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Edexcel AS composition - poor marks

Discussion in 'Music' started by performerscollective, Aug 31, 2011.

  1. Did anyone else feel let down with Edexcel composition marks this year. Instead of the As, Bs and Cs I expected, there were Cs, Ds, Es and Us for the coursework!!! I know my stuff and feel really hard done by on behalf of the students. The quality of the work was far more solid than other students in the past and they have got this dragging their grades down. We had them remarked and they have gone up, but not massively.
  2. florian gassmann

    florian gassmann Star commenter

    In a separate thread, you have raised the possibility of a complaint. I know nothing about this, but suspect that Edexcel might tell you that the complaints procedure is nothing to do with marking standards and only to do with administration (e.g. a member of their staff being rude on the phone, or the papers not arriving in time). I'd certainly consider going through the three stages of appeal against the re-mark first.
  3. Ours were about the same this year. That said, there are always surprises in the marks, often in the 'B' grade boundary, where a candidate who writes a 'good' GCSE-type composition gets one or two marks higher than someone who writes something much more advanced and workmanlike. We always joke about the random number generator which comes into play after the marks have been done.
    This site seems to have a perennial conversation about composing as an assessed part of examinations. There are few advocates (here) for compulsory composition and most acknowledge that it is a minority activity amongst musicians. Yet exam boards and their overseers seem to accept the holy triumvirate of Performing - Composing - Listening without questioning whether if it is still appropriate.
  4. I now know of 5 schools in my local area, both independent and state, where the marks for composition are hitting anything from E to U. Even an experienced teacher of 14 years using this exam board got these poor marks, and has never had anything lower than a B in this module.
    I feel like they are looking for something that we've not been told. From some of the remark scripts that have come back to us I feel like they want the students to compose in the manner of another composer, but it is not specified anywhere in the course guidelines. The children have also been criticised for using some typical ideas associated with the options given. But these students are essentially CHILDREN - they are 16/17. Of course they will occasionally use things such as this, it's all they know so far!
  5. What happens if the appeal doesn't change anything though? We are getting our heads together as local schools and we just have no idea what has changed or what we are doing wrong? I don't want to put the kids or the school through an un-necessary appeal process if it will do anything that damages the reputation of the school or puts the students under pressure.
  6. florian gassmann

    florian gassmann Star commenter

    Is that because a composition starts out like a piece of Mozart pastiche, but then goes off in a different direction?
  7. florian gassmann

    florian gassmann Star commenter

    The real difficulty for me is that assessing free composition is largely subjective - one has only look at the invective written about much-loved compositions by other composers and by well-experienced critics.
    And if something cannot be assessed reliably, it has no role to play in an exam.
    That is the reason why composition played no significant part in public examinations before the advent of GCSE. It is not that it is unimportant, but simply that it cannot be reliably assessed.
    There is an argument that techniques of composition should be more reliable - although AQA seem to have driven the nail into that particular coffin.
    I was much in agreement with Rob Steadman (late of this forum and himself a composer) that the best way to assess compositional ability is through the use of closely specified techniques that can be assessed reliably, e.g.
    Extend this phrase with a modulating sequence to the supertonic
    Add three percussion parts in Calypso style to this tune from Trinidad
    Rewrite these four piano chords for a brass quartet of two Bb trumpets, Horn in F and Trombone
    Add a violin counter-melody to this tune sung by Madonna, taking account of the printed chord symbols, ... and so on.
    The great mistake with free composition is the fact that the boundaries are so wide that pupils don't really know what they are supposed to do. For most pupils, it is better that they can be led towards an understanding of the many elements that go into a composition, rather than being faced with producing a fully-formed piece, which is something that very few can do well.
    Are A-level students in English expected to write a Novella?

  8. Mrs Music

    Mrs Music New commenter

    I have to say my student's AS level compositions have done brilliantly this year on the whole - one C, a B and 6 A grades. However the performance marks for the guitarists (four of the students) were significantly lower than I marked them to be (the other students' marks stayed the same). Waiting moderator's comments...

    Now I am worried how I can help to guide the students to achieving high marks for compositions at A2 level, as the one student I had who achieved an A grade for composition last year got a C for his A2 composition.
  9. interesting you say that the guitar marks were lower than you marked. I had a classical guitarist who gave a recital completely made up from the grade 8 syllabus. Edexcel have come back saying some of the pieces are listed as grade 5 on their "comprehensive list that is available to download online". If we can point and say "look it is on the instrumental grade 8 examination syllabus", how can they query this?
    I have to say our A2 results were fine. It just highlights how much of an issue the marking is really - as highlighted by another person earlier, it is subjective and therefore how can we guide if we are unsure what it is that we are guiding them to?
    Am considering the techniques exam instead this year but will ask them to compose at the same time so that they can decide what they feel most comfortable in submitting.
  10. I do remember one entertaining Edexcel course on composition run by the principal examiner for the unit. He brought a number of marked examples of student work with him. One piece in particular was instructive, as neither he nor we teachers could work out how it had been awarded the marks.
    I do like the idea of a wider variety of compositional techniques, although I'm not sure what advice I could give to my students about Calypso or Madonna - it would have me reaching for the Rhinegold!
    My point was really that we all seem to agree that this would be a more reliable method of assessment but nothing changes, and every year we have the same threads about exam results which are unreflective of some young people's musical ability and which often harm their future if they miss out on their chosen course and university.

