Science exams easier, says Ofqual

 

GCSEs and A-levels in science and geography are easier than they were 10 years ago, the exams regulator said today.

Standards have slipped, with teenagers often facing more multiple choice and short structured questions and papers with less scientific content, according to reports published today by Ofqual.

The watchdog conducted reviews of GCSEs and A-levels in biology and chemistry between 2003 and 2008 as well as A-level geography between 2001 and 2010 and A-level critical thinking in 2010.

The findings show that among the GCSEs, changes to the way the exams were structured had "reduced the demand" of the qualifications, while the A-level reviews found that changes to the way papers were assessed had in many cases made them easier.

The A-level geography review found that the removal of coursework from the qualification in 2010 - which was usually a 4,000-word investigation - had made it "less demanding".

It also reveals that between 2001 and 2010, there had been a shift "towards human geography and away from physical geography", fewer subjects were covered and there were fewer chances to assess pupils' skills.

The review adds that in general, the geographical content of A-level geography had "softened" in 2010, and that harder topics, such as ecology or atmospheric systems, had been removed from exams or made optional.

GCSE biology was easier in 2008 than in 2003 because there were more short papers with multiple choice and short answer questions, Ofqual found.

This made it harder to discriminate between students and meant that top students had less chance to show their knowledge and abilities, the review said.

It added that reviewers were also struck by the "poor quality" of some questions, which sometimes included "trivial or irrelevant" information and "made-up words".

The A-level biology criticised WJEC, the Welsh exam board, for having a high percentage of short structured questions, which reduced the amount of information pupils had to read and take in. This made the papers "less demanding" although overall they were "sufficiently demanding for this level of qualification".

The CCEA exam board was over generous in its marking of some questions and had less demanding coursework, Ofqual added.

The A-level chemistry review found that the exams had become easier between 2003 and 2008, because the questions were structured differently.

"In 2008 there were more short answer questions, involving simple recall, and fewer questions that required students to formulate multiple-step responses.

"This resulted in able students having less opportunity to demonstrate their higher-order knowledge and thinking skills in their responses to questions."

The GCSE and A-level science qualifications reviewed are no longer taken by students.

In a statement, Ofqual said that GCSEs are due to be revised after the national curriculum review, which is under way at the moment, while A-levels are also set to be reviewed.

"We will use the findings from these reviews to inform the development of regulations for those new qualifications," the regulator said.

A Department for Education spokesman said: "Ofqual's reports show evidence of a gradual decline in standards and that the exams system as a whole falls short of commanding the level of confidence we need.

"In particular these reports show that in recent years not enough has been demanded of students, and that they are not being asked to demonstrate real depth and breadth of knowledge.

"It is good that Ofqual has already taken action to strengthen the science GCSEs and we are committed to restoring confidence in all GCSEs and A-levels as rigorous and valued qualifications which match the best in the world."

PA

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Old Royal Naval College: ORNC Visitor Experience Volunteer

Unpaid voluntary work: Old Royal Naval College: Join our team of friendly volu...

Recruitment Genius: Nursery Practitioner - Faringdon

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: We currently have an opportunity for you to jo...

Ashdown Group: Junior Developer - Cirencester - £29,000

£25000 - £29000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group have be...

Recruitment Genius: Primary School Sports Coach

£16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Calling all talented Level 2 qu...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project