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Board to 'take account' of Facebook exam protest

Education Editor,Richard Garner
Tuesday 26 January 2010 15:22 GMT
Students claimed the paper set by the AQA exam board failed to test what they learnt as part of their syllabus.
Students claimed the paper set by the AQA exam board failed to test what they learnt as part of their syllabus. ( RUI VIEIRA / PA )

More than 3,000 A-level students have signed up for an unprecedented Facebook campaign to protest about their biology exam.

They claimed the paper set by the AQA exam board failed to test what they learnt as part of their syllabus.

Hundreds have posted comments, calling the paper a “disgrace” and “ridiculous” and asking to be able to sit another paper as a retake.

Tonight the exam board made a concession to the protesters by issuing a statement that they would “take account” of them in marking the papers.

In messages sent following the launch of the Facebook campaign, students – who sat the exam yesterday – claimed only the last three of eight questions asked were relevant to what they had studied in the classroom.

One, James Finnerly, from Christleton High School in Chester, said: “I would like six months of my life back please.

“I thought the point of exams was to give an indication of how much a candidate knew about specified topics and the detailed processes within them.

“It seems I am wrong, though, as the paper I just took only tested my ability to bullshit about statistics and my knowledge about obscure and pointless experiments involving shrews.”

Tom Footitt, an 18-year-old pupil from Chipping Norton in Oxfordshire – who launched the protest, said he had been “surprised” by the amount of support his campaign had generated. “I didn’t expect that,” he said.

He said AQA’s response “sounded like a bit of a confession” but he believed that the board should still go further and allow students a free resit of the exam.

A third student, Harriet Walter, told The Independent, that the specification for the exam specifically stated that students would not be required to know about tests of significance - such as the Spearman rank correlation – yet there was a question on the topic.

“I don’t think AQA are taking into account just how seriously this exam can affect our university offers, especially for highly academic courses such as medicine,” she added.

“I know people who actually checked the front page of the paper just to check it was the correct paper half way through the exam.”

Another student added: “Apart from the last three questions, the paper had fuck all to do with anything we had learnt from the last six months and I’m pissed off.”

Another post added: “The exam was a huge joke. Where the hell were genetics, respiration and photosynthesis?”

However, not all those who visited the campaign site were upset with the content of the questions.

One student wrote: “Science does not have a definitive answer and AQA are right to do what they have done.

“If you are worried about going to university now, due to struggling with the named paper, perhaps you are not good enough for university where exam papers do test you.”

Exam board officials said the protest was the first of its kind on such a scale that they could recall.

The protest concerned one unit of a new syllabus for A-level biology, sat by nearly 20,000 students, concerning populations and the environment.

“In the first year(s) of a new specification, candidates are often uncertain about what will be required of them in examinations,” the AQA said in a statement.

It said the new exam focussed more on the application of science following criticism that previous papers had failed to stretch pupils’ scientific knowledge enough.

“We are aware of concern amongst some candidates for this examination that the exam has not allowed them to fully demonstrate their understanding and abilities,” it added.

“We will take account of these concerns when marking the examinations. the concerns will also be considered at the awarding meeting where we make final decisions regarding the award of grades.”

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