Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Some thoughts on exams

Having heard the uproar about the Biology paper, I thought I'd investigate. Interesting results. The Daily Mail comments interest me (click top rated) - students saying that they don't like the "new age nonsense" - their words not mine. In fact, I thought the whole comment was good enough to copy across.

As the member who made the latter picture (a satirical reproduction of one of the examiner's comments in the official textbook), I wish to clarify for the readers of the Mail what exactly the problem is - this is not a sulk for more marks or easier exams.

It was meant to be a biology exam; and we are, unfortunately, guinea pigs for a new specification in which traditional knowledge-based learning has been dumbed-down by holier-than-thou 'progressive' examiners have attempted to replace this partially with 'How Science Works' questions which are not based on the subject matter.

This last exam was the worst yet; out of 75 marks on the paper, no more than 15 (I estimate) could be gained through any knowledge of Biology. One had to see it to believe it; there was page after page of new-age nonsense, followed by a single question on Biology.

Everything that we had learnt and revised was utterly worthless, since actual biology was all but omitted from the paper. This is our quarrel!

I did an exam earlier. It was A Level, and it was AQA, and it was the "new syllabus", etc. Geography rather than Biology, but it was the same rubbish - basically glorified coursework. "Geography Skills" they call it - it was so blatantly not "skills" that I had to pre-write answers to questions in order to get anything above a D (I tend to get As). The questions weren't Geography - they were asking me how I did my fieldwork, about statistical tests - and yes, I put some theory in, but that won't get me many marks. And that's 30% of my A2 I believe.

Yes, I haven't made a post in nearly a fortnight because I've been learning how to answer exam questions.

Questions like "Assess the usefulness of one method used to collect data for the investigation" in the first section, then "An A Level student has proposed this hypothesis...with reference to the data, is it valid?". It's not Geography. I only got anywhere with it because I had practice at the questions, not because of my knowledge, not even because I "applied knowledge" or whatever this week's buzzword/phrase is.

Back to the Biology paper - I was one of the "guinea pigs" for the new Science GCSE a couple of years back - and I know people that have done science A Levels have struggled, mainly because the new GCSE is so awful. Apparently it's meant to be more relevant; shame it's not proper science that will get anyone anywhere.

I want to read PPE at a good university next year. Will this utter dumbing-down help me? No, it won't. I want exams that require rigour, that will reward extra reading, that reward knowledge and reward understanding that knowledge. Train me to succeed, train my mind to work so it applies what knowledge I have so it gets decisions made and things done by all means, but not with exams that require certain answers. "Applying my knowledge" is nothing to do with these new-fangled exams. They are nonsense.

Proper exams, please. Throw as much money as you want at education, if you control the Curriculum and exams so they don't reward knowledge, students won't learn, and education becomes altogether pointless.

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