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If Maths GCSE is so easy...

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

  1. True
    But then it was not expected that a substantial proportion would pass!
    Cream allowed to rise, the rest were dross ....
    ... nowadays, everyone has to 'succeed'.......
    Different course for different horses......
     
  2. DeborahCarol

    DeborahCarol New commenter

    Let's hope so. The other day I heard Janey Lee Grace on Radio 2 give listeners the 'shocking' news that house prices were 'plunging' by £130 a month.
    ?!
     
  3. googolplex

    googolplex Occasional commenter

    Actually, I grasped your point very clearly. Just because I didn't entirely concur doesn't mean to say I didn't understand you.
    Quite so, but what's the point in a benchmark which is so far removed from the standard of work we're trying to obtain from students?
    I agree. We teach students first, subject second. We make rounded mathematicians out of them and, as a bonus, they get a worthwhile qualification which has currency. Trouble is, the qualification is worthless to an aspiring A-level student, and its currency is fast diminishing. Lastly, however much we bang on about teaching young mathematicians, our teaching is judged by results from these desperately incoherent examinations, not by how well we ground them in the subject.
     
  4. Of course. But when the benchmark is a derivative and arbitrary piece of rubbish, then one is caught in a bind.
    As a teacher in mainstream secondary schools - not grammar schools - you have to strike a balance between developing the mathematician in the student and demonstrating how they will be assessed. If not the phrasing/structure of questions (especially in the new specifications) is impenetrable to the average kid, and the design of the exams either makes it nigh-on impossible to get a A* (Edexcel) or disenfranchises the middle ground (AQA). Sun Tzu said the battle is won before it takes place: you cannot send a student into an exam without them knowing what to expect.
    I am all for providing students with the preparation for A-Level and developing those deep thinking skills - but the fact of the matter is that we don't have the time to, nor have the opportunity to, due to the prescriptive nature of the National Curriculum.
     

  5. I don't think we are comparing like for like.
    As far as I can remember, and I did 'O' levels a long time ago, in my school only the top 20%, 'the cream' dare I say it did 'O' Levels and everybody else did the easier CSE's. So naturally the top 20% were more likely to pass. I'm not sure if the 20% case was true for all schools, perhaps others readers could comment.
     
  6. DeborahCarol wrote:

    "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!"


    Try any of the several old 'O' level papers kicking round on the internet and I think you will quickly come to the conclusion that they had much greater rigour than the higher tier GSCE of today. The A* content of GCSE still falls woefully short of the most difficult 'O' level exam questions. People complain that you aren't comparing like with like, but there is still common content (algebra) that makes the dumbing-down over the years obvious. Additionally, old 'O' level papers didn't provide the exam mark breakdown for each question, geometry questions were often not accompanied by a diagram, and untidy work was penalised. Additionally, those of my generation and older will remember having to grapple with pounds, shillings and pence and imperial quantities. All without a calculator!


    DeborahCarol wrote:

    "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."


    Simply because the students of today aren't as focussed as those of yesteryear. I remember when I sat in some lessons at a school shortly before I started training several years ago and I could not believe that learning could take place in such an chaotic environment (this was a high performing comp btw) when compared to my schooling. One has only to look at 'The Great Disengagement of Boys' in the mid 80's to find evidence of this and the often lazy, rather than academically challenged students languishing in bottom sets. Greater effort from these could easily push the 'C' pass rate up significantly.
     
  7. Hi
    With all due respect I am going to have to dial out of this one based on your account given above. We shall have to agree to disagree.
     
