Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Easy Exams Update

It seems to be about time for an update. My email seems to have provoked at least a bit of discussion. Everyone who commented or responded got 5 points out of 5. these have ranged from someone teaching students history at a university to people who have never studied history and were not taught in a European country.

Points raised so far seem to be:

1) Exams may be easier through the experience gained over time.
2) A single question is not a representative sample.
3) To be fair I should also try a set of questions from the 50s for comparison.

In the case of this particular history question 1 turns out not to be relevant as most of the people getting full marks were under the impression that we were discussing a different war to the one referred to in the questions. I certainly was one of the people who made that mistake, so any knowledge I had was irrelevant and potentially misleading. 2 is quite true in the abstract, though I did choose this question as representative of what I had seen.

Number 3 seems a very good idea. I would like to try some 1950s papers, and am now looking for suggestions as to the best ways to obtain these as well as volunteers to help with exam conditions.

In a similar vein, I have compared a maths paper left over from when I studied for my O levels with one from today and the difference is clear. I have only done this on maths as I consider myself sufficiently educated in maths that this will not affect my result. In some sense, maths is the control for one end of the spectrum. The foundation paper appears to be designed to ensure that everyone can get a GCSE.

This may seem a little harsh, but I was appalled to discover that one of the questions awarded a mark for the ability to count to 10. I am serious, one question had the first part (for one mark) that you had to examine four pictures and say how many blocks they showed. Each block was illustrated by a rectangle. The highest number of blocks illustrated was 10. You also needed to be able to count to 7, 3 and 1 but if you can do ten then they must be childs play.

The 'higher' paper was a little better, and could have weeded out the lowest performers. It still did not compare in difficulty to the papers from my examinations. I have heard the suggestion that as the level drops, so more papers are required to differentiate between candidates, this being why we see so many more people with 10-12 highers. I do not really accept this. If the level is sufficiently easy all the number of highers will measure is the amount of time spent in the examination hall.

Another suggestion that has come up is that I should tackle the coursework from scratch. I will look into this. I am guessing a fair way to do it would be to allow myself 30 minutes per item. If this comes to a sufficiently small amount of time when I know how many items are required I will do it.

In summary, so far nothing has dispelled my belief that the difficulty has gone down. On the contrary, I am now becoming convinced it has fallen far enough to remove the effectiveness of the exams all together. I feel sorry for everyone who has to use this system as a yardstick to measure himself or herself.


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