Category Archives: Exam management

Techniques for managing exams and education programmes well

2022 GCSE results – a national and personal tutoring perspective

The 2022 GCSE are now out so what’s my take from a personal tutorial point of view, and a national perspective.

My pupils

Well first of all, let’s be relived the exams happened at all. Think back a year and some were questioning the very continuation of these qualifications.

From a personal perspective I’m very happy with the GCSE results my pupils managed. All had school interruptions during the two year programme but pulled it together for the exams. For the one who needed a top grade 9 for his new school sixth form entry – yes, he got it. For those who simply wanted high grades , several got 7’s and 8’s, one got 6’s.  And for those who simply wanted a pass, and took Foundation, they got the maximum possible 5. 

The exams were unusual this year – not just because they were the first to be actually sat since 2019.  The syllabus was narrowed down so that pupils were given advance warning of what would and would not be in the exams. Typically about 10-15% of topics were removed. My strategy was to examine these lists in great detail and make sure that pupils revised what they needed to, and eliminated what they didn’t. And it was possible to even narrow down accurate predictions from Papers 1 to 2 for Science, and 1,2 and 3 for Maths. I issued Mocks with several typical questions per included topic and several pupils said they did indeed crop up.  

I think this approach especially helped some pupils with whom I only had a few lessons from Easter onwards. If my time with a Pupil is limited, and indeed all pupils’ own time is spread amongst other topics, then focus on what’s important is crucial.   

However, if we assume this advance warning is not carried through to next year, will this “focused topic” approach still be appropriate? Well, aspects of it, yes. For instance I examined past papers in detail  and it was obvious that the Core Practicals formed the basis, every year, of detailed exam questions. So I found a series of excellent short videos on each, issued links, advised pupils to re-read their lab experiment books, and told them precisely what examiners wanted with the 6-mark “how would you design an experiment to…”   questions. This advice will always be relevant in science. And across all my subjects – Science, Maths, Business  – the fine details and nuances of what’s in Foundation, Higher, Combined, Triple, Paper 1 paper 2 , Long question etc can be so important to emphasise with pupils.      

 The national picture

A lot of focus is on lockdown induced grade inflation, from pre-Pandemic levels. So let us start there. For A level, the grade inflation between 2019 and 2021, coinciding mainly with teacher assessment, was around 20%. The grade A or higher numbers of entrants jumped from 26% to 45%. By 2022 this % had dropped, as expected, and by an amount that was anticipated by examiners. The A-Level inflation reduced by around half, so that the 36% for 2022 brought us almost exactly half way back to the pre-Covid levels.

For GCSE the grade inflation also fell, but in a different way. First, the inflation from 2019 to 2021 was not as high as A Level ; for instance the % of pupils getting grade 4 or above in GCSE inflated by around 10% from 67% to 77% ; in 2022 this figure was 73% , a drop of 4%,  so just less than half the 10% grade inflation has been eliminated.   Similarly, for the percent getting grade 7 or above, the figure jumped from 20% to 28% and back this year to 25%.

In theory, by 2023, grade boundaries and these percentages should return to pre-Pandemic i.e. 2019 levels – but who knows! First, will more unusual events happen, and second will the examiners give more time for settling down?

Other ways of looking at the results include:

  • the attainment gap between boys and girls continued, with girls being about 7% higher, though the gap has narrowed fractionally.       
  • Independent and especially state selective schools as expected got the highest percentage results, though it should be noted that independents showed the highest drop of all ownership categories 2021-2022 i.e. are eliminating grade inflation fastest.
  • London schools continue to outperform the rest of the U.K. For instance around 32% of London pupils scored 7 or higher grade, compared to 22% in the North East.   
  • For Maths, and Combined Science and Business, the distributions of grades was a typical normal distribution with the most common being 4 and 5, with tail-offs above and below those. But for the individual Triple sciences, all three had heavily skewed distributions towards the higher grades – almost all grades in Triple Biology, Chemistry or Physics were grade 5 and above, with very few below grade 5. So if a teacher thinks you are good enough to do Triple versus Combined, its probably the right decision
  • What I cant find out, and would be fascinating, is this : for those who took Foundation exam in Maths , the maximum grade is 5, a reasonable pass is 4, and below that means a re-sit; so what proportions of pupils in the end passed, or had to re-sit, and how does the re-sit figure compare to those who took Higher? This might shed light on the conundrum of which exam a pupil who is on the cusp of Higher or Foundation should take. From my own limited sample, those who opted for Foundation did indeed get grade 5.

    Below are a series of graphics and infographics illustrating for GCSE the above points. Note that one good thing to emerge from the Pandemic was the use of highly visual means of displaying dull or complex statistics, particularly trend graphs. Though I say it myself, I helped start off this approach with award winning publications and software applications almost 20 years ago!

EPQ Extended project tips

The Extended Project (EPQ) which students can take in Years 12/13 is an opportunity to gain extra UCAS points, perhaps half a grade, and also to develop a whole new set of skills, both academic and future career related.

As a tutor I have been privileged to work recently on a fascinating EPQ and I hope played a good role in supervising and advising a student on a project related to the physics of rocket launch propulsion.

It is clear when you read the EPQ specification and marking system that approaching a half of the marks are awarded for the process of planning and executing the project, rather than purely marking the technical content. And so I bring some of my business and project management skills, as well as the academic aspect, into the mix for the student.

In choosing the title the student should do preliminary research on a topic that fascinates them and it is feasible to research and agree it with a nominated school supervisor. Begin to map out some objectives you wish to achieve and arrange them in the SMART form (specific, measurable, agreed, realistic, time-bound). The title may change a little as you go along don’t worry.

Set up a good document management system for articles you have found in the library or on the internet. Make sure you are always working on an up to date copy of your master not an out of date one. Keep notes of not just the technical content but also of the process steps you take such as how you take decisions about what to include or reject, how you avoid plagarism, how you are proceeding versus your objectives, and what you are learning; you have to complete Process Logs and these contribute to marks.

Use project management techniques such as Gant charts and stage gate control to ensure you plan out your work and use these to try and hit deadlines. Again useful to include in Process Logs.

Look at examples of projects to see how to establish a list of contents at the front, organise your paragraphs well and put a lot of work into the conclusion. A typical EPQ is 5,000 words and 25 pages. Keep structured references as you go along such as author name, article name, date. A good way of ensuring a validated paper is through Google Scholar.

You will find yourself on a technical project inevitably working way beyond A-Level syllabus. This is great!. It is introducing you to University level research and theory, and it will be a fantastic addition to your UCAS personal statement.

Do not worry if you realise that the more you uncover about your topic, the more questions emerge and you may feel your work is superficial – it is not! The writers of published Papers have years to do this, it is their job, and at the age of 17 you only have a few months on your project while focussing on A-Levels as a priority.

In summary you have to put in some extra work, but it may coincide with summer holidays anyway, and there are so many benefits ranging from UCAS points, through learning research and writing techniques in advance of a possible University dissertation, to expanding your academic and real-life knowledge.