Exam reviews

18th June 2010 at 01:00
Feedback from teachers on this year's exams


Marks for Marx

This year's Higher sociology exam was "a good paper overall" and much as expected, according to Allana Howie, a teacher of social science at Ardrossan Academy, although she had a few concerns about its design.

It was challenging because pupils needed to have studied between 12 and 18 topics, but were examined on only four. Given that Section A was a 40-mark question-and-answer paper and Section C required them to write two 30-mark essays, that was "really demanding", said the North Ayrshire teacher, who has been teaching sociology for six years.

Question 3 in Section A asked candidates to describe one similarity and one difference between Marxism and neo-Marxism.

"That was an OK question, but the SQA support materials only cover the similarities, so any differences will be relative to how the teachers have taught it - so I would expect markers to have a broad range of points in answers," said Mrs Howie.

The question in Section B, which her students answered, was an education one. It asked them to explain the extent to which gender, social class or ethnicity affected educational attainment in modern UK society. By giving pupils a choice of three areas on which they could answer, it was a "really good" question, she said.

Section C, in contrast, directed them to particular aspects of "the family" and "crime and deviance" - the two areas which she teaches - rather than offering them a choice.


Where am I?

The Higher paper's mapping exercise proved tricky because of the inclusion of some "fairly obscure" places, said Langholm Academy's Julie Boles.

Pupils are given place names and have to mark them on a map of Scotland, but she believes many would have struggled to pinpoint Loch Fyne or the Pentland Firth.

Miss Boles, who also teaches geography, said her pupils were "not very happy" about Question 6, which sought five-day travel itineraries for two areas: Burns country; and Argyll and the Isles, Stirling and the Trossachs. They struggled to find enough to do in the latter, although Miss Boles thought the question was fair.

A "huge amount of knowledge" was needed in the first section of the Higher paper, due to an unusually high number of one-mark questions. Overall, it was a reasonable test of pupils' capabilities - "not the best, but not the worst".


Without prejudice or slant

Staff and pupils at Dumfries and Galloway College all felt that this year's psychology Higher exam was very fair.

That was unusual, according to Lorna Sorbie, programme manager for educational studies at the college, who normally finds that one or two students complain about difficult questions afterwards.

The questions were, for the most part, broad-ranging and gave candidates plenty of scope to cover the areas they had learnt. A question on prejudice in Section C was particularly open-ended and gave candidates some choice over how they attempted it, an approach that Ms Sorbie welcomed.

"I felt the questions were straightforward with nothing obtuse or confusing. Candidates should not have been in doubt over what the examiners were looking for," she said. "This was a slight improvement on previous years, when candidates had sometimes faced ambiguously-worded and confusing questions."

Pupils also benefited from a paper that was well-balanced and without any slant.


Very predictable

A healthy number of Eastbank Academy pupils - 11 - took this year's Higher, and none has yet expressed any concerns about it.

Questions were "very predictable" according to Geoffrey Boath, a classics teacher at the Glasgow school.

Last year's translation was "unusual and unexpected", he had found. This year, there were no surprises in a passage - from Cicero, as always - about the corrupt governor of Sicily, Verres, and his hiring of two henchmen to steal the statue of a river god.

The format of the exam, with a lack of any listening or oral component, continues to attract several pupils who have little interest in modern languages, and choose Latin for the pleasure it brings them.

"It does seem to suit a more academic mind - children who tend to be thoughtful and quiet, and are able to think things through on their own," Mr Boath said.

Advanced Higher, too, was a fair test of candidates that presented no surprises.


Dish of the day

As part of the Higher hospitality exam, candidates had to describe in detail how they would prepare pork tenderloin stuffed with apricots. Students at Glasgow Metropolitan College could not believe their luck, given they had prepared and served that very dish in their training restaurant.

Willie McCurrach, food studies manager at Glasgow Met, felt the Higher hospitality exam was "fair". He said: "The paper was good for a practical person. Chefs can easily describe how they will present a dish but they are not always good at expressing themselves in writing. In this exam, they are allowed to draw and label how they see a dish being prepared and how they would present it."

The exam was based around a dinner menu for 60 guests. Pupils and students had to calculate the cost of the dessert, a kiwi and lemon cheesecake, and work out the selling price if they were to achieve a gross profit of 70 per cent.

In the second part of the paper, they looked at storage requirements and temperature control of the menu's ingredients. They were also asked, when buying the pork tenderloin and the smoked mackerel for the starter, how they would assess its quality.


Good for showing off

Politics Higher was taught for the first time in West Dunbartonshire schools this year, with 20 pupils from Our Lady and St Patrick's High in Dumbarton sitting the exams.

Paul Creaney, faculty head of social studies, taught the course. "The questions were broad enough that pupils were able to go deep within a topic. They could use their skills and understanding, and I would go so far as to say show off," he said.

Paper 1, the skills-based paper, asked candidates to carry out data analysis using election statistics from the London mayoral elections and the 2007 Scottish local government elections. The data was presented in graphs and tabular form, and pupils responded well to straightforward questions. Mr Creaney's pupils were familiar with the format after practising this style throughout the year.

In the second paper, candidates were asked to answer three out of a possible nine questions covering three syllabus areas. They were broad- based and allowed pupils to apply their knowledge and skills, making it an accessible paper that catered for most levels.


Middle of the road

Candidates got "a fair crack at the whip" from the Higher and Advanced Higher computing papers this year, according to Frank Frame, principal teacher of computing at Bannerman High in Glasgow.

Both papers were fair and represented a decent selection of topics from the syllabus. Clear and accessible language in the Higher paper was an improvement on previous years.

The Higher exam paper was very accessible, with a range of problem-solving opportunities from a routine Question 15 on processor performance to a "quite challenging" Question 16, on software development.

The paper would, Mr Frame said, meet the needs of the weaker candidates while stretching the more able ones who "seem to fly through" anything they are given.

The questions at Advanced Higher level again provided plenty of opportunities for candidates to demonstrate their problem-solving abilities, and the section on developing software solutions, in particular, contained imaginative and challenging contexts.

Questions on artificial intelligence, computer architecture and networks were clear and the contexts simple. Question 13 on assembly language was more challenging but, Mr Frame said: "You are supposed to have some questions like that in exams."

Overall, the two levels were examined fairly by papers that were "straight down the middle".


Spoilt for choice

Both of this year's Standard grade Foundation papers were fair and included a good variety of styles of questions and plenty of the topics that Mary Stirling had covered with her Spanish classes at St Ambrose High in Coatbridge.

At General level, the reading section was more difficult than the listening, and there were a couple of questions which the principal teacher of modern languages believes some pupils may have found challenging. Pupils came out of the exam complaining that Question 7 on a football mascot and 10 on computer addiction were difficult.

As with the General exam, reading at Credit level was more difficult than listening, and there was a good mixture of tenses to keep candidates thinking. "Reading was quite challenging," she said, "but there is nothing wrong with this - it is Credit after all."

However, the passages in questions 1-3 were lengthy and pupils at the North Lanarkshire school complained that it was difficult to complete the paper in time.

There were no complaints from the Intermediate 2 and Higher candidates. Both exams were fair in all skill areas, Mrs Stirling thought, and it was good to see the listening and writing paper was uncomplicated, and did not give pupils cause to panic. The quality of CDs for the aural sections in all the exams was excellent.

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