  8. DeborahCarol
    Quote: 'Try any of the several old 'O' level papers kicking round on the internet and I think you will quickly come to the conclusion that they had much greater rigour than the higher tier GSCE of today.'
    Greater Rigour can always be obtained by selecting topics nobody has ever been taught and setting degree standard questions: that way only the top 3 kids in the country will score a mark. Do you see how emphasis on so-called 'rigour' isn't a way of measuring how good an exam is?
    In 1976 I took O-level's having paid for them myself. I was a secondary modern school pupil (failed by the elitist 11+ exam system) & my school would only enter me for CSE. The O-level was aimed at Grammar School kids and was only ever meant to be sat by 20% of the population. I got 7 O-levels and a chance to beat the ex-grammar kids at 6th form college at both academic ability & fist fighting!
    Quote: 'People complain that you aren't comparing like with like, but there is still common content (algebra) that makes the dumbing-down over the years obvious.'
    I think you missed the point: You aren't comparing like with like. The O-level exam wasn't meant to engage more than a fraction of school age pupils. Why don't we compare A-level maths with degree level maths? Because you aren't comparing like with like.
    Quote: 'Simply because the students of today aren't as focussed as those of yesteryear. I remember when I sat in some lessons at a school shortly before I started training several years ago and I could not believe that learning could take place in such an chaotic environment (this was a high performing comp btw) when compared to my schooling. One has only to look at 'The Great Disengagement of Boys' in the mid 80's to find evidence of this and the often lazy, rather than academically challenged students languishing in bottom sets. Greater effort from these could easily push the 'C' pass rate up significantly.'
    I take it you are a grammar-kid eh? Do you like the sound of Hovis adverts & think kids today aren't as good as kids of yesrday? I ask this, because you wouldn't have had 'enjoyed' your academic life so much if you'd been an 11+ failure. Sorry to burst your bubble but today MORE kids are more focussed and pass more exams at higher grades. More teachers spoon-feed because of the pressures & schools concentrate on getting kids passed just to stay afloat. Kids 'languishing in bottom sets' of yesterdays secondary moderns are no different from those in today's comp's (I bet secondary moderns bottom set kids were much tougher to teach, as well as being 'ard-as-nails; I should know because I fought most of them!) but the bottom sets now stay at school until 16 (not 15) and get SOME qualifications instead of absolutely nothing.
    Quote: 'Additionally, those of my generation and older will remember having to grapple with pounds, shillings and pence and imperial quantities. All without a calculator!'
    I take it you would want to bring back Diptheria, National Service, Racism, hanging, flogging etc Why not get rid of pencil & paper, as well as calculators and use slate boards; you try telling that to the kids of today.....blah, blah We have moved on from LSD (not the drug!), imperial measures & no-calculators just like we have moved on from work-houses, TB & penal colonies! Like Diptheria & sending children down mines, O-levels are an historic part of the UK; as well as something to be ashamed of.
    ------------------------------------------------------------------
    FACTS: GCSE is DIFFERENT from O-level. GCSE is aimed at the top 60% of the population and not the top 20%. GCSE is not perfect but it is a major evolutionary step ahead of O-level.
     
  9. The more you write, the less I read.
    Sorry.
     
  10. DeborahCarol

    DeborahCarol New commenter

    Hi John Clark
    Many thanks for your reply, but, as you have started your message 'DeborahCarol', then 'quoted' several times, for the sake of clarity could I point out that I didn't actually say any of those things? You've quoted other posters.
    I do think your reply raises some good points.

     
  11. With O Level 80% of the cohort were not even entered for the exam, of the 20% who were entered 50% failed so you are comparing an exam only 10% got A-C in with an exam 70% get an A* - C in, now does it seem easy?
     
  12. Here's a question from the 1971 Mathematics A AEB O' Level paper:


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    /* Style Definitions */
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    11. The postage on a parcel is Xp for the first A lb and Qp for
    each additional B lb. Find an
    expression for the postage on a parcel
    weighing C lb given that C – A is a multiple of B.

    (That's it. Question is in isolation with no questions beforehand leading towards this)
    Got lots more examples but this was the quickest to type, without a diagram, and not as many words as others.
    I think this is a lot harder than any question on GCSE Higher nowadays .
     
  13. Sorry, please ignore all that stuff in the middle.
     
  14. @mounthood: Looks pretty straightforward to me to be honest.


    I don't have easy access to GCSE papers - the first higher paper I found was Edexcel P4 Higher June 2007. To my mind Question 19 on there (about the common area between two intersecting circles) is one of the hardest questions, and is a fair bit harder than your question.


    I also note that (if memory serves) I would not have been able to do Q16 when I did O-level (early 80s), since we did not cover the full sine or cosine rules until the A-level course.
     
