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If Maths GCSE is so easy...

Discussion in 'Mathematics' started by DeborahCarol, Jun 11, 2011.

  1. DeborahCarol

    DeborahCarol New commenter

    It seems unanimous on this forum that Maths GCSE is much easier than O-level - laughably so. And, I remember a recent poster saying that a 'logical adult' could get a C on Foundation after a weekend of study. I wonder what the view of the thousands of young people who find maths difficult, and are working so hard to get that C, and in many cases studying for a further year post 16, and retaking... would be of this.
    I took O-level 36 years ago, then, to update my maths, took GCSE Higher. Sure, I got an A* GCSE, after a B at O-level, but my maths is a hell of a lot better than it was 38 years ago - I often wonder how I managed to pass O-level, as, when relearning algebra ten years ago, it was clear to me that I'd never really grasped the basic principles in 1974!
    Many of the GCSE A/A* topics I found quite challenging, and don't remember doing them at all at O-level! We keep hearing about the 21st century students asked to try old O-level papers and not being able to cope with them, but unfortunately there's no way we can go back to 1974 and ask one of those students to sit a GCSE paper. My guess is that, if they did, they wouldn't do very well!
    And IF GCSE Maths is so easy, why is roughly one third of the population still failing to make even a C grade after eleven consecutive years of maths study? Is it the teaching? :) I'd be very interested in your answers to this question.

  2. DeborahCarol

    DeborahCarol New commenter

    Hmm, hmm...agonies of conscience as not all results actually in. But got 100%/A* in each of the first two modules, and having recently taken the third module, think it will be A*!
    But, yes, if Maths GCSE is so easy, why do 30% (I think - perhaps someone can verify) of people in the UK find it SO difficult?
  3. googolplex

    googolplex Occasional commenter

    For me, the issue is not that GCSE maths is too easy.
    What is clear is that the standard of maths expected to get a C on a Foundation paper is laughably inconsistent with the equivalent standard at O level.
    Also, whilst A and A* topics are suitably challenging, the exam is no rigorous test of such topics. Very few of these hard topics come up, and, when they do, the questions are often formulaic and predictable, rather than challenging. This makes GCSE maths an exceptionally poor preparation for A-level.
    This last point is the real issue for me. The government talks about raising standards; about ensuring there is differentiation and that the most able are not left treading water. But they then insist on a two tier exam where such students spend half their time answering questions on topics they did in KS3. Bonkers.
  4. afterdark

    afterdark Lead commenter

    Well a question with a sting in the tail.
    The answer is:
    The IQs of a large enough population are calculated so that they conform to a normal distribution.
    there is some explanation on the wikipedia entry on Intelligence Quotien.
    this even has a digram of the curve.
    The curve represent an extremly large number of people. So if you slice a fraction off the bottom then you get a large number of people. One third is actually quite a low figure.
    Now consider that O levels were never intended for every one to pass.
    Average intelligence is staggerly low when you first hear what O level grade it equates to.
    Exams are an attempt to measure something about people. IQ is simply another attempt to measure people. If you are unhappy with exams then perhaps you aren't going to like the idea of IQ. I do find that folks who do well when tested under a system are seldom unhappy with the system. Compaints, on the whole, seem to come from those that 'fail' under some system of tests.Which is kind of ironic in my eyes.
    Anyway I digress, sorry. the answer is that the population is Normally distributed.
    Finally, one third is far too low in terms of the Normal distribution curve of the population.
  5. DeborahCarol

    DeborahCarol New commenter

    Well, at the risk of digressing already from the thread I started, I agree with you re the 'two-tier' exam. The AQA Spec B Higher exam I took was a strange mix of questions - some so easy I had to pinch myself and check I'd been given the right paper, plus some A/A* questions (and these were actually quite challenging - I thought - ashamed to say that one floored me under pressure!), but nothing much in between. Strange though that the examiner included circle theorem questions on both papers, but didn't touch sine or cosine rule in problem-solving, or trig involving bearings (unless I missed something...).
    The problem with the old three-tier system of course was that the kids taking the lowest tier, no matter how hard they worked, had no chance at all of getting a grade that was 'recognised' by employers, being that, if I remember correctly, D was the highest grade achievable on the lowest tier of the exam? I could quite sympathise with kids who, not actually being silly, realised this and switched off maths.
    How about something like this?
    Higher Tier (A* - B)
    Intermediate Tier (B - D)
    Then a separate qualification for those for whom GCSE isn't suitable: Secondary School Certificate in Basic Maths (ie a qualification in basic numeracy - eg four operations, simple percentages etc!), ie a credible qualification for seeking a job that only needs elementary arithmetic.
    And, sure, some might not pass that, but....:)
    But, anyway, the question remains... why are 30% of teenagers not even managing to make C grade GCSE? That's quite a large percentage. What's going wrong?
  6. afterdark

