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Exam errors a joke!
I dragged my son to see a really good Spanish film called Julia’s Eyes in London last week. The Guardian said it was a ‘thoughtful, creepy and effective Spanish thriller.’ I thought it was great in a Psycho kind of way with a lot of Spanish flair. My son, being less impressed, retaliated by forcing me to sit through The Hangover, again.
Part of the reason for this expedition is that I like Spanish movies. I also thought it might be quite good preparation for his Spanish A level exam. It might have been, if of course there are no glaring errors on the Spanish exam paper, like for example it turns out to be printed in German. What a ridiculous idea? Or maybe not. We will see, but it would not be the first mistake on an A level exam paper this summer. According to Ofqual, the Office for Qualifications and Examinations Regulation, about 88000 candidates have already been affected by mistakes on 5 A Level papers, all issued by the biggest exam boards in the UK. My son is one of them.
One of my son’s A Level Maths papers included a question that was impossible to answer; some of the information needed to work out the algorithm was missing or incorrect. Whilst I have no idea what an algorithm is or how to work one out, I know that this question was worth 11% of the grade for the exam, so it was pretty important. If you lose 11% in an A Level exam, you can drop two grades. But worse still, those who attempted to answer the question and wasted time trying to work out why they couldn’t work it out, probably missed out on checking or finishing other parts of the paper. Maybe those who just thought it was too hard and didn’t even try will have done better on the shorter questions on the rest of the paper, and end up with a better grade!
His school kindly forwarded on a letter from the exam board, OCR, apologising for the ‘unfortunate error’ and reassuring us that no-one will be disadvantaged by it. Do I believe that? No. Firstly, it is not an 'unfortunate' error; it is evidence of outrageous professional incompetence, for which the exam board should apologise properly and unreservedly, and say exactly what they plan to do to put this right. Many kids will be relying on good results in the exams to get their university places. God knows how many times we have to listen to schools and universities banging on about how these exams mean something, and how top grades help them distinguish between candidates. Well, it seems they don’t mean much…
The letter from OCR says that the exam board will use statistical methods 'to ensure that candidates' marks from this attempt are compared fairly with any previous attempts at this paper as well as their results for other, applied mathematics papers.' Surely this makes a mockery of the whole process of examinations. It might work for students who are a straight A, B, or C student in all other 5 Maths’ papers and therefore probably should have achieved the same grade on this paper, although this logic is not without flaws. But how does this work for students whose scores are different on every paper they have taken? Statistics cannot tell you how an individual will perform, only about trends. The point about exams is that individuals have a chance to prove themselves one way or the other, on the day, assuming that the exam papers are fair. What a joke!