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Exam burden may be reduced

QCA aims to help pressurised A-level students, reports Warwick Mansell

A-level students are to spend up to a third less time per subject in the exam hall as the Government reacts to concerns that young people are "over-assessed", The TES can reveal.

From 2009, teenagers will take only four papers for most A-level subjects instead of six. They will face a limit of seven hours of written exams over two years for each A-level, compared with a current maximum of 10.5 hours.

Coursework could be cut back significantly and retained for individual courses only when it can be shown to be better at assessing subject-specific skills than written exams.

Exam boards are likely to introduce more "synoptic" exams within each A-level that will assess students' deeper understanding of the subjects across several modules.

Students will face tougher questions as the Government reacts to university admissions tutors who say it has become hard to discriminate between high-achieving candidates.

The changes are flagged up in plans published for consultation by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority this week.

They come a year after the Government revealed plans to cut the number of A-level modules from six to four in its response to the 2004 Tomlinson report on secondary exams.

The QCA said doing so would reduce the "burden of assessment". A spokesman said the changes were needed because English pupils were now subjected to more assessment than "almost any comparable country".

But a TES analysis suggests that in all but a few subjects, the overall effect on the time students spend taking exams will be slight.

At present, pupils taking English literature with AQA, Britain's biggest board, face up to 10.5 hours of written tests per subject. Those sitting biology, geography, general studies, languages and physics with Edexcel currently have tests lasting a maximum of 8-9 hours.

But for 20 of the most popular A-levels, students currently face a maximum of eight hours of exams, the TES review of 31 courses shows. The change will make little difference to them.

Those taking media studies with AQA, or history with Edexcel, face around six hours of exams.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, welcomed the cap on examining time. but said this was only part of the problem of over-assessment which ministers had "failed to grasp".

A QCA spokesman said the changes were open to consultation.

Consultation on the changes runs until April 18. They can be viewed at:


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