    afterdark Lead commenter

    No and yes. But mainly no.
    HMI said about 97% is good or better. Unlike OFSTED they did not a politcians axe grinding as their motivation. Shamefully succesive british politicians and govenrments have allow the myth of ubiquitous bad teachingto grow out of all proportion.
    Ask yourself who's exam results are they? That is part of the problem.
    Every year I look through all the certificates of my students. Vainly I search for my name on the piece of paper. It is never there. Because I didn't sit the exam, my students did.
    Every year my students get great results, usually exceeding predictions made by CEM data, ALIS predictions and what not. But, you know, there are two sides to every story. Many students work exceptionally hard to get their results [it is not all about me]. Sadly some don't work hard and do not achieve what I suspect that they can.
    There is only so much you can do.
    Some folks are never going to pass, and as politically incorrect as that may be...<u>it is the truth</u>. [Perhaps someone should have told Gove about this <u>statistical fact</u>]
    The simplistic approach of when students do well it is because they work hard / when students do badly they <u>must</u> have been taught badly...is much discredited. It panders to many in the voting electorate as it absolves them from taking responsibility for their failure to work hard.
    Sadly politicians are weak and revert to blame the teacher, year in/ year out and now it has been decade in/decade out. We are quite sick of it and even though it might be said in jest, it is not well recieved.
  7. DeborahCarol

    DeborahCarol New commenter

    Thanks, afterdark. (The point about teaching was of course meant humorously!). It's all very interesting, and I think what you are saying kind of overlaps with googalplex's point about the two-tier system and the problems of designing an exam system in which, theoretically, no one's meant to 'fail'. Which means...this thread could actually turn into another discussion about the two-tier system.
    And I'm thinking that it might be quite right if it does!
  8. afterdark

    afterdark Lead commenter

    Sorry, not it isn't. I refer you to post 4.
    Nothing is going wrong.
    BTW 30% is not a third.
  9. DeborahCarol

    DeborahCarol New commenter

    BTW, to secondary school teachers - apologies if any of my points might seem naive. They will at least provoke discussion!
    I am a primary maths specialist, who, via revisiting my maths, starting around ten years ago, then studied algebra through Kumon, and taught algebra to A/A* as a Kumon instructor. I then moved back into primary school teaching, then private tuition teaching children up to weak KS3/4 (presently doing One to One in secondary with Year 9s who only got Level 4 in KS3 SATs!). Now embarking on A-level maths to further improve my own maths. So, NOT a secondary school teacher as such, so please forgive any daft questions or points I might make!
  10. DeborahCarol

    DeborahCarol New commenter

    ;-) I was talking 'roughly' in both posts. I don't know what the exact figure is!
    Also, I'd written the last question before seeing your previous answer. We were probably both typing at the same time!
  11. afterdark

    afterdark Lead commenter

    I think we were.

  12. afterdark

    afterdark Lead commenter

    Cambridge already do this for international students
    <font face="Verdana">Target Grades Grades Available</font>
    Core Curriculum C D E F G
    Extended Curriculum A* A B C D E

    Note the overlap is 3 grades.
    Only students expected to get F or G grades need be entered for Core.

    I don't, it is use as a excuse, on the whole one of a very long list.

  13. Deborah

    Do you think that a GCSE grade C in maths should be accessible to everyone?

    When GCSE was introduced it was still not appropriate for the lower 10% (designed that way)
    and there were 7 PASS grades given to it
    In my opinion 100% of students who attend mainstream schools should be able to PASS
    GCSE Maths (and indeed all other GCSEs)

    But I do not expect them all to be able to gain a grade C or above

    The introduction of A* means that people who were getting Ds at the start of GCSEs are now
    awarded a grade C (hence the rise in figures)

    So, part of this problem is the fixation that below a C is a FAIL (nonsense!)

    The 5 C and above inc En and Ma is meant to be a differentiating measure ... it is meant to
    demonstrate that some people have a reasonable academic grasp and that others have
    different skills ... it is meant to provide colleges/universities/employers with a pre-selected
    group of people who have met a (decreasingly difficult) measure of intelligence

    If everyone were capable of gaining Cs then this measure would be meaningless
  14. DeborahCarol

    DeborahCarol New commenter

    Hi Resourcefinder
    What I was saying in the original post was that IF it's so easy (sorry to harp on again about the poster on another thread who said a logical adult should be able to pass it after a weekend of study), why aren't more passing it?
    My post was more about perceptions of the difficulty level of the C grade GCSE.
    I agree with your points and others made, eg by googalplex.
    I don't think everyone should be able to get a C grade GCSE. Obviously, that would make the whole thing meaningless!
    It's simply that I've seen so many posts on this forum in various threads about how 'easy' GCSE is and my point is really that it can't be THAT easy, else more would be getting the C!
    To try to steer this thread back to the point I was really making, I'm wondering if our own perceptions of difficulty level are as reliable as we might think.
    For example, when I was teaching algebra , there were some teaching materials that I felt were unclear, and the children were having difficulties. I raised this with the compiler of those materials (PhD Maths) and asked for clearer examples. His answer was 'That seems straightforward to me. I can't see why students would have a problem with that.' Although it is the job of the teacher to empathise with/see things from the point of view of the learner, I'm not sure that this is always happening...

