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Do I contact the exam board?

Discussion in 'Workplace dilemmas' started by omannay, Mar 18, 2016.

  1. omannay

    omannay New commenter

    Hi, all.
    I've been looking through some past papers for the subject that I teach, and I've spotted a question that requires the following calculations to be performed:

    (b) 1 mark for correct calculation, 1 mark for correct answer
    – number of photos = 12 × 60 × 24 = 17280
    – memory requirement = 17280/1024 = 16.9 (16.875)
    – (17280/1000 = 17.28/17.3 is acceptable)

    Students are not allowed to use a calculator in this exam, and the subject is not one where it makes any sense whatsoever to test a student's mental arithmetic skills. They even expect the students to divide 17280 by 1024 (!!), although they will accept division by 1000.
    I believe that it is thoroughly inappropriate to ask Year 11 students to do this sort of mental arithmetic for this subject, without allowing a calculator. Having a calculator will not afford the student any unfair advantage of any kind, and it is their understanding of the content that is on the syllabus, not their ability to do fairly complicated calculations on paper.
    I am sorely tempted to complain to the exam board, but my name and centre name are attached to everything I send using the forum, and I've historically been advised to NEVER do anything that might make the exam board mad at our centre.
    I'm sure my students will get an equally inappropriate mental arithmetic question in June. What should I do?
  2. Doitforfree

    Doitforfree Star commenter

    Surely they can use a pen and paper, making it a relatively easy calculation? If it's part of what a person studying this subject might need to do then is it an unreasonable question?
  3. chelsea2

    chelsea2 Star commenter

    It's just what Y6 pupils are expected to do now without a calculator: 2331 ÷ 37, 678 x 54,
    Jesmond12 likes this.
  4. wanet

    wanet Star commenter

    It looks like ICT, but I thought that they can use a calculator for this exam.
  5. florian gassmann

    florian gassmann Star commenter

    Check the Examination Report for the exam concerned (on the board's website) to see if there is any comment on the question. However, like others I'd say that the simple sums involved should be well within the grasp of a Year 11 student. It doesn't, as has been pointed out, involve mental arithmetic - the 1 mark for calculation means that the working needs to be shown using pen and paper.
    ilovepoppies likes this.
  6. sparkleghirl

    sparkleghirl Star commenter

    It's CIE Comp Sci O-level and the paper does say on the front that no calculators are allowed.

    (Can you tell I'm bored?)
  7. phlogiston

    phlogiston Star commenter

    Hard and possibly inappropriate question, but it's the same for everyone.
    omannay likes this.
  8. Skeoch

    Skeoch Star commenter

    Check the following:
    1. Date this paper was set.
    2. Deadline for Centres to send comments on the paper (there is a standard procedure: have you missed the boat?)
    3. Specification: what does it say about calculations and mathematical skills: have you missed the point?
    4. As FG suggests, the exam report - and those for other papers from the same specification: has the PE commented on the issue?
    5. Your supply of conspiracy theories for "I've historically been advised to NEVER do anything that might make the exam board mad at our centre."
  9. wanet

    wanet Star commenter

    Possibly the person who wrote the question was expecting 1000 rather than 1024:
    – number of photos = 12 × 60 × 24 = 17280
    – memory requirement = 17280/1000 = 17.28 Full marks and not that difficult.
  10. omannay

    omannay New commenter

    That's a good point. They might not like the question, but it's not like my students are unfairly disadvantaged.
  11. stampedeguy

    stampedeguy New commenter

    another easy way is to recognise that both numbers 17280/1024 are even, so half them to make it easier ...... if the answers are even, then half again, and again, and again etc.... until you get to the single digit!

    so they would get a solution of


    which gives an answer of 16.875 ........ but if they were confident of the 8 times table then they could do a simple division of 135/8
  12. omannay

    omannay New commenter

    Lol. However, I have had some frustrating times in the past when my hands were tied for this very reason. Had a cohort who'd really worked hard on a coursework-based unit only to lose most of the marks because the moderator didn't understand that Visual Basic and Visual J# are different programming languages. It was an open-and-shut case of faulty moderation, but my HoD told us to enter them as resits the following year. Was very frustrating. The stated reason? "Don't make the exam board mad at us." But I'm glad you work somewhere where such stories sound like conspiracy theories rather than 'war stories'.
  13. Piranha

    Piranha Star commenter

    It is this sort of advice that allows exam boards to get away with poor questions and poor marking. I was at a school where it was common to argue if we thought things were wrong, and we often got grades improved.

    Although the Maths involved is not that difficult, I can't see the point in testing it in this exam - leave it to the Maths papers. I can't believe that many people with access to a calculator would do this calculation by hand in a real life situation.
  14. Doitforfree

    Doitforfree Star commenter

    I know someone who works for an exam board and they are not going to get mad at you. For starters, every exam, even a little one, has a team of people working on it. The crazy schools (and ther are some) still get their demands considered. A board might disagree with your feedback but they would want to hear it, and it wouldn't disadvantage you.

    I had to make a massive and serious complaint to our fostering agency. It didn't mean they treated me badly afterwards, in fact they treated me better because they knew they couldn't mess me around.
  15. scienceteachasghost

    scienceteachasghost Lead commenter

    I believe that multiplication of 2 digit numbers is actually Level 4 mathematics (if one can still refer to NC levelling.) The assumption is probably that most students will divide by 1000 as an approximation but the division by 1024 is the 'correct' answer (just as students should not be punished for taking 'g' as 9.81m/s2 rather than 10 m/s2.

    I don't think this question is unreasonable, nor is it unreasonable to expect students to show basic skills like a bit of numeracy/literacy. By all means complain, they will probably laugh you out of the park! At worst, if they DO set an impossible/very hard question in June, the grade boundaries will just be moved. I wouldn't lose sleep over it. If such a question comes up every year, maybe spend a lesson doing these calculations?!
  16. aypi

    aypi Senior commenter

    Do not be afraid of exam boards, I have "helped" my board for years, and seen no consequences on the department, and some changes in the documentation.
  17. TheoGriff

    TheoGriff Star commenter


    I believe that you are correct, and they do recognise all feedback as helpful.

    Best wishes

  18. omannay

    omannay New commenter

    Some great 'crowd-sourced' feedback here. Thanks, everyone, for your input.
  19. BelleDuJour

    BelleDuJour Star commenter

    Good heavens!
    Just use long multiplication or don't they teach that nowadays.
    I am speechless TBH.

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