Judgment day is looming on the horizon. No, not the end of the world just the GCSEs and A-levels approaching fast. It is usually around this time of year that a sense of urgency, the merest suggestion of foreboding, begins to creep into the class.
As for the teachers, we see it every year and we know that it will get worse before it gets better. Come the actual day and we will be as anxious as our charges that they should do as well as possible.
From here on in we will not be able to relax until we have covered every angle of the syllabus and have repeatedly gone through our hints and tips, the various dos and don'ts of revision techniques and examination strategies.
We have our secret weapons, of course, and the best one is the trusty set of past papers and its attendant, and some would say even more important, examiners' reports.
Therein lies the first problem. Copyright of exam papers lies with the exam boards. Do we break copyright and copy the past papers to all of our students? Or do we get the pupils to pay out large sums of money for copies of the past papers for all of their subjects? All that paper and expense just cries out for a technological alternative. At last one company, London-based Doublestruck, has accepted the challenge.
Exampro is the result. Essentially a database system, Exampro enables past paper questions to be accessed and reconstituted in any way the teacher feels appropriate for the revision task in hand all in accordance with copyright.
Working with the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment in Northern Ireland, Doublestruck has developed three packages, each covering the years 1992-94, for A-level English literature, GCSE biology and GCSE French.
Each package aims to provide the full set of questions (with the added bonus of specimen papers for 1997 A-level English), the mark schemes and the examiners' reports for each year. Users may then create their own "paper" by viewing the questions they are interested in, including any illustrations, and then click on a screen button to copy it automatically to a workspace file.
Once the questions are in place, there are fully-automated buttons to rearrange, renumber or title the new "paper" as required. The inclusion of relevant excerpts from examiners' reports or the appropriate mark schemes or indeed one's own text is just as easy, and when it is finished, the result may be previewed or printed using familiar Windows menu options.
My review copies were pre-launch versions but they were technically robust, working happily in a Windows environment on a 486, 33MHz machine with 12 megabytes of RAM (a 486 with 8 megabytes is the minimum configuration and some teachers may well have difficulties in gaining access to such a high specification).
The scanned images were good, but those which contained text were not always well resolved and in some cases were illegible. The contents are laid out exactly as they appear on the examination paper with the usual dotted lines to delineate answer spaces.
The proof-reading needs a bit of attention, particularly for the chief examiner's report for English. I assume that the errors have crept in during transcription, and will be gone long before the examiner sees them.
Overall there was a sense of not all the materials being present, and in particular the examiners' reports seemed to be selective without any guidance on the selection. One of the reports ended abruptly without the comments on specific questions which were stated to be following.
The documentation could not be simpler but details of the actual contents of the package, in terms of the number of papers, their structure, scope and so on, were not present.
It would not take long for those with a practised eye to fathom what is available when they are actually working with the package, but for the first-time user there is that initial sense of wondering "where am I?", "what can I do?" and "where can I go?", which I more usually associate with logging on to the Internet. I would assume that the finished documentation will provide this overview as a matter of course.
For those who prefer to ignore documentation, a separate and effective computer-based tutorial is provided and computer-literate teachers will get the hang of it within minutes. Notwithstanding the few pre-launch blemishes, this is a timely and very useful package, and I would recommend it highly to all who teach examination classes.
Doublestruck - stand IT664