  11. florian gassmann

    florian gassmann Star commenter

    My own suspicion is that those who draft and approve syllabuses are musicians in late middle age who were never "taught" composition at school and who may well have not ever composed anything themselves.
    They are told by QCA (or whatever they are now called) that composition is some essential element that must appear in music syllabuses but, having little personal experience of the task in their own education or career, they plough ahead with little idea of what can be expected and how it can be assessed.
    The vast majority of A-level Music students do not go on to study music at university or conservatoire. They opt for music because they enjoy listening to it and perhaps performing it - both activities that can be carried on for life.
    Very few indeed become professional composers. If composition has any place in school syllabuses, it is to study techniques that help us understand how to listen to, and perform, music. The tiny percentage who really show ability as composers can develop their talent outwith any A-level specification.
  12. I agree with you wholeheartedly. I studied composition as part of my undergrad degree and went on to study it as a postgrad and can still feel the passion that my Prof' spoke on this subject with. He really thought that composition techniques, as you outlined, should be continued through GCSE, A level and postgrad and then really focused on at postgrad level should people decide to take it seriously. He had some great ideas about how technical study could be combined with creativity*
    I can't really see any valid reason to include composition at GCSE or A level but I can see very valid reasons for studying the techniques involved.
    * I wasn't you that taught me was it Florian?[​IMG]
  13. trelassick

    trelassick New commenter

    I can't really see any valid reason to include composition at GCSE or A level but I can see very valid reasons for studying the techniques involved.

    I agree entirely, yet we are stuck with it and the annual situation whereby very musical students have potential good grades dragged down by this element of the specification. Similarly I find it next to impossible to give sound advice to students in a school where, in other subjects, they are used to achieving full UMS marks [having discovered the requisite hoops to jump through] and wish to do the same in Music.

    What is to be done? How should we progress and work on with confidence?
  14. florian gassmann

    florian gassmann Star commenter

    There's a possible window of opportunity with the next round of new A-level syllabuses, which will be necessary as a response to Michael Gove's desire to see an end to modular A levels.
    In the past, QCDA (and its many predecessors) have been responsible for determining and approving the content of A-level syllabuses. They are going in the great bonfire of QUANGOs, but their role is to be assumed by Ofsted, which doesn't give me great hope for the future.
    If there really is agreement in the profession that free composition cannot be assessed reliably, and should therefore not be examined (and I know of at least one very high-ranking exam-board official who thinks that it is not an essential requirement), the best way forward would be to convince professional associations such as the MMA and the FMS to push for a conference with Ofsted in which the voices of music teachers might be heard.
    Sadly, they rarely are, and I wouldn't be in the least surprised if Ofsted, like QCDA before it, appoints its favourite "advisers" who just happen to agree with the policies that have already been decided by the civil service.
    For what it's worth, I learnt many years ago from a colleague that the only member of staff in the music section at SEC (one of QCDA's many predecessors) who was a teacher, was the lead officer - who had a degree in Middle English and a short career as a teacher of maths to SEN children. Apparently, one of his staff sang in an amateur choir, so that's alright, isn't it?
  15. Although I agree that the marking is not always accurate (our problem was with the moderation of Unit 1 this year), I have usually been happy with the Unit 2 marking and have only rarely had students who have not achieved an 'A' in the unit. I think the problem may be in some teachers' interpretation of the concept of 'free composition'. I have always taught students that the composition is a 3-minute opportunity to show the examiner how many compositional techniques they have mastered, and this always seems to yield good results. Certain briefs are definitely more conducive to this.
  16. I am in exactly the same position. My candidates all passed unit 1 and 3 with A and B grades, and got C, D and E grades for unit 2. I don't understand how they can be two or three grades down in this unit. They are all bright students who worked hard.

    It makes me very worried about the students starting the course this week. How can we guarantee good marks?

    Does anyone have any thoughts about the 2014 briefs? Mine like the one about a celebration vocal piece.
  17. Yes I've got exactly this problem. Bright students who dropped two or three grades in the composition unit for no obvious reason. Edexcel are not even running a course giving feedback. I am very keen to pin the exam board down as to how we in schools can deliver this unit with confidence in the published mark scheme.
  18. One of my student wants to redo the composition unit on its own - is this possible. I do know that we dropped lots of marks on the sleeve note so that should be easy to fix.
  19. I really can't understand this idea that free composition shouldn't be taught because most people won't be composers. Most won't be performers either so presumably we shouldn't teach performance? Hey, lets just go back to music appreciation.

    For those who say just teach composition techniques, what happens in English lessons? Do they only teach pupils to write in the style of Shakespeare?

    Free Composition shows true understanding of the meaning of music, composition techniques merely the ability to imitate and copy according to rules.

    Sure, its difficult to mark objectively to the same standard. But so is marking performance, doesn't the exam board criteria encourage sterile 'perfect' performances rather than characterful performances?
  20. Also let down in same way, with exactly the same process and result with marks going up after remark but not by much - best advice I'm reading is that students should try to show as many compositional techniques as possible within their pieces - as a composer myself this feels totally wrong as an approach, but comparing with past successful pieces this seems the only way to guarantee stronger marks, even if the result is pieces that can sound disjointed and full of pastiche. Has anyone found a positive outcome from the Appeals process?

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