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Exams and assessments --- ?

Discussion in 'Personal' started by TCSC47, Sep 20, 2020.

  1. TCSC47

    TCSC47 Star commenter

    The recent dreadful problems with exams and assessments have reminded me of my own school exams. Looking back on my careers, I got to where I did through getting enough O levels to enable me to get onto the next rung of education and into employment. However, I have never been sure if I merited my O level successes or not.

    I owe it pretty much to my physics teacher, Tommo, (nickname). who explained to us how to sit the exam. His comments were mainly for the physics papers but the techniques worked for most of my other exams. In those days there were not multiple choice, or printed exam question and answer papers. Our answers were written on blank paper separate from the question sheet. I remember there were five questions to answer out of, I think, seven or eight.

    And this is the bit I would not have been able to work out for myself, although it sounds so obvious now and apologies for walking you through it like Tommo did with us. Five questions, so divide the exam time into six segments, probably about 15 minutes each bit. After each 15 mins no matter where you are with the answer, go on to the next question. Always leave space under the question to enable returning in the final 15 mins and add anything that may have come to mind.

    Tommo went on however, to reveal how the marking scheme worked. The start of each question would supply easy marks, but as the question progressed it became harder to answer, and hence take more valuable time up for less reward. Don't waste time struggling with an answer but get on to the next one for the next batch of easy marks. The 15 mins at the end, and the spaces left would allow going back to the questions and dash down anything that came to mind. Nothing ventured nothing gained in the last 15 minutes.

    Then the psychological part. The pass mark would be about 40% and this is just two questions worth out of five. If a reasonable (small?) amount of revision was done, then we would have pretty much a full answer for at least two questions. Go for those questions first. Nothing says they have to be done in order, again something I wouldn't have figured out for myself. So after the first two questions, we could feel confident that we had passed the exam and could relax and look upon everything we wrote down as plus marks for a good result. This indeed is what happened in my exams and I actually started enjoying them! AAA+ results, or some such, were not needed in those days by the way unless you had psychotic parents!

    The smaller bits. Place your wristwatch at the top of your desk so you don't loose concentration having to raise your wrist or look up to see the wall clock every time you wanted to check the time. Have a cardigan that is easy to slip on and off. Have some sweets but not anything which could pull fillings out or take the roof of the mouth off or require a kerfuffle and noise to open. If you found yourself sitting in the direct Sun, asked to be moved or have the curtains closed.

    There might have been other things but I can not remember anymore at the moment. The thing is though that throughout my secondary education, and for reasons that are irrelevant here, I was extremely angry at my schooling so I intentionally did little work. Always in detention for not doing homework, or getting to school late or talking. I got the cane for talking in assembly would you believe! Thankfully we didn't have assessed coursework or I really would have been in the whatever. However, I'm reasonably bright enough to take an interest in life and things going on around me, so I had quite a broad range of knowledge gained from outside my secondary schooling. Using Tommo's exam techniques and my general knowledge I was able to gain the required number of O levels to allow me to leave school (couldn't wait) and take a student apprenticeship and go onto greater qualification success. I know this would never have happened if Tommo had not shown me how to play the exam game.

    None of my other subject teachers did anything like Tommo. Over the years I have passed on Tommo's tricks (taking account of changing exam formats of course) to my students and quizzed them if anybody else was giving them exam techniques. It is a lot more common nowadays or even, I hope, perhaps, universal but it was not always so. With the exception of public school?

    So what will have happened to all the students who were cleverer than me and worked harder who didn't have a Tommo to show them the way? Why didn't all the teachers inform their students that the early parts of questions supplied the easiest marks? What value does that put upon the use of school exams to allow employers to select the ones they think are the cleverest or the most hardworking?

    Is it fair?
    Last edited: Sep 20, 2020
  2. peakster

    peakster Star commenter

    I am far from convinced the GCSE exams are going to go ahead next year.
  3. TCSC47

    TCSC47 Star commenter

    What a mess we and our kids are in.
    colacao17, agathamorse and needabreak like this.
  4. smoothnewt

    smoothnewt Star commenter

    You make some interesting points. Certainly when I took my O Levels in 1975 the concept of exam technique didn't appear to exist, or if it did it certainly wasn't apparent in any of my classes. No mention of pass marks or percentages needed to pass, past papers, marks per question. No predicted grades. Nothing. In fact the only advice I can ever recall being given was "read the question properly", which of course is good advice, but there was nothing like the finely honed support in place for today's exam sitters.
    What you got at the end of it all was partly pot luck and partly survival of the fittest. I managed an A grade in O Level physics simply because that particular year there were a good number of questions that were more akin to a chemistry paper, and I was good at chemistry. A year earlier or later and I'd have probably been stuffed.
  5. florian gassmann

    florian gassmann Star commenter

    Before then, autumn resits are supposed to start two weeks tomorrow. I wonder if that will still prove to be practical?
  6. sbkrobson

