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Serious foul-up on A Level mathematics exam

Discussion in 'Mathematics' started by DM, May 27, 2011.

  1. afterdark - I still feel like you're missing the point that if this question represents 11% of an exam in which you need to get 90% then spending the normal amount of time on it *plus* all of your 'checking through' time is not - as you keep calling it - "poor exam technique."

    The student who has never not been able to answer a question in previous papers would be quite thrown by the situation. In addition, those aiming for a C might have this topic as one they can handle - it might represent more like 15-20% of the marks they are hoping to pick up on this paper.

    Of course if they spent an hour on the question and didn't answer other questions that would be silly, but I don't think that's what these students are arguing on the whole - they're saying that they spent all their checking through time on the question as well as the normal time they'd have spent on it - and so the impact on their raw mark is also in working errors / small mistakes that they would normally have picked up in checking.

    Do you really think that it was irrational to keep working on the only question they'd not answered - given that it was worth 11%? If the question *wasn't* flawed and your most able students emerged from the exam saying they'd given up on it, what would your reaction have been?

    There will be students who could have got 95%+ in the exam if the question was simply not there... but won't because they didn't have the opportunity to check their work. Unless we don't just discount the faulty question, but also add a few additional marks on for the hassle. But that's flawed because these students are in competition with others who won't have those marks added on.

    Timed exams bear no relation to the real world. We only inflict them on students because we need a way of differentiating them, - and while they're still not totally accurate in measuring ability, timed exams at least remove most of the guess work from the measuring process.

    Now we're in a situation where the exam boards are guessing a proportion of the exam mark (for some students only) - and those students are, justifiably in my opinion, arguing that they would like an opportunity to not be subjected to the exam board's guess work, given the huge impact it has on their future.
  2. Good post Lindz!
  3. Mathsteach2

    Mathsteach2 Established commenter

    I do not think I have really been picked up on my accusation that some of us appear to be mollycoddling our children. To me, commendable it may be that the technical analysis of this error has occurred, I sometimes think the time could have been better spent doing something more constructive, e. g. offering voluntarily to proof-read and attempt examination papers before they are printed.

    Life is not a bed of roses for any of us. I will pick on just one phrase from one poster on this subject: "... given the huge impact it has on their future."

    Failure is part of life, I think. We prepare for the known hurdles, some we win, some we lose. The ones we lose, if we have the time and energy to complain we do so and see how far it gets us - again we may succeed, or we may struggle for years and never get a redress of our grievance, through the courts, the media, whatever.

    I say again, concerning this particular issue, I have taught children from five to sixteen for 40 years, and still do so in private tuition, to be prepared - for any eventuality. This is the scout motto, I wonder how they are getting on in this day and age? I have drawn a comparison with the driving test but no-one has taken me up on it, yet analogies are always very open to criticism.

    If persons really wants to pass a test, they try, try and try again. They have to convince the examiner, the jury, the judge, whoever, that they can do it, no matter how well they know themselves that they are perfectly capable. Continual failure may well be a blessing in disguise, for eventually the candidates may come to the sensible conclusion that they need to have a go at something else and move on.

    None of us are God's gift to education, including the examiners who made this mistake. We must all learn to live with that.
  4. Mathsteach2 wrote:

    "If persons really wants to pass a test, they try, try and try again. They have to convince the examiner, the jury, the judge, whoever, that they can do it, no matter how well they know themselves that they are perfectly capable."

    Yes, why don't we introduce deliberate errors in all the exam papers, just so that we know that students can really, really, really pass. We could also introduce other distractions like making them repeatedly stand up and sit down whilst taking the exam.
  5. Mathsteach2

    Mathsteach2 Established commenter

    There is nothing wrong with being facetious, I suppose, FlippantFlyer, but you are saying nothing which might make me think again about the effect that an error in an examination question might make on a candidate's overall performance. They will either pass or fail, and there needs to be appropriate procedures available for second opinions. For instance, the marked scripts should be available on request for scrutiny by the candidates.

