Examinations ask candidates to apply their knowledge rather than simply regurgitate learned facts | Portsmouth High School

Examinations ask candidates to apply their knowledge rather than simply regurgitate learned facts

School examinations for all but Year 12 are now already a memory but public examinations still have to start for Year 13 and GCSEs are off to a slow start.  

I can’t help but feel sorry for the girls taking their examinations especially as the weather has now improved. I remember quite clearly that sinking feeling of having to stay in and revise when the days were warm and sunny.

After the GCSE geography examination recently a Facebook group for teachers was inundated with comments from teachers bewailing the unfairness of the GCSE paper because pupils were asked, for example, about the sustainability of water consumption mapped against an increase in the sale of dishwashers and this was not on the scheme of work. Some of the newspapers reported the story alongside one from a biology examination earlier in the week where Charles Darwin was drawn as a cartoon monkey which it was also claimed was not what they had spent months revising.

What is clear to me is that these type of tests now ask candidates to apply their knowledge rather than simply regurgitate learned facts. Not so long ago a typical geography question would start with the words “using an example you have studied” whereas now it is an expectation rather than a command that pupils will use case studies to illustrate their answer. One teacher even complained about the word illustrate as a command word because it was not one on the examination board list.

It is important that we prepare our students well for this change of emphasis in GCSEs and A levels. Not only has the grading system changed for GCSE making comparisons with previous years difficult, the style of questioning is much more challenging. Some years ago we started our thinking skills lessons to encourage our pupils to think differently and to be able to analyse information. Our girls are well-prepared for these examinations and they have developed ways of critically analysing text and data to offer judgements and opinions based on presented evidence.