Hang Ups

16th February 1996 at 00:00
When I say I am artistic, I don't for a moment mean I'm in the same league as Michelangelo or even Cezanne. For one thing, paint isn't my medium. Or clay, or bronze, for that matter. To be frank, I don't shine at those things ordinary people do: I can't arrange flowers or customise cars; I can't ice cakes or build ships in bottles.

As my Scout Master used to say as he surveyed expanses of sleeve untouched by any badge: "Every chap has to go huntin' until he finds out what his particular thing happens to be." It wasn't until I became a teacher that I discovered mine.

To experience the elation of the true artist, all I needed was a pair of sharp scissors, a pot of paste and a collection of A-level past papers. Teachers with plenty of spare time on their hands in search of a hobby that is useful and creative could do a lot worse than take up a craft that has been practised through the ages - compiling A-level mock exam papers.

First there is the fun of the chase, ploughing through dog-eared piles of papers from bygone years to locate questions due for another airing. These have to be photocopied and neatly trimmed into shape. Having harvested your questions, you select again, this time trying to ensure the syllabus has been adequately covered, and that for every "stinker" there is "a piece of cake".

Now comes the real artistry, as you set about arranging your cuttings on the page and pasting up your design. One false move here and you're sure to have some smart Alec telling you he can't do a question because it's lop-sided. That sort of criticism can make the whole process feel like a complete waste of time.

However, some teachers - the non-artistic types - think the time involved could be better spent talking to pupils, preparing lessons, marking or, as one colleague told me, "getting a life". This philistinism explains why many are resorting to a computer package which purports to do the work for them. Exampro offers, at about Pounds 60 each, databases of the questions set over the years at A-level in English maths, French and the sciences, and at GCSE level in double science, French and maths.

The questions come from papers set by the Northern Ireland Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment. It's a shame there's no material from other boards, but I suppose one set of questions is much like another.

As well as the text, Exampro contains all graphics and retains the original layout. All the questions have been cross-indexed, so in a matter of minutes you can select by topic, level or type of task. Then the software compiles a seamless exam paper which is indistinguishable from the real thing.

The package is very helpful in marking and assessing pupils' answers. A click of the mouse is all it takes to summon the official mark scheme for each question, check grade boundaries or read the Chief Examiner's comments on answers when a paper was originally set.

Well, I admit, it's all jolly clever and very useful. But is it art?

Exampro can be contacted at 6 Argyle Road, London N12 7NU. Tel: 0181 446 0617. Hang ups' e-mail address: arnoldevans@easynet.co.uk

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