Two pupils have used their appearance at a meeting of education bosses to make a plea to Scotland’s exam body, asking it to stop shoehorning the most popular subjects into the first couple of weeks of study leave in order to give young people more time to revise.
The exam period in Scotland takes place over the course of around a month and last year ran from 25 April 25 to 31 May.
However, at a recent meeting of the Curriculum and Assessment Board (CAB) – which is co-chaired by the head of the inspectorate, Gayle Gorman, and the top civil servant in the Scottish government’s learning directorate, Graeme Logan – the pupils invited to attend used the opportunity to question why the exam timetable was frontloaded, with the exams in many high-uptake subjects being sat "in the first couple of weeks".
This – said pupils from Smithycroft Secondary in Glasgow – put the young people who chose those subjects under additional pressure.
Background: Need to know – pupil mental health
Analysis by Tes Scotland shows that, last year, the five highest uptake subjects, which accounted for half of all entries at Higher – English, maths, chemistry, history, PE and modern studies – were all sat by pupils in the first half of study leave.
The most popular subjects at both Higher and National 5 by some distance are English and maths, but there were just three days between these exams last year.
The CAB meeting minutes say: “The young representatives at the meeting made the following point: the way in which exams are timetabled across the diet can cause additional stress to a learner. Sometimes it feels like the most popular subjects are scheduled in the first couple of weeks and this presents difficulties in finding time for revision if you have picked those subjects.”
The minutes add that the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) representative acknowledged some higher uptake subjects were placed fairly early in the diet. The representative said that was done “to ensure that all the post-exam marking and quality assurance can take place to ensure all exam papers are marked fairly and to standard”.
The representative said SQA did try where possible to spread subject examinations across the diet and the spread changed from year to year. There were “no absolute rules”, they said.
However, the representative added it was impossible to ensure that all young people had a schedule that suited their “ideal timing needs” – but “every effort was made to accommodate the needs of all when setting the timetable”.