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Is Mathematics easier now than it used to be....

Discussion in 'Mathematics' started by chubble, May 28, 2007.

  1. Hi,

    New to these forums so please be gentle...

    I am not a teacher but I do private A-level maths tutoring as a side line. I am an IT trainer with a degree and soon to be phd in mathematics.

    I'd love to teach but sadly I dont think I could deal with the little scrotes who dont want to learn. My tutorials have the attitude of - you dont want to learn, I dont want to teach you and i'll take it up with your parents....I realise this would not work in the sort of school I went to and I hold my hat out to all those who cn deal with it.

    Did my A-level maths and further maths (pure and applied) in the late 1980/early 1990s with the NEA as it was.

    I cannot help but think that the exams are easier. I am sad and kept my past papers and mock papers.

    Apart from the modularization (which automatically makes it easier) questions seem to me to be a lot more "leading" than they used to be.

    I have examples of 20-25 mark questions - now they seem to be split into parts and if you dont get part (a) well you can still do part (b).....

    And I'm sure some calculus elements used to be in single maths but are now in further (although I cant back that one up so stand to be corrected).

    Am asiking because a parent has asked me much the same - I didnt want to give my own biased answer so thought I would ask the experts.

     
  2. Hi,

    New to these forums so please be gentle...

    I am not a teacher but I do private A-level maths tutoring as a side line. I am an IT trainer with a degree and soon to be phd in mathematics.

    I'd love to teach but sadly I dont think I could deal with the little scrotes who dont want to learn. My tutorials have the attitude of - you dont want to learn, I dont want to teach you and i'll take it up with your parents....I realise this would not work in the sort of school I went to and I hold my hat out to all those who cn deal with it.

    Did my A-level maths and further maths (pure and applied) in the late 1980/early 1990s with the NEA as it was.

    I cannot help but think that the exams are easier. I am sad and kept my past papers and mock papers.

    Apart from the modularization (which automatically makes it easier) questions seem to me to be a lot more "leading" than they used to be.

    I have examples of 20-25 mark questions - now they seem to be split into parts and if you dont get part (a) well you can still do part (b).....

    And I'm sure some calculus elements used to be in single maths but are now in further (although I cant back that one up so stand to be corrected).

    Am asiking because a parent has asked me much the same - I didnt want to give my own biased answer so thought I would ask the experts.

     
  3. No............

    ... just the exams..........
     
  4. fieldextension

    fieldextension New commenter

    The exams are significantly easier now than they used to be. Independent research shows that A Level Mathematics standards have fallen by 3 grades since 1988. So a B grade now would only have been worth an E grade in 1988. Those who remember before '88 would tell you the exams were harder still.

    Although they might differ on the details of the extent standards have fallen, I have never encountered an experienced A-Level teacher (I know dozens) who would try to claim standards have not fallen over time. I would be surprised if you could find anyone on here who would disagree.

    This may be of interest:

    http://www.reform.co.uk/filestore/pdf/Standards%20of%20Pu...
     
  5. So how can the powers that be claim that standards are the same and improving....

    I have about 20 students - a good number have parents who have bought into the curent gubberments line...

    At least I know i'm not imagining it!
     
  6. HB1

    HB1

    Ooh - I did maths and further maths with NEA between 1988 and 1990.

    I can't really remember much about it and I couldn't tell you what was on the further and what was on the single syllabus.

     
  7. HB1

    HB1

    Oh - hang on, maybe it was NEAB???

    It was in the South Manchester area. Which board would that have been?
     
  8. fieldextension

    fieldextension New commenter

    "So how can the powers that be claim that standards are the same and improving...."

    I think that wishful thinking has a lot to do with it. People (e.g. parents, students, politicians) don't want to hear the bad news. Rigorous standards mean that more people will get poor results, and nobody wants more people to get poor results. After A-Level results are announced each year, when the results improve on the previous year, as they invariably do, those who decry falling standards are told that they should shut up and celebrate students' success. They aren't told that their claim is false! The implication here is that the truthvalue of the claim that standards are falling is irrelevant. To say that standards are falling is an unpleasant thing to say, hence it should not be discussed.
     
  9. I took the Common Entrance exam in 1982, which is the entrance exam for public schools and is taken at age 12/13. On the syllabus, amongst other things, were matrices.

    Matrices are now on the Further Maths A level syllabus, taken at age 17/18.

    When I first started teaching maths, in 1992, complex numbers were on the single subject A level Maths, along with roots of equations and vector equations of straight lines. These are now Further Maths (except the latter which is on the MEI single subject syllabus).

    I remember studying maximum likelihood estimators for my statistics options in Further Maths; these didn't even make it to S6 and are only studied at second year university level, if at all. I remember having to prove the mean and variance of the binomial and poisson distributions. I remember having to derive the formula for Spearman's rank.

    Originally Cambridge offered one degree course in maths. In the 1980's they introduced a slow-stream -- not even Cambridge was getting sufficiently able mathematicians. In the 1990's they ditched the fast-stream. Other universities have stretched courses to four years or offer remedial courses.

    After a year of studying AS Maths, today's students cannot even differentiate a product, let alone a function of a function.

    Around 45% of today's students get an A grade. This has risen, year on year, by about 1-1.5% for the last ten or more years.

    All this is good news for weak students. It's bad news for bright ones who are bored and short-changed. And it's good news for other countries who, having beaten us at manufacturing, have now been given an open goal to beat us in research, design, engineering, . . .
     