    I repeat, failure is part of life, but I am not advocating putting deliberate mistakes into a public examination. I rather like the idea of putting them into my teaching of mathematics, just to keep my own students on their toes (metaphorically speaking, of course). This has always been an accepted pedagogic technique by experienced teachers, particularly in mathematics, even with the youngest of children.
  6. 'Not sure I understand your post Polecat. Just to clarify, my concern was to find that two sudents with a difference of just one UMS could end up being two grades apart.'
    Don't worry m^5 aths, I'm often misunderstood. I think what I meant to imply was that exam boards have systems in place to deal with really
    close calls. However, at the end of the day, some just squeeze through and some don't. You can of course ask for a remark immediately after the results are released if you think an injustice has been done.
  7. afterdark

    afterdark Lead commenter

    No my point was that generally speaking you shouldn't spend roughly 4/9 th of the time to get 1/9 of the marks. My reasoning is that if you spend 8/9th ofyour time on the other 8/9th of the paper and get 100% then the exam board can award you 100% with confidence.
    They should be prepared for the eventuality.
    I have never said that. The exam board will award some of method marks even if the question is not answered correctly, irrespective of why. I only question the proportion of time.
    The same as always ambivalence. If they moved onto questions that they could do and got all the marks that they could achieve then it was the 'right' thing to do. I have a notice on my wall that says "it is only easy when you know the answer". I repeatedly tell students to do the questions that they find easiest first and therefore spend the most amount of time getting the most of 'easiest' marks first.
    It is up to the exam boards what they do about their gaffes. It is not an easy call and it is their problem now. But it doesn't help if candidates make spurious claims which make the boards look more logical by comparison.
    My considered opinion on this is that the students need to have good exam technique and get all the marks that they can. Then, even if the exam board make a serious foul up, the teachers, and centres can force the onus onto the board to give 100% to any candidate who got everything else correct and be in a strong position to do so.
    To support arguments about spending a disproportion amount of time on one [or two] question(s) weakens this position and does a great disservice to all those worked hard.
    I do totally understand that 11% of a unit is an enormous amount of marks and time to go to waste.
    I understand that you <u>feel</u> bad about it but grades should not be awarded over <u>feelings</u>.
    In my experience the boards will try their best...I know that does not inspire confidence.

  8. DM

    DM New commenter

    I see you as Holden Caulfield with a bus pass.
  9. I would like to pick up on one of lindz's comments

    I entered 2 students for D1 as they had failed M2 in January ... they are D grade candidates
    They worked through D1 fairly quickly, mostly on their own ... their main aim was to do better than they had in M2

    Good examination techniques for these 2 students was to know their strong topics ... to go to the "right" questions and make sure of them

    Both of my students came out of their D1 papers feeling very confident that they had achieved approx 50% on their papers ... they were very happy as they felt so much more confidant than they had with previous applied papers

    To them ... each question answered was, as lindz points out, worth 20% + of their marks ... and if it had been their "best topic" and first question it could have represented 100% of their self confidence

    This was not just a question where the numbers were awkward or there were multiple solutions or ... ... ... No, it was a question that said "show the minimum route = 36" but it didn't

    You talk of Good Exam Techniques but seem to think the only good technique is be proportionate with your time ... you are wrong

    NB we do a different board
  10. afterdark

    afterdark Lead commenter

    I understand that idea very well but it relies on the candidates getting questions that they can do. Sometimes exam mixed up ideas from different topics and the students just don't 'see' it.
    Er no I don't. Please be so kind as reread my post. For example
    This is advice <u>about the order</u> of attempting the questions.
    I do <u>not </u>advise them to spend too long on any particular type of question.
    By going with the idea of a 'banker' type question you are possibly directing them to the 'wrong' question.
    I totally uderstand that students of less ability need a different strategy to students that ace ever paper.
    I never gone in for the idea of "that there must be a question on such and such learn that and not the rest and rely on this"
    However, in the case that you describe, they should already have experience of attempting questions that they cannot do if they had failed M2 in Jan.
    I advise my students to move on if they get stuck.
    If students go into the exam not knowing a significant proportion of the material for that unit then the odds really are against them.
    Student can still get method marks and follow through marks.
    My heart goes out to the weaker students but being thrown by a duff question is something that they have to learn to overcome.
    So no and no really.
  11. Afterdark wrote:
    "My heart goes out to the weaker students but being thrown by a duff question is something that they have to learn to overcome"

    Condoning serious mistakes like this as something that should be routinely dealt with by students is a dangerous road to tread. If mistakes start to show up frequently students will lose confidence in exams and will start to question the validity of parts of a paper that they find difficult leading to added stress and possible poor performance.

