Students commended for clarity and perception, but there is scope for improvement in many subjects
A STUDENT WHO compared Hamlet's father and new king Claudius to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown during an A-level English exam is among those who impressed examiners this year with their originality.
While critics have complained of falling standards, examiners report that they have been pleased with the quality and clarity of many students' work, which they say is better than previous years in some papers.
Their reports to exam board Edexcel, which analyse how pupils fared in each paper, are sprinkled with commendations.
Examiners said they had been impressed by the high quality of English literature papers, saying the overall work was "very pleasing" and accurately written and that there were several scripts of "exceptional quality, full of perception and sharp, engaged comment".
"One candidate put forward the BlairBrown changeover as a change in monarchy comparable to that of Old HamletClaudius, which was topical and interesting as a modern contextual link." The examiners noted that standards of literacy in one history paper were much better than the previous year.
Geography students were congratulated for producing well- informed answers and maths candidates for showing clearly how they arrived at their solutions.
However, the examiners also found that many aspects of the students' work could be improved.
Some candidates who studied Hamlet were criticised for stating the obvious. "Examiners do not need to be told that William Shakespeare wrote the play," they said. "Even describing Hamlet as the 'eponymous hero' is unnecessary."
Elsewhere in the English literature paper, examiners found gram-matical errors such as unusual uses of "of" (for example in "pleased of the new king"), "whom" used as the subject of a sentence and "however" used instead of "moreover".
Some English students presumed all literature had a clear message and seemed unable to cope with uncertainty.
Geography students were also criticised for failing to challenge received wisdom. Markers wished students were as willing to debate geographical arguments as they might be to qestion whether Chelsea's success in the premier league was explained by owner Roman Abramovitch's money. "Candidates are adept at challenging proffered opinions but often lose the capacity to do so in the context of examination answers," they said.
In biology, examiners found that spelling of biological terms was so poor in some cases that answers were unclear or ambiguous.
A significant number of maths candidates had problems with basic skills such as the use of brackets and the solution of simple equations.
In chemistry, students were criticised for poor thinking skills and an even poorer ability to use language precisely.
Carole Whitty, deputy general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said the positive comments would be ignored by those who argued that the education system had become dumbed down. "They are interested only in failure," she said. "The debate is not about exam results any more, it's about our psychology."
* www.edexcel. org.uk
DOS AND DON'TS FOR MAKING THE GRADE
Avoid regurgitating huge chunks of background knowledge and make sure you analyse language.
Improve your trigonometry, logarithms and quadratic equations.
Memorise basic definitions and label diagrams clearly.
Read the questions and answer them.
Plan your answers and avoid using bullet points.
Make sure you can define "suburbanisation".
Answers in English should be checked for clarity and logic.
Avoid overstretching yourself by playing pieces that are too demanding. You will only get lower marks.
* Physical education
Answer the question set, not the one you would have liked to read.