Exam lingo leads students astray

As a student who has just completed A-levels, I still remember my GCSE exams vividly. I would like to write in in defence of students who use informal language, slang and, recently, text-message-style abbreviations in answering essay questions.

When an exam question asks that you write a letter to a friend, the student makes the very natural assumption that they are required to use the sort of language which they would use in reality. It is partly this, and not mere inarticulacy or inability to use "correct" English, which is to blame for students' poor performance.

I had the option of answering a question which required me to write a list of instructions for the benefit of someone who had never previously performed a particular task. I chose to answer a different question, as my technology lessons had taught me that this was a task which required short, simple sentences, which I guessed would not be conducive to gaining high marks in English. Other students may, however, have fallen into the trap, and therefore not achieved the marks of which they were capable.

Too many questions are phrased in language which is unclear or even misleading, and I remember one science question being so poorly punctuated that to follow its exact instructions would have led to an entirely different answer to what was in fact required. I feel that this is yet another example of students being tested on exam technique, rather than actual knowledge or ability.

I am heartily sick of the criticism aimed at students at all levels, most of whom have worked extremely hard for their grades, when the exam boards themselves make so many inexcusable errors, and contribute greatly to the often overwhelming stress which students are put under.

Modern exams are not easier, but different, and today's students also benefit from the assistance and support of parents who have themselves been through the state education system. This support is conspicuously lacking in the media, who would rather headline horror stories of teenage pregnancies and drug-taking than celebrate the hard-earned achievements of the majority.

Savitri Patel 5, Eastfield Road Western Park Leicester

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