    Students should be offered a resit at the exam board's expense (which might improve their QA!) and should be insisted upon by government IMO.
  12. afterdark

    afterdark Lead commenter

    If you think mistakes on exams are a new thing then you gravely mistaken. They are simply more obvious in Mathematics. I do not condone mistakes on papers by the exam board. By the same token I do not condone emotive appeals that clearly show disproportionate amount of time spent on one particular question or type of question. To give credence to this argument is to condone awarding higher marks (and therefore probably grades as well) to students who did not learn as much as others. This runs counter to the whole idea of a system that tries to grade and assess learning by examination.
    I agree with this idea. A financially punative measure could well galvanise the exam boards to 'up their game'. I doubt Gove and rest of the UK government have the spheroids to tackle the situation in this way. But that is another story.
    Finally ask yourself... can OCR produce another Decision paper at short notice that is error free?
  13. Afterdark, I'm well aware that minor mistakes crop up all the time on exam papers, but few have the gravity of the example in question, and shouldn't be something that they "should have to learn to overcome" to use your words.
  14. So far 6 repoted errors this year then. If Ofqual's stats are to be believed there were only 5 reported errors in the whole of the last 5 years with no errors last year or the year before. (Ofqual does warn that stats may be unreliable):
  15. Dazmundo

    Dazmundo New commenter

    What Stats too!! I thought it was just D1... (Sorry I'll get my coat)

    Anyway back on topic, I have to say I must be very lucky with the students I have who took this exam. After the exam they came up to my room to tell me that the paper was OK but that there was a mistake in Q6. Very calm and matter of fact about the whole thing. Obviously I had not seen the paper at this point so they went on to tell me basically what the question was and what the mistake was, even going as far as to tell me what the paper writers had done wrong to get the answer they did!
    I wonder if they will get extra marks if they have written all this on their answer sheets??

  16. afterdark

    afterdark Lead commenter

    Which is what I would expect an true top student to do.
    You should be chuffed Dazmundo.
    I have known one or two students get more than 100% on an exam but that is another story.
  17. Sure, but sometimes that is the case [​IMG]

    Fair enough, I apologise for this part of my response

    You see, I think that this is what we all feel ... we all know that sometimes life sux ... but, IMO, you have taken a position that demonstrates contempt for the students who have been panicked by this ... students who may well have their university choice ruined by the paper ... sure they may be at fault in their approach but I think that for most of us our first response is sympathy for the kids and anger at the board
  18. DM said: 'I see you as Holden Caulfield with a bus pass.'
    I haven't the fainest idea what you mean. I only travel first class.
  19. Mathsteach2

    Mathsteach2 Established commenter

    Absolutely, and the resulting life-long decision may well turn out for the best. I am sorry your response is so emotional, lindz76, in day-to-day professional living we have to try to get past our emotions.
  20. afterdark

    afterdark Lead commenter

    It is not patronising to repond to the arguments as they put
    Ditto for me on that score.
    Thank you.
    For this one exam yes.
    For boundary students yes. And we established that there can be 3 marks between a B and an A*. OCR have a lot to answer for.
    My problem is putting forth emotive arguments gives exam boards like OCR something to counter. If people stick to the rational line they [OCR] are skewered on a 'sticky wicket'.
    As a teacher <u>I</u> <u>consider</u> that<u> I have a duty</u> to do my best for my students. In order for me to do my best it helps if poeple do not detract from the logical arguments with emotional arguments.
    One of the problems now is that we have a sword that cut both ways.
    Given the numbers of students involved is sufficient large then I expect some will <u>lose</u> and some <u>will</u> gain.
    However I stand by what I said, if students maximise their marks on the rest of the paper then the onus is on the exam board to award a good/good/maximum grade.
    Do you understand that I want the best possible for my students and your arguments, in my <u>experience</u>, are not helping.
    The reason exam technique is important is that it is something that teachers can instill into student, it does not come naturally to everyone.
    The onus is initially thrust onto the students to learn everything. The teacher's role is help along the way. To correct misconceptions and mistakes, to demonstarte good practice and methods. This applies to exams just as much as the curriculum.
    I really am sorry Lindz, I really am. It is OCR's comedy of errors. Going back to what you said
    You are so right about "life-altering decisions". Which is all the more reason to insist on only rational arguments. I advise you to use every official complaint procedure available to you.
    Don't get mad...get even.

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