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Science GCSEs are so easy, pupils can pass them drunk


By UK Correspondents

If anyone has any doubts about the standard of science GCSEs, this link on the Studentroom website makes interesting reading.

One of the students on the website responding to the question of whether the exams are too easy said he was drunk when he turned up for the GCSE, threw up and had to be carried in to the exam hall, sat the paper (but has no recollection of doing so) and then passed out. He passed the exam.

This novel exam technique is probably not one that most pupils who are about to sit GCSEs and A-levels would embark on thankfully, but a recent study has found that A-level exam revision has become something of a science in itself.

At a seminar this week, one of the big exam boards presented findings from a study of 39 first year undergraduates who were asked about how they prepared for their A-levels.

Candidates virtually memorized the mark schemes, the guidance written by chief examiners telling examiners how to allocate marks to the likely responses from pupils. The students knew in minute detail what key words, phrases and arguments to insert to get points and in some cases, their teachers had worked out the mathematical probability of certain questions coming up. Teachers had also supplied them booklets of model answers, and even booklets for different versions of the same questions, which they memorised and regurgitated.

Obviously methods like these have always been a feature of passing exams, to a greater and lesser degree. But I can't remember any mention of "mark schemes" when I was taking A-levels (more than 20 years ago) and was given very little idea about what examiners were looking for - apart from being told to give a response that actually answers the question.

The study found that the problem with the formulaic approach of today's students was that any unanticipated questions or approach to topics completely threw them. The students admitted that their narrow focus lacked autonomy or creativity but they didn't care - they were only interested in getting the grades. Some even said they deliberately steered clear of more original thinking or taking risks in their answers because they thought they might get penalised.

From this September, the A* grade will be introduced to address the failure of A-levels to stretch the very able. It will be interesting to see if students, teachers and examiners, who have long been comfortable with this tick box approach, can cope, assuming the new question papers are truly different, which is a big assumption.

Food to improve memory

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Do you have other methods that you used to improve your memory? Kind to share with us your tricks?

Dr Whiting on Memory - Short Term Memory Supplements

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Do you have any short term memory problem?

Bright pupils 'do better among clever peers'

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By Timesonline

Bright pupils from all backgrounds do better in their GCSEs if they go to a predominantly middle class school with other clever pupils, according to compelling new research into the power of peer group effects on academic performance.

The research, based on GCSE results of 555,000 pupils in England - an entire year group - suggests that for the brightest ten per cent of teenagers, being educated with other clever children in an affluent state school can add on average half a grade to each subject they take at GCSE. Over eight GCSEs, this could mean that instead of getting straight Bs, a pupil gets four As and four Bs.

Conversely, bright children going to disadvantaged schools in poor areas are likely to underachieve to the same degree.

It suggests that “pupils attending more advantaged schools derive additional educational benefits from being educated with pupils with higher levels of prior attainment, and lower levels of deprivation,” the report’s authors, Dr Philip Noden and Professor Anne West, from the London School of Economics, conclude.

The research, commissioned by the Sutton Trust education charity is the first major study to quantify the extent of peer group effects.

The authors suggest that bright pupils do worse in deprived schools because the government’s gifted and talented programme is not working properly there. Deprived schools may also have worse pupil behaviour and less effective teaching.

They are also more likely to encourage bright teenagers to do vocational courses, not because the pupils are suited to them, but because the points earned for passes in these subjects will help boost the school’s league table position.

This means that simply throwing extra money at deprived schools will not on its own be enough to close the attainment gap between rich and poor. There needs to be more help for gifted pupils in sink schools and better careers advice to ensure they are entered for the right exams, the report says.

More controversially, the authors also suggest that in order to maximise the benefits to pupils of the positive peer group effect, bright children should be spread more evenly throughout state schools, rather than allowed to gravitate towards a few ’good’, predominantly middle-class, schools.

While not exactly suggesting that the interests of the brightest middle class children should be sacrificed for the benefit of all, the report comes pretty close by promoting “a more even spread of pupil intakes into state schools in terms of ability and disadvantage”.

“Encouraging greater use of area wide banding, in which pupils of a range of abilities are enrolled at all local schools, would be a relatively low cost means of reducing (...) educational inequality. The intakes of all schools in the area would be genuinely comprehensive, and so the potential benefits and penalties of being with certain peer groups would be evenly spread,” the authors say.

They also advocate a lottery or random allocation system for handing out places in oversubscribed schools. This would have the effect of preventing middle class people from colonising the best state schools by buying or renting property within the school catchment area - an option often not open to pupils from poorer families.

Dr Lee Elliot Major, research director of The Sutton Trust, accepted that this was a controversial solution. “Some might suggest that a return to the grammar school system is the answer because it puts all the bright children together. But we would prefer a system that creates a balanced intake in all schools, so that the positive peer effect is shared around and you don’t get pockets of affluence and deprivation,” he said.