Exam Reviews

4th June 2010 at 01:00

Info systems - High-fives all round. Sections 1 and 3 of the information systems Higher exam were straightforward and made up of short-response questions this year, said Claire Friel, a computing teacher and principal teacher of guidance at Cardinal Newman High, North Lanarkshire.

The first question in Section 2, the extended response, was harder than in previous years, she said. Worth 17 marks, it required students to split a database into three "normal forms" through a normalisation process. Most of the marks were between the second and third forms - and a lot of pupils guessed the answer.

Some candidates found questions on the economic implications of IT and the ethical implications of using expert systems tricky as there was no definitive answer.

"These questions require candidates to give their personal view and demand more mature answers; but they should have been prepared for the management strategy questions," she said.

Mrs Friel was delighted to see the Oncocin cancer treatment plan come up in the expert systems question in Section 3, as her class had studied it during the year. "My pupils were giving each other high-fives," she said.

Some pupils found the wording of a few questions in the Intermediate 2 paper tricky. "Pupils were not clear what they were being asked. They included nothing that was not in the arrangements so the exam should have been fine, but it seemed more difficult than last year's," she said.

Greek - Inspirational Mr Cameron

The classics are in robust health at Lanark Grammar, thanks in part to a sympathetic senior management team that approves flexible option sheets.

Classical studies this year ranked behind only maths, English and biology in the list of most popular Higher subjects (54 candidates) and had the biggest Advanced Higher cohort of any subject (11). Latin, too, is popular (22 Higher candidates and four at Advanced Higher) with boys preferring a subject that is more analytical and less focused on oral skills than modern languages.

The crash classical Greek Higher cohort is not as populous, but the four candidates' dedication was not in question: they were taught by depute head John Kerr after school. Among their number was Charles Cameron, 69. Mr Kerr said his work ethic and life experience had been an inspiration.

It was "admirable" to see an open-ended question on Thucydides, which asked if humans had changed much in 2,500 years. This allowed candidates to run with ideas in many directions, as encouraged to do in class.

Similarly, a question about the impact of war on Athens, in the section on Sophocles's Oedipus the King, allowed room for parallels with more recent conflicts such as the Second World War.

Translation was harder than interpretation, throwing up Plato's treatise on the morality of a man who prosecuted his father for murder.

Media Studies - Question goes unanswered

Katie MacLennan and her Buckhaven High pupils were delighted that questions in Section 1 of the Higher paper were less wordy than in previous years.

This gave them confidence in showing their knowledge of the texts they had studied: The Shawshank Redemption (pictured, actor Tom Robbins as Andy Dufresne) and an edition of The Daily Record with an eye-catching front page in which a father stood up for his son, who had died from an overdose.

Section 2's Question 1 was tricky - candidates may not have realised they should be evaluating their own evaluation, not just the process of producing their film - but no one at the Fife school answered it. Miss MacLennan, who teaches drama as well as media studies, heard at a recent Scottish Qualifications Authority standards meeting that this section's first question was producing low scores, and suggested her pupils steer clear.

Question 2, in which pupils had to devise an anti-piracy campaign, was within their capabilities, as it was similar to practice papers.

Miss MacLennan was "happy" that Intermediate 2 questions were made up of small components and Intermediate 1 had a broad range of questions.

Italian - La dolce vita

The pros and cons of working in a call centre were the focus of the reading section of the Higher Italian exam. Amanda Mori, who teaches French and Italian at Dalziel High in Motherwell, liked it - pupils could identify with the topic and questions did not demand long answers.

Although pupils would have been able to understand the Italian in the short translation passage, some might have struggled to put the last part into decent English.

The directed writing question covered well-trodden ground, asking pupils to write about a three-month visit to Italy, where their brother was studying. They had to describe their time in an Italian school and in a part-time job.

The listening paper was again on a good topic, said Mrs Mori - a girl's brother marrying her best friend. Some pupils found the delivery of the passage too fast - although the listening section is always felt by them to be tricky, she acknowledged.

The short topic writing section on the question: "What's more important - friend or family?" should have been accessible to any candidate who had prepared properly.

