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Do exams limit learning? Students and teachers perspectives of A-levels May 2009 Jo-Anne Baird Suzanne Chamberlain, Anthony Daly, Michelle Meadows, Lucy.

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Presentation on theme: "Do exams limit learning? Students and teachers perspectives of A-levels May 2009 Jo-Anne Baird Suzanne Chamberlain, Anthony Daly, Michelle Meadows, Lucy."— Presentation transcript:

1 Do exams limit learning? Students and teachers perspectives of A-levels May 2009 Jo-Anne Baird Suzanne Chamberlain, Anthony Daly, Michelle Meadows, Lucy Royal- Dawson, Rachel Taylor, Katherine Tremain

2 The stretch and challenge policy Education and Skills White Paper (DfES, 2005) Problem: A-levels seen as too easy for the most able Limited challenge, formulaic responses, HE selection Solution: develop broader skills and knowledge Introduction of AEA material at A2, use of different question types (more extended writing, application of knowledge, synthesis of study, fewer opportunities for formulaic responses) Do you think that the English A-level examinations are too easy?

3 Are exams ever motivating? EPPI review Harlen & Deakin-Crick (2003) Only formative assessment is motivating Black et al (2003) Negative impact upon motivation and identity – Ill be a nothing Reay and Wiliam (1999) Students put off by demanding questions Wolf et al. (1995) Tests with consequences motivate students Sundre et al (2004) Students more motivated by multiple choice than by essays Sundra and Kitsanstas (2004) Do you think that exams can ever be motivating?

4 Students views Semi-structured interviews, approx one hour Experiences of preparing for and taking GCE Perceptions of examination standards (challenge, difficulty/easiness) Perceptions of new-style question papers (students matched to actual 2008 paper and corresponding specimen paper for 2010 from AQA, Edexcel or OCR)

5 Student sample Students who completed psychology or biology A levels in June 2008, gaining a grade A with any awarding body (high achievers) Currently first year under-graduates at Universities of Manchester and Bristol Uni of Bristol Uni of ManchesterTotal Biology81018 Psychology51621 Total132639

6 Themes emerging from the interviews Theme 1: Examination preparation Theme 2: Motivation and stress Theme 3: Engagement and challenge Theme 4: Perceptions of new question papers

7 Examination preparation Highly emotive, dominated their lives for considerable periods of time Predictability of content of question papers – extensive use of past papers, model answers, marking schemes Everything was very formulaic which was quite annoying because we just spent all year sort of learning how to answer the questions more than anything else. No one really wanted to take any risks in their exam results. Psychology student I literally learnt the mark scheme. I was like, well theres no point in trying to go into the details of why this [biological process] works. I knew exactly what wording they wanted. Biology student

8 Motivation and stress Hard work, motivation and stress External sources of motivation – get into university, please their parents & teachers When you look back it seems like a lot of worry for nothing when you get your grades, but, when you dont, I cant even imagine what it would feel like because I know how stressed out I was beforehand. I was really anxious, and all I wanted was to [study at the University of Manchester]. If I hadnt have got in [to the University of Manchester] I would have been so upset.Biology student I think everyone just wanted to get grades to meet their offers really. I dont think many people were particularly interested in sort of achieving for achievements sake by that point, because we were all a bit tired. Psychology student

9 Engagement and challenge Every student told us that exams were challenging and were not getting easier Explanations for rising pass rates –Qualifications arms race (Wolf, 2002) –Teachers and students more informed and experienced about the examinations I thought [my exams] were hard enough and we all struggled. No one just sailed through. So I think they are challenging and theyre not getting easier. I think people are just getting better at teaching them and helping people to get the right answers. Psychology student Because more people can understand the techniques needed to take an exam and more people are passing, everyones complaining. But why are they complaining when everyones getting good marks? It seems quite a silly thing to do. Why would you want to make it so that less people can understand and get a good mark?Biology student

10 Focus groups with teachers Comprehensive sixth form college, Hampshire 11 participants: Accounting, biology, business studies, chemistry, Curriculum head, D&T, geography, ICT, mathematics, PE Sixth form college, Manchester 8 participants: Applied science, biology, chemistry, computing, geography, ICT, PE, physics Independent school, Manchester 5 participants: Biology, chemistry (x2), D&T, geography, physics Independent school, Bristol 3 participants: ICT, PE, physics

11 Stimulus materials Materials shown to teachers Stretch & Challenge initiative Sample question papers from AQA, Edexcel & OCR Prompt questions used by researchers Do you think that second year A level students need to be stretched more? –Prompt: Are A levels currently too easy? What do you think students will have to do differently? What do you think you will have to do differently to help them? What (if any) support from awarding bodies would be helpful?

12 Themes emerging from focus groups Volume versus depth of study Demands Pedagogy Assessment design Costs (3) (48) (54) (44) Teacher support (26) Formulaic pedagogy (13) Adapt pedagogy (9) Adapt pedagogy 9 Need stretch (31) C2K stretched (12) C2K hard (8) New too hard (3) Questions (30) Discrimination (7) Modular (4) Extended project (3)

13 Demands of A-levels Current A-levels already stretching Students hard-working and anxious about exams No reward for displaying skills beyond those expected I think in my subject area Id go a step further than that and I think that A-level actively discriminates against the most able students. I dont think the most able students are necessarily the people who get the highest grades. I think theres too much recall …we have significant amounts where they need to be able to regurgitate definitions, erm, which are fairly insignificant really… Chemistry

14 Pedagogy Examination preparation an important part of teachers responsibilities Teaching to the test, explaining marking schemes and stem words to students With new A-levels, teachers needed to know what examiners would be looking for in the new marking schemes, to prepare students appropriately The place for stretching students was within pedagogy, not in the examination Its about, ultimately, tuning it up, delivering stretch and challenge in the classroom, not in the examination. I think its too late then. Physics

15 Conclusions Students and teachers agreed: Current A-levels –Very demanding –Foster an instrumental, strategic approach Stretch and challenge policy generally viewed positively

16 On two metaphors for learning and the dangers of choosing just one Sfard (1998)

17 What kind of learning is needed? I believe that a blinkered conceptualisation of curriculum, the strong trend towards fine-grained prescription, atomised assessment, the accumulation of little credits like grains of sand, and intensive coaching towards short-term objectives, are a long call from the production of truly integrated knowledge and skill. Sadler (2007, p392) Do exams limit learning?

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