  15. As I stated it I shall say it again. Any logical adult could obtain a C grade on a GCSE paper with a weekend based on the recent Edexcel linear papers which need 75% for a C garde.
    I believe after 11 years of formal education only pupils with 'real' learning difficulties should not get C grades, the rest is down to their, their schools and their parents fault.
    Why pupils dont get C grades (in no particular order)
    • Inclusive schools allow kids to disrupt lessons and pp*ssy foot around human rights rather than just drilling them or booting them
    • Kids are told they are a certain level and never told the truth and believe they are better than they are. "constructive feedback" rather than reality.
    • Many kids cannot take responsibility for their own learning and if they dont grasp something will move onto facebook instead of researching it.
    • Teaching is poor at primary and kids never build a number base
    • Teaching in secondary schools is a playground circus act which never delivers learning, just edutainment to pleasure the clipboard crew.
    • Kids believe they will all be on x-factor so dont care
    • Many teachers cant inspire and kids dial out of learning early on
    • Low aspiriations both in and out of school and "I dont care as my dad will employ me"
    • Data driven teaching rather than solid help
    • Poor literacy skills, again through poor teaching
    • Kids think they are better than they are and can wing it and dont.
    • They have decided to subscribe to brain atrophy
    Im sure I will think of more but I assure you, if you chuck a paper of 10 years ago at todays cohorts who are getting B/C then many wouldnt.
    I stand by my original statement. A C grade is that easy after 11 years of education that a pupil should take enough responsibility for their own learning not to have any excuses unless they really have SEN
  16. DeborahCarol

    DeborahCarol New commenter

    Thanks, Betamale. This is certainly an answer to my original post. I think some of the points you have made will be controversial, but, um, yep, some them 'resonate' with me!
  17. If you look on the Edexcel Emporium you will see the 1972 paper.
    Qu1 Work out 3.142(5.6^2-4.4^2) (no calculators of course) was an easy start.
    Other questions involved the factor theorem, AP's and GP's, a 3-D trig problem and a mechanics question involing calculus which is now considered to difficult for the M1 A/S exam.
    The question on the 2011 paper asking students to 'Design a suiable question to find out how much time people exercise' would have been unfamilar but they might have just been able to cope! Question 15, 2011 paper 3, factorise X^2-9 seems rather tame compared to Qu 1 on the 1972 paper.
    Look at O-level papers before 1972 and you will see that they are even harder. The current GCSE papers are a joke. Most independent schools have now ditched the easy GCSE exam in favour of the IGCSE which is more of a challange.
  18. Pre-GCSE, O-Levels were not intended for the whole school population. The kids who get A* / A and B at GCSE now would be able to cope perfectly well with O-Level papers if they were taught the syllabus. Kids who are getting below a B at GCSE would previously have been steered away from O-Levels and towards CSE Maths which was....taa-daa....an easier paper. If they were really terrible at Maths (like my mother, in the early 1960s) they would have sat RSA Arithmetic, which appears to have tested your ability to do basic sums without taking your shoes and socks off!
    So, comparing GCSEs and O-Levels is a bit of an apples/oranges question.
    BTW, deborahtook, did you attend HBS in the 1980s?
  19. DeborahCarol

    DeborahCarol New commenter

    So the first one on the Edexcel 1972 paper was long multiplication and subtraction of decimals, which I would see as KS3 work.
    There's plenty of 3-D trig in Higher GCSE - after revising for it myself, I think I was dreaming about trying to identify 'internal' triangles in prisms, cones and frustums! But, OK, as someone pointed out, perhaps it isn't tested sufficiently in the exam.
    And, sure, no calculus, and ... the exercise question - well, OK, perhaps!
    I don't know enough about the IGCSE comment, but a quick google led me to a BBC article. I see that the feeling is that the testing is more 'rigorous' than GCSE (does that necessarily mean it's 'harder'?) and that, interestingly, there is no non-calculator paper....
    Anyway, the bulk of posters on this forum certainly seem to agree with you, but I do sometimes wonder how much the feeling that young people 'have it easy' in various ways nowadays/'don't know they're born' etc, 'harder in my day', ie not just in maths, but in so many things, may sometimes lead us to focus on looking for examples to back up our hypotheses, rather than looking for examples that disprove it?
  20. DeborahCarol

    DeborahCarol New commenter

    Hi burneshunter
    RSA Arithmetic sounds a great idea - let's bring it back!
    What is HBS? (So I think the answer is probably no.)

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