History - Rights, reforms, democracy

The History Higher Paper 1 was as easy as it had been for a long time, said Lasswade High history teacher Neil Lennox.

That was mainly because the "gambles" that some teachers take in deciding what to teach were rendered redundant - because topics that do not usually come up in the same year did so on this occasion. This was "remarkable", he said.

Pupils, for example, could choose whether to show their knowledge on either the rights of women and the Suffragettes, or the growth of British democracy from 1850. Similarly, they could take their pick from the Liberal reforms of the early 20th century, or the Labour Party's reforms following the Second World War.

Paper 2 is the domain of Mr Lennox's colleague at the Midlothian school, Alice Kemp, who rated it straightforward. One concern related to the use of the defunct Daily Sketch as a source: pupils might have not have realised it was a newspaper, and guessed instead it was a satirical publication.

Geology - Panning for gold

Geology is still something of a niche subject, offered in possibly 10 schools in Scotland.

Shiona Park, principal teacher of geography at the Royal High School, Edinburgh, felt all the sections in the Higher paper offered good coverage of the course and a linkage between problem-solving and content. "At Higher, candidates need to be able to demonstrate an understanding of advanced geological terms. It's more scientific than geography," she said.

This year's paper should not have presented candidates with any undue difficulty in its language. The reproduction of diagrams and photographs was much improved.

One of the essay questions in Section B was topical, focusing on oil. Ms Park liked the clear guidelines, giving pupils clues about what was expected in a well-structured technical format.

The Intermediate 1 paper was also topical, with a question asking for a calculation of how many tonnes of sand and gravel would have to be panned to make one gold medal for the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

The Intermediate 2 paper was straightforward, although the scale on the bar graph in Question 14 might have caused some difficulties and the sequence of diagrams in Question 2 might have been confusing for some.

Mrs Park also thought the "statement banks" in the Intermediate 2 paper were less supportive of pupils' understanding than in the Higher.

Modern Studies - Care and the community

Papers for all levels of modern studies offered at Madras College in St Andrews, up to and including Advanced Higher, were "fair and comprehensive" according to principal modern studies teacher Lyn Brown.

Pupils found the wording of A1 in Higher Paper 1 difficult to interpret. More straightforward was A4, on the single transferable vote, a topical subject that allowed Scottish examples to be used.

The task and sources in Paper 2's decision-making exercise - candidates had to advise the Health Secretary whether to invest in a male health clinic - were uncomplicated, but they found the topic's specific nature limited the background knowledge they could use.

The Standard grade Credit paper, at 1(e) and 1(f), introduced videoconferencing, which Mrs Brown said Madras had not considered part of the skills of enquiry and was not mentioned in commercial revision guides. Question 2 (c), on free personal care for the elderly, asked whether statements were "correct" or "incorrect", an approach not familiar from past papers.

Good graphics in the General paper helped borderline students interpret questions. Question 1 asked for ways in which a councillor could find out about a local problem; accompanying images showed a councillor's surgery, a letter to a councillor, a newspaper and a committee meeting.

Intermediate 2 questions on law and order and South Africa were "accessible".

Maths - Better balance next time

The non-calculator section of the Higher maths exam, Paper 1, was so elementary that many pupils finished early, reported Michael Aitchison, principal teacher of maths at Invergordon Academy.

By contrast, a number struggled to finish Paper 2 within the allotted time, partly because some of the questions towards the end required a lot of thinking.

Although the exam was "fine overall", he said, it might have been better- balanced had there been more challenging questions in the first paper and fewer in the second.

Some pupils might have found the proof section in the optimisation question - Number 5 in Paper 2 - difficult. There was potential to go wrong at the beginning of Question 6 - an integration question - though pupils would have had time to return to it and find another way of tackling it.

Number 7, the last, was "a lovely, problem-solving" logarithms question which would have made pupils think, he said.

The Advanced Higher paper contained some questions which, although on the syllabus, were not expected, said Andy Thompson, principal teacher of maths at Dornoch Academy.

There were two questions of proof, when only one would normally be expected; another involved transformation matrices, an area which rarely crops up in exams.

"It probably put a few of the candidates off - it felt different from what they were expecting. But it was a good paper," he said.

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