Thursday, June 09, 2011

Exam Mistakes

I remember years ago as a young teacher listening to a speaker from one of the exam boards describing how they went about putting an exam paper together.

Experienced teachers would submit potential questions which were considered by a group of experts, who would check that they were on the syllabus and make sure that they were of the correct standard for the exam and finally to make sure that they were unambiguous, grammatically and scientifically correct.

Then the board would select the best of these questions and put together an exam paper which would finally be inspected by another group to make sure that there were absolutely no errors.

This doesn't sound anything like the current set up. Having several exam boards obviously introduces competition, the result of which is to see who can offer the cheapest and easiest exams.


Mosher said...

Only one exam board up in Scotland. However, they've decided to just drop exams with the new syllabus.

Well, at least with the new National 4 qualification. It's all to be assessed internally. Using materials put together by the teachers.

This means a) more work for teaching staff and b) no across-country regulation of the standards of these methods of assessment. What one teacher/school deems appropriate could be poles apart from another school.

The "best" assessments are to be submitted and the cream will be "kite marked" and made available for download by other schools.

So - crowd sourcing. OK, so after 3-4 years there will be a good bank of assessment material. In the meantime, though, the kids passing through will be assessed any old how.

Oh, and you should see the paperwork for the handful of kitemarked examples so far. About 8 pages, 6 of which are justifying the method and detailing which parts of the syllabus are covered and how. The small bit at the end is the actual assessment.

Ben said...

Not true!

That's the second time you've said that, Mr Chalk, so it's the second time I will say this.

Competition making things worse? When I went to 6th form we chose the school because it was a good academic 6th form. The school chose JMB sciences because they were known to be better (i.e. harder).

Everybody knew that a Nuffield B was a JMB C.

It's only government that can make us (pretend to) treat unequal qualifications equally - like all those worthless qualifications which are "worth the same" as 4 GCSEs.

No, they aren't. Ask any employer!

Standards were set by the likes of JMB. If the Nuffields fell too far behind, nobody took them seriously, and they lost customers.

There was no "race to the bottom", because the customers (parents and students) and THEIR customers (employers and universities) are NOT STUPID.

The problem is NO effective competition between exam boards - the QCA makes sure they all inflate grades together.

Sally said...

I agree with you that competition between exam boards leads to falling standards. I believe it gets worse when you remove the non-profit aspect. Edexcel is now owned by Pearson. A publisher, running an exam board? Fox, hen house?

Ben said...

There isn't any competition between exam boards. QCA makes sure they all inflate their grades together.

There USED to be competition, and everybody knew which were worthwhile and which were not. People who just want a Stifficate can do Nuffield science. People who want to learn science did JMB.

And everyone could tell who was who, which is the point.

Cabbage said...

What power does QCA have and how does it compel exam boards to lower their standards?

Very interested in this topic but don't know much about it.

Anonymous said...


QCA (or QCDA) will have no power as it will shortly cease to exist.

When you apply to University, they don't know what board you are using, only what subjects you are doing. A school which chose JMB because it was harder was putting its students at a disadvantage.

If as you say, having competition meant that a Nuffield B was a JMB C, isn't that an argument against having competition as it meant potential medic 'Jimmy' who did Nuffield got 3 A's and went to Uni and 'Jemima', equally bright, got 3 B's and went nowhere?
As I said the University would not have known which exam board they were doing.

Lilyofthefield said...

One national exam board. Qualifications of limited variation in each subject to suit the academic, less academic and non-academic. Possibly not bothering with Latin for the third group nor Meeja Studies for the first.

If we have a National Curriculum, it should be nationally examined and assessed.

Cabbage said...

Anonymous - I had to put down what exam board each of my GCSEs and A-levels was on when I filled in my UCAS form. Are you saying that information doesn't go to the universities? What's it for, then?

Anonymous said...

Look, this is simple business. The success of a school relies on the league tables. The league tables are determined by exam results. As there are more than one exam board they are in competition with each other. In order to make sure they appeal to the most schools, they try to make their exams slightly easier their competitors (just like supermarkets are trying to be the cheapest to get the most customers). The schools want the best exam results they can get so they aren't labelled as 'failing' (despite the fact that they only need to achieve 35% A* to C grades, many seem to be unable to manage even this). Therefore they select the exam board they think has the easiest exams. This continues year on year and we're told that exams aren't getting easier despite the fact that business say they aren't satisfied with the basic communication and maths skills of school leavers. When I did A level physics we had to learn all of the equations we needed. Now they are given them all (and the questions are not more difficult to compensate).