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

Voices
Hunted: A stag lies dead on Jura, where David Cameron holidays and has himself stalked deer
voicesThe Scotland I know is becoming a playground for the rich
News
Russell Brand has written a book of political analysis called Revolution
peopleFilm star says he is 'not interested in making money anymore'
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites those Star Wars rumours
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Chastain during an interview in Los Angeles.
filmsOscar hopeful Jessica Chastain reveals the secret to her breakthrough success
News
people

Britain First criticised for using actress's memory to draw attention to their 'hate-filled home page'

News
news
Life and Style
Meow! ... Again, Kim Kardashian goes for a sexy Halloween costume, wrapping her body with a latex catsuit and high heeled knee boots
fashionFrom Heidi Klum to Kim Kardashian
News
news

Emergency call 'started off dumb, but got pretty serious'

Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch
tv

Greatest mystery about the hit BBC1 show is how it continues to be made at all, writes Grace Dent

News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
JK Rowling is releasing a new Harry Potter story about Dolores Umbridge
booksChristmas comes early for wizard fans
Arts and Entertainment
filmsOculus Rift offers breathtakingly realistic simulation of zero gravity
Sport
footballAccording to revelations from Sergio Aguero's new biography
Life and Style
tech

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

Senior Research Fellow in Gender, Food and Resilient Communities

£47,334 - £59,058 per annum: Coventry University: The Centre for Agroecology, ...

Senior Research Fellow in Water and Resilient communities

£47,334 - £59,058 per annum: Coventry University: Our team of leading academic...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£60 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Special Needs Teaching Assistants...

Teaching Assistants in Peterborough

£50 - £60 per day: Randstad Education Cambridge: Teaching assistants required ...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker