Posts Tagged ‘exams’


Sunday, January 28th, 2018 | Life

It feels like not a lot has happened in January. But it has been a busy month. Primarily because most of my Christmas and early January was taken up with revision for exams.

It’s not like undergraduate where we had them stacked on top of each other: we only had four to do. But you can’t get away with undergraduate level answers, either.

We also had an essay deadline. This fell on the first day of teaching for semester two. However, I submitted it at noon the day before, giving me a good 17 hours of relaxation between the two semesters.

It also feels like an anachronism that I’ve done all of this work: include deadlines in November and December, and we’re still waiting for results from the lot of them. I understand why marking takes a long time, but I’m part of the social media-obsessed instant generation. Basically, I don’t want to put in any work for semester two if I have already failed.

Are exams getting easier?

Friday, August 19th, 2011 | Religion & Politics, Thoughts

It’s everyone’s favourite time of year again – the debate as to whether exams are getting easier.

Yet again of course, exam results have gone up and everyone is asking “have exams gotten easier?” The answer, of course, is yes. Clearly if such a large sample size as the whole of the United Kingdom, probably going on a million children, have consistently achieved higher grades than last year, the exams are getting easier.

The educational community will quickly argue that it is in fact teaching methods getting better, but this to me, seems irrelevant. Even if it is teaching methods getting better, which I’m not disputing – I’m sure they are, if the exams stay the same and don’t get more challenging in proportion to teaching methods getting better, then from the perspective of the child, the exam has got easier – with the same amount of effort and intelligent on their part, they are able to achieve a higher grade.

You can then argue that, given they have done better in the exam, they deserve that higher grade, but I disagree. Firstly, just because teaching methods have improved to allow them to do better, doesn’t mean that they have actually learnt more – maybe teaching methods have just improved in terms of teaching kids to pass exams and not actually learn more, which seems a very plausible scenario.

Secondly, even if they are more knowledgeable about a specific subject, doesn’t mean they necessarily deserve a higher grade. That sounds counter-intuitive at first, but in reality the main purpose of exams is to test how intelligent someone is and just because schools have found a way to better put knowledge into their head in order to pass an exam doesn’t really help that purpose. On that basis, the only reason that exam results should go up is if children are genuinely getting more intelligent – this could be the case but I haven’t seen any evidence to show it’s happening, at least at the same rate as exam results are improving.

Therefore, I would argue that the constant year on year improvement in exam performance, is a problem.

The solution, I would put forward is percentile banding of exam results. Rather than setting specific levels which a candidate has to reach, you put all the results together and give a certain percentile each grade – for example the top ten percent get A*, the next ten percent get an A, the next ten percent get a B and so on.

I’m not arguing this is a perfect system, and you probably need to have something in place where there isn’t a “fail” percentile, if possible, but below I will outline why I think it would arguably be a fairer system than the current one.

Primarily, it ends the debate on whether exams are getting easier. Every year exam results would stay the same, because the same percentage of people will get each grade, and it doesn’t matter if exams get easier or harder because the system sorts itself out. It is impossible to make exams the exact same difficulty every year because you have to change them and under the current system, children are unfairly punished if they happen to get a slightly harder exam and unfairly rewarded if they happen to get a slightly easier exam. This eliminates that.

Secondly, it stops the grade creep which leads to everyone getting grades closer and closer to the top and therefore makes it harder for universities and employers to distinguish between the top candidates.

There are criticisms of such a system, and I will deal with these now.

Firstly, it means that a child could lose a grade just because they end up in a year where everyone does well. This doesn’t really stand up because, because of the sample size involved, if everyone else does well it is more likely to be because the exam is slightly easier this year and therefore they haven’t lost a grade, they simply weren’t good enough to achieve it.

Indeed, sample size is important. When dealing with an entire year group, which as I previously stated I would imagine is heading towards a million children, the probability that an entire generation happened to suddenly be more intelligent than the year before, is far less likely than this year’s exams simply being a little easier.

You could also argue that everyone deserves the change to get an A* if they achieve the required level. There are two parts to this answer, first of all, they have target just like the current system – except, instead of a specific number of marks, their target is to reach the top ten percentile, but either way they have a set, fixed target to reach. Secondly, you could argue that if everyone in the country all worked really, really hard, they should all deserve to get A*.

This is true, but this has never, ever happened. Indeed, what is the probability that this would ever happen? The answer of course is negligable, when you are dealing with such a big sample size, it evens out and you don’t get disadvantaged by statistical anomlies as you do under the current system.


You could replace the current system with a banded percentile system and ensure that the grades accurately reflect a candidates performance, irrelevant of how accurate the difficulty level of the exam was and without worry that they were disadvantaged due to circumstance because of the sample sizes involved. This will then allow employers and universities to accurately select the best candidates, which is the whole point of standardised testing after all. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s arguably fairer than the current one.

Unfortunately, there would be very little incentive to change because the current system plays into the favour of schools and governments, because it makes them look like they have done better every year. This is probably true, but at the disadvantage that it makes the achievement far less meaningful.

Exams are getting easier every year

Saturday, August 28th, 2010 | Thoughts

Another year of record exam results is upon us, and of course, they’ve got easier again.

While this is often refuted by the industry, here are two reasons why exams arguably genuinely are getting easier every year.

1. Teaching standards get better and the exams do not get proportionally harder as a result.

The argument against this is that just because teaching standards are getting better doesn’t mean that the exams should get harder as well. After all, if you can teach a child more stuff in a shorter period of time, that actually means they do actually know more and thus deserve a higher grade than the generation before.

However, to add to this discussion, there isn’t a great deal of evidence that younger generations are actually significantly smarter than previous ones. Teaching standards are getting better, but not necessarily at teaching children useful information, rather they are getting better at teaching kids to do well in exams.

If there was huge leaps of improvement in teaching techniques to make children smarter, surely we would all expect to be significantly smarter than our parents and I don’t think this is the case.

2. The exam board make conscious decision to award higher grades each year.

It’s all very well saying more children reached A grade standard this year, every year, but this is actually a long way from the way that universities work.

At degree level, everyone sits the same paper, they are all marked and then they work out how easy or how hard the paper was and move the grade boundaries according – so if everyone got really high marks they will up the grade boundaries to reduce the amount of people that did well and if everyone did really badly they reduce the grade boundaries to increase the amount of people that passed.

This prevents one year who get a really hard paper being unfairly punished against a year later which may get a much easier paper. This is a system which has been functioning in universities for a long time and seems to work very well.

Arguably this means that fifty years down the line you end up with people who should be achieving far higher grades than people do now, getting the same grades but who really cares? Exam grades are really about employers and universities being able to differentiate between people and once you have a degree or a job nobody really gives a crap about your GCSEs and A-Levels so what does it even matter if that is the case?

Tea Party

Thursday, August 27th, 2009 | Friends, Life

As Nicola finally finished her resits on Tuesday, Wednesday night was dedicated to a tea party at hers in celebration. The kind of tea party that involves lots of alcohol of course 😀 . Nicola and Kate had also been down to give blood that day so Nicola was wasted by the first drink!

George and Chris Nicola Lil