccleuch. Established so the story goes to attract Scots back from the computer industry in England. In the first winter they were still refitting the building from its dilapidated state of a war time forces' billet. The cavernous Georgian rooms were heated by roaring log fires in the enormous fireplaces.

      A few people moved to have the opportunity to have a base near the Munros and other climbing opportunities. One day a member of staff was demonstrating a climbing technique by scaling up the wall of the main entrance. After everyone had gone inside a manager appeared and tried to do it too - unsuccessfully to everyone's amusement.

      The building was said to be haunted. Most hair-raising sensations were produced by the wind and the night-time prowling of the large mouser tom cat - Fritz?

      On the day the announcement was made for the office to be closed it was said that other IT companies in the area had people waiting outside - recruiting whole teams intact. Several well known companies like OWL and Spider were also founded from this. It would not be a surprise if the marking board also had its genesis for the same reason.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      For the downvoter, I wasn't joking, a stabbing happened for no particular reason in plain view on a street nearer the town centre when I was working there. Plus if its any consolation I actually liked getting bizarre combos of things out of Greggs just to wind people up (plus it was tasty if not certifiably healthy as such).

  16. gnasher729 Silver badge

    Had a look at the link, and the first complete line of text I found was "Information systems are used to store and present information to users. " To me, this sounds like very bad English. (As written it means that Information systems are used to store information to users, and to present information to users).

    I didn't bother reading any further.

    But then someone posted "The exam was outsourced to the lowest cost offshore company, and written by someone for whom English is a second (more likely third or fourth) language."

    This one looks very much like an "English as first and only language" mistake to me.

    1. Christopher Slater-Walker

      English, 1st language?

      Regrettably, I've worked with quite a number of people whose first and only language is English, who were nevertheless barely capable of writing a meaningful, mistake-free and precise sentence. This is in an industry where precision and the avoidance of misunderstanding is often a matter of importance.

      I'm only reporting what I've seen and read. I don't know why it is so; did we go through a long period where educational policy (for which I do not blame the teachers, who were or are only implementing policy) determined that it wasn't of sufficient importance?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: English, 1st language?

        Yep we did, according to my teacher aunt approximately 1972 or so was when it started going pear-shaped :) Makes sense, my high school French teacher head of department was still trying to teach us with non-revised traditional materials up to 1985 or so ... the ones *without* the Bob Marley references in them :)

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: English, 1st language?

          Our technical high school. along with the other academic high schools, was absorbed into local area comprehensives. Our campus was the most modern - so was extended to accommodate the much larger pupil roll. Many of our specialist teachers also continued teaching at the new school.

          Our art teacher had a memoir that he updated after each stage of his life. The chapter for the 1970/80s period as a comprehensive catalogues declining academic standards. Pupil discipline apparently turned into near anarchy. Several other teachers later expressed the same views verbally.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: English, 1st language?

            Exactly what I heard from most of the teachers who were actually trying to get the little bleeders to learn something instead of quarreling and talking about themselves :)

      2. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

        Re: English, 1st language?

        If it sounds right, it is right for all intensive purposes.

        https://www.grammarly.com/blog/8-embarrassing-yet-common-malapropisms/

  17. Neoc

    I had a brief flashback to Heinlein's "Space Cadet" where one of the tests is lengthy and convoluted and full of gibberish, and the cadet is marked based on how long it takes them to come to the conclusion they cannot ever score a point based on the given rules.

  18. Dagg
    Facepalm

    What do you expect.

    Those who can do, those who can't teach (or set exams)...

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Nothing changes

    My lad was the only one in his class to pass the first year of an A level IT class - at Grade E. Year 2 of the course was cancelled. This was at what is supposed to be one of the most academically successful state schools in the area (Sheffield). Telling the story to a teacher at another school she said "oh is that the school that taught the wrong IT syllabus".

    1. swampdog

      Re: Nothing changes

      They (the management) were all for cancelling the Electronics A level college course I attended after the first year because one student dropped out. I managed to wangle an unemployed (self taught) friend of mine onto it by the pair of us blatantly lying about his qualifications: he had none so we had to! The two lecturers and the other students were all in on it. The former because of their pay, the latter because we'd have been stuffed for getting into university.

      You don't just cancel a course just because the numbers have dropped below an arbitrary threshold!

      Needless to say, that kind of shady management got the college where it is today. College -> Poly -> University.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Pruf Reedin'

    They scunners hae haird o' it.

    Bit they cannae' be ersed.

  21. Crazy Operations Guy Silver badge

    65 kg

    I assume that the figure includes both the tablet and the overly-expensive, yet worthless, bag of hot air and bullshit that carries the tablet around (I believe that most places call them 'project managers').

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2019