Thursday, August 18, 2005

easier A-levels?

"Do you think A-levels are getting easier?"

There are several possibilities here. Either:
  • People look at the A-level questions and find them easier because they have more maturity and experience, whereas in fact they are the same; or
  • The exams actually are getting easier; or
  • Teaching and resources are better, so the results are better; or
  • The culture of using past papers as revision is what is making papers easier to pass; or
  • We are experiencing the annual festival of moaning about educational standards (after all, the English do enjoy a good moan).
I don't know about A-levels, but I do know that GCSEs are easier than O-levels. For language O-levels (as far as I can remember), you had to write an essay in the target language, translate a passage from English into the target language, and translate a passage from the target language into English. For language GCSEs, all you have to do is answer some questions in the target language - and you could write anything, so it is not a rigorous test of the student's vocabulary and grammar.

It follows that if GCSEs are easier, then A-levels have to be easier to cope with the intake. University lecturers have been complaining for years that they are having to dumb down their courses to cope with the reduced knowledge of the intake.

The only way to ascertain if papers are easier now is to get pupils to sit past papers as well as current ones.

As a recent test I set a question from an 8-year-old paper on a particular core topic and even my best students only achieved a C grade. - James, Cheltenham

Worrying. And it is not right-wing to say that the exams are being dumbed down. Socialism doesn't mean forcing everyone to be the same, it means giving everyone an equal opportunity to develop.


Pip said...

The exams are getting easier but "The only way to ascertain if papers are easier now is to get pupils to sit past papers as well as current ones." is not true. Different syllabuses, course materials and massively different teaching methodolgies all need to be accounted for.

The Silver Eel said...

Yeah, pip has something there. My old school switched from year-round to modular teaching a while back, and there's a greater emphasis on coursework as well. I was among the last to do O-levels and the first to do GCSEs (we did both, but not in the same subjects, obviously) and we figured the GCSEs were easier. I have an issue of Prospect magazine from 1997 kicking around somewhere which contains an interview with Isiah Berlin, in which he says, the average standard of students has increased, but you don't see the really bright ones around anymore.

Yvonne said...

You're probably right Pip but I guess it just bugs me that people make sweeping claims about the whole A-level thing without any actual hard evidence in the form of large-scale experimental data.

I thought that was quite a good point that someone made on the BBC "Have Your Say" page that now they teach people to pass exams rather than actually teaching them to think about the subject.

Balador said...

Regardless of whether exams are getting easier or not. If teaching improves and therefore pupils have a better education then everyone will say that the exams are not hard enough. If the exams are made harder and pupils do worse then then they will be blamed along with the teaching. Basically there will never be a system thats perfect.

I think the main problem is the failure is concidered something to be hidden from people. So rather than allow people to experience failure and therefore learn from it. They it is kept from them i.e GCSE grades G - D are passes apparently.

And the introduction of silly easy courses like leisure and tourism (see: GCSE Paper (double award))