    sbkrobson Star commenter

    I always thought It is possible to pass all your exams with flying colours and yet remain completely stupid, and conversely possible to fail all your exams miserably and be the sharpest knife in the drawer.
    But actually it depends on the subject of the exam, some subjects being memory based, and some subjects being skill based.
    The worst exam as an indicator of anything whatsoever has to be English Literature, which ought to be renamed "Remembering and Regurgitating Isolated Chunks Of Elitist Guff ".
    And the best exam as an indicator of anything whatsoever has to be English Language, which ought to be renamed "Quick! How Fast Can You Write Anything At All Coherently?"
    Last edited: Sep 20, 2020
  7. needabreak

    needabreak Star commenter

    Ditto, we got the odd past paper at the end of year 2 but had no overview of the content that we needed to know in any depth and our text books didn't relate to the exam board so it was all a bit hit and miss if your teacher wasn't absolutely clear... or indeed was absent due to strike action... that said I think teachers working conditions were far better back then and those of us who survived were extremely resilient and often self starters/motivated while now our students have a wealth of information at their disposal they in the main just have to do what we say, stick to the spec, use the wide variety of resources we provide and filter Google answers really carefully if they feel the need to use it.

    Oh and I don't believe anyone actually did claim that life was fair.
    TCSC47 and agathamorse like this.
  8. maggie m

    maggie m Lead commenter

    I recall my chemistry, biology and economics teachers giving similar advice regarding allocating time to questions in the late1970's. Read the rubric was something all my teachers said. English literature was interesting, I never got to the end of the Mayor of Casterbridge but Miss told us that as it was the first time the book had been set at O level one of the questions would probably be to compare and contrast the two main male characters. We wrote this essay in class and gawd bless her she was right.
    smoothnewt likes this.
  9. LondonCanary

    LondonCanary Star commenter

    Ten years ago, my child's school did this as specific seminars for the whole year e.g. how to revise, how to prepare, how to approach exams. That said they has had formal exams in every subject from year 7, so GCSE was not much different from the preceding 4 years,
  10. TCSC47

    TCSC47 Star commenter

    Had to laugh Need, I wonder how many times I told the kids about life and fairness!
    needabreak likes this.
  11. TCSC47

    TCSC47 Star commenter

    Just to say mine were in 1965.
  12. eleanorms

    eleanorms Occasional commenter

    Purely out of interest, what do you think might happen instead? (Angsty Year 11 parent)
  13. peakster

    peakster Star commenter

    I really have no idea - possibly something like what happened this year.

    As things stand - it's very hard to see the exams occurring.
  14. stopwatch

    stopwatch Lead commenter

    I work at a local Secondary School as an invigilator (I am retired). We are normally due to do Internal exams/mocks early November, but as yet heard nothing. Normally we are emailed to ask our availability as well as dates the exams are due to take place.
    Not looking good.
  15. Flowersinspring

    Flowersinspring Lead commenter

    Had to laugh at this because you would be my daughter's favourite ever person if I were to show her this! :)

    Please don't think I'm being rude-I'm really not! :)
  16. racroesus

    racroesus Star commenter

    This leads to the learning curve that is misrepresented. First stuff is difficult because of the concepts and jargon so learning proceeds slowly, then we get more confident, have more practice and learning increases quickly until the really hard concepts come up when learning gets harder again. Must be a physics thing, my teacher covered this over fifty years ago. The historians spent their time spotting questions.
  17. racroesus

    racroesus Star commenter

    It existed for us 10 years before that.
  18. hhhh

    hhhh Star commenter

    Is anything fair? What about the students who have SEND? What about the ones who are carers? Or the ones whose parents never read to them or played with them, either because they couldn't be bothered, or because they were working all hours? Or the ones being bullied? Or the ones who find they're pregnant on the day of the exam?
    Arguably, the students who'd worked really hard and were bright would have known enough to get full marks, and most would have worked out by themselves that you needed to work out how many minutes per question-we usually did see some past papers, even if we weren't taught exam techniques as students today are, though you're right to say some wouldn't have worked it out.
    TCSC47 likes this.
  19. TCSC47

    TCSC47 Star commenter

    I think we are agreeing here re disadvantaged students. As regards students being able to work out how to time the exam or not, I know that many clever and hard working adults did not, when they were students, figure out the intricacies of sitting an exam because it has been one of the things that, as evidenced by my OP, has concerned me, and I have made a point of asking them about it. As I have with my students if anybody else had shown them.

    To me my quandary is tied up to the whole education system. What exactly are we trying to do? Are we trying to prepare our students for the world of adults or are we merely ranking them for future employers to be able to pick, I won't say the best, but the most suitable people for the employer's needs.

    Your examples of disadvantaged students go on to have their disadvantage increased by our education system. I was one of the lucky ones who, through little effort of my own, managed to get through my schooling, whilst many of the people you mention struggled - and through no fault of their own. They just didn't have a "Tommo" character who put them on the right path.
  20. TCSC47

    TCSC47 Star commenter

    Just to add, I went to one of the early comprehensives.

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