  10. frustum

    frustum Lead commenter

    That "slow stream" at Cambridge merely consisted of giving students a choice of two presentations of some courses; fast and standard. There was relatively little difference between them, and people often chose which to attend on the basis of the lecturer. There was still only one set of exams, adn only one degree. I think part of the motivation was to make it easier for those coming from schools which couldn't offer further maths - they could have filled the places only with those who had done it, but they didn't want people ruled out due to prior lack of opportunity.

    In the 1990s, they restructured the whole course, which isn't exactly the same as "ditching the fast course". I know that at this point they did introduce some shorter and more straightforward questions into the exams. I don't know if that made them "easier" overall. I suspect it just meant that candidates at the lower end got to demonstrate that they could do something, rather than getting a third having answered only two questions successfully. The hard questions were still there.

    Now, there are two types of third year courses, some of which are primarily aimed at those going on to do research, and some of which are more general. Again, you could argue that that is dumbing down, but I think it's more to do with offering students the option to choose what is most relevant to them. Both types of course are examined together, with different weightings.

    I was a borderline acceptance for Cambridge in the 1980s; I see no evidence that I'd find it any easier to get in now. One of the STEP papers last year contained questions very similar to some of those set in the early years, suggesting that STEP is still as hard.
     
  11. Have you seen the last two M1 papers? Standards haven't even been maintained since last year!!
     
  12. HB1

    HB1

    Are GCSEs getting easier?

    I did mine in 1988 and it was incredibly easy. There certainly wasn't anything like calculus on the higher paper. But then there was hardly any data handling on there either.
     
  13. davidmu

    davidmu New commenter

    When I started teaching A level in 1963, Pure Mathematics required candidates to do 3 3hr papers ( maybe 2.5 hrs) and 2 Applied Papers, each of 3 hrs for the Cambridge Board. The Single subject, Mathematics required candidates to take the first two Pure papers and the first Applied paper. The content was much wider and the questions rigorous. Marking of such papers was very strict, but then barely 5% of the school population attempted A level papers.
     
  14. I feel sorry for the clever students, they must get so bored doing mdules in a couple of weeks through self-study and getting 100% (prevalent on lots of student forums). Where is the challenge for them?
    I could not even give my 0A(additional maths) paper i sat as a 16 year old to top set year 12 who had just finished C2!!

    At the teacher training college i was lambasted for my views on this. I was told why should the A-levels be accessible only for the few students who wish to do maths at uni...:mad:
     
  15. We have to split the question into 2 parts really:

    a) Is the range of skills and concepts within specifications today less than that which was previously the case?

    b) Are the questions on common topics between then and now comparable?

    My feelings:

    a) We have to acknowledge that we are not comparing like with like. Students 20 years ago attended school for about the same number of hours per week as our current batch. When I was at school I was considered "brainy" because I did 8 GCSE subjects. Now most students do 10 or 11 with some doing 12 in the main curriculum time.

    It is therefore inevitable that the time allocated to each subject has been reduced (I did 4 hours of maths per week at school, my current classes do 3hrs 20 mins and I know of plenty of schools that are below 3 hours).

    Add up all that lost time then some topics will have had to have been cut. Add in the time taken to do Handling Data topics (which I barely studied) and that's some more pure maths topics moved out.

    Certainly I've seen plenty of students have to take a compulsory artistic subject and a compulsory tecnology subject that, in the past, would have had a totally accademic timetable at KS4.

    b) Looking at GCSE qustions compared to O level it certainly seems clear that there is much more structure nowadays to questions on similar topics. This is common across subjects where scaffolding occurs in almost all questions - it is ver rare to see questions requiring genuinely extended answers at GCSE nowadays - the cynic in me says that short 1 word / 1 sentence answers are much easier to train exam markers for than an extended paragraph or more more worth 6 marks.
     
  16. HB1

    HB1

    I think that is a spot on analysis HOD.

     
  17. Maths_Mike

    Maths_Mike New commenter

    I agree students do get more breadth and less depth and arguable thats a good thing for the majority of kids, which is important as more people staying on etc.

    However for the top academics the lack of real challenge is a worry
     
  18. Hi everyone,

    I also did Further Maths in 1990, I'm currently teaching the Cambridge International Exams and the FM syllabus is a lot harder than I remember! For that matter the IGCSE is also a far more indepth examination than GCSE, the extended paper is a good challenge for the students.
     
  19. fieldextension

    fieldextension New commenter

    The notion that IGCSE is harder than Higher GCSE is a myth. The big take-up in the independent sector has been to escape from coursework as quickly as possible. A number of local independent schools have taken it up and have found that their results have improved significantly. What does that tell you? Just look at some papers and see how easy they are! Yes, there is some simple differentiation, set theory and function work on IGCSE, but nothing that requires much understanding. IGCSE is missing graphical transformations (arguably the hardest GCSE topic), a non-calculator paper, and questions that require a little bit of genuine thought at the end of the paper. There is also all the extra teaching time available from not having to do any coursework.

    I teach GCSE in a school but have tutored a number of private students for IGCSE. My experience is that the hardest GCSE questions are more challenging than the hardest IGCSE questions and that the lack of a non-calculator paper is a major flaw. Even the very able students have been prepared by their schools in such a way that they are almost wholly dependent on their calculators, even to perform simple arithmetical operations. With such pressure to get results it is understandable and predictable (but highly regrettable) that when mental calculation is no longer needed for an exam it is no longer practised in class.
     

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