Letter: Exams: compare and contrast

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From Mr Adam Savill

Sir: How can one compare the 1996 Olympic 100 metres running champion with the 1896 one? The former's time may be faster and against more opposition, but will have been achieved with the benefit of modern diets, coaching and equipment. Obviously, one cannot compare the two champions directly, except to say that they beat the best on their day.

The same problem occurs when comparing exam results from different years, but without the absolute criteria available in the 100 metres race of the time taken. A more consistent approach for students, employers and universities would be to unify the examining boards and allot grades according to the proportion of candidates.

Mr Beasley-Suffolk (letter, 19 August) is wrong to imply that this would create a lottery, because there are no absolute criteria to compare results from different years because of better teaching, differing content etc. Students taking exams in a particular year would then have results that compare them directly with the people with whom they will have to compete for jobs and university places, ie their peers. In this way, a "B" grade from Hull in economics in 1996 would be directly comparable to a "B" grade from Guildford in economics in 2006.

Yours faithfully,

Adam Savill

London, SW15

28 August