  15. Ok how about this one: Non-calculator of course! And no lead up to questions.

    5. (a) Two circles have radii x cm and y cm such that the difference between their radii is 1 cm. The difference between the areas of the circles is 22 cm squared. Write down two equations which show the connection between x and y, and hence calculate the values of x and y
    (b) Given that log10 (x - 5) + log10 (x + 6) = 1, show that x squared + x - 40 = 1, correct to 3 significant figures.
    (Sorry I can't get "x squared" typed as a power . Same with log 10 (low subscript)
     
  16. I don't see the relevance of "non calculator"; times change and there's no real superiority in knowing how to use a slide rule and/or log tables.


    The questions are fairly routine algebra (something seems to have gone wrong in your statement of (b)), although I'm guessing the material is no longer on the GCSE syllabus.


    Yes, they're harder than what you'll see on a GCSE paper, but I wouldn't say it's a huge difference over the hardest GCSE questions. The bigger difference would probably be between "typical" questions rather than hardest ones.
     
  17. That was question 5 (a) and (b) at the start of the paper. These weren't the hardest questions by any means. Also maybe not hard to you but certainly harder than GCSE questions.
     
  18. Do you use a logarithm tables for question 5(b)? I don't think so. (although I have forgotten so please correct me.) Now logarithms is a topic taught at A' level. I never used a slide rule myself although I remember them. I do remember clearly though looking up sin, cos and tan values in trig tables to 4 decimal places and then working out multiplications the long way. I did use logarithm tables but rather vague memories as to what for- as an aid for number work I think as it was easier to add powers than to multiply huge numbers.
     
  19. {exasperated} Then perhaps you should post something you actually consider representative of the difficulty of that paper, rather than repeatedly posting something, getting a response of "that's not that hard", and then saying "Oh, but there are harder questions, look..."


    As far as the log question goes, no, that doesn't need log tables to answer it, my reference to log tables was simply as a method of avoiding tedious multiplication/division (assuming you've posted it correctly, the circle question requires dividing by pi, which isn't something I'd do for fun).


    I can't comment on a paper I haven't seen, but the closest paper to 1971 I'm aware of online is the 1968 JMB exam. And yes the questions are harder, but I don't honestly see the difference "at the top end" being that big. It's the difficulty of the average questions that I think would shock students today.


    Also, don't ignore that forget that before GCSE, it was the norm to have a choice of questions to answer. Having to answer everything adds quite a lot to the effective difficulty (or brings the marks down, at any rate).
     
  20. Sorry Deborah when I pressed 'reply' I lost the context of who said what, when.
    I get a bit cheesed off with the 'lets make maths hard brigade' or the 'in my day maths was much harder' as it is more complicated than any of that.
    I tend to compare A-levels more than GCSE's because GCSE's put simply AREN'T O-levels & we should be thankful of that.

    I did A-level in 1978 the content THEN was equivalent to a current A-level maths plus about 80% of the current AS-Further Maths content, so todays content is about 72% of the 1978 content. However, the marks needed to get a grade 'A' in 1978 were a fraction of what they are now. Yes the A-level papers of 1978 look hard but you only needed 64% to get a grade A; today you need 80%.

    80% of 72% is 58% which initially looks like the A-grade boundary has dropped from 64% in 1978 to 58% today; I can already hear old-timers shouting about a drop in standards! However in 1978 a typical student completed just 3 A-level subjects but now a typical student completes 3.5 subjects (3 A-levels & an AS) so we'd expect a drop in content 16% on any one A-level subject because the take MORE subjects. Thus reducing the 64% A-grade boundary by 16% produces an expected A-grade boundary of 54% (ie 4% BELOW the 58% expected).

    CONCLUSION: There is evidence that (1) the INCREASE in subjects taken by todays youth alongside (2) the INCREASE in the percentage required for a grade A today, more than makes up for (3) the loss in maths subject content since 1978. of today's students.
    Given that I took 7 O-levels in 1976 & my grammar school peers took at most 9; I feel that we have an argument based on overrall content of all current GCSE's which would provide evidence that kids of today are doing more & getting higher marks in harder exams relatively speaking.
     

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