Multiple choice is not a dumb option

23rd June 2006 at 01:00
Your article "Pick A, B or C for a GCSE" (TES, June 9) suggests that new GCSE science qualifications are being dumbed down because they are being assessed by multiple-choice questions. This simply does not follow.

AQA's new GCSE science is designed to develop knowledge and understanding of how science works, application of that knowledge and understanding, and practical, enquiry and data handling skills.

Our education and qualification system must not produce students who memorise facts by rote, but cannot solve problems or understand scientific evidence. Today's young people need to be able to form educated views on topics such as global warming or the effectiveness of immunisation programmes.

So, our new specifications are designed to foster thinking about science and how it influences our view of the world. Multiple-choice questions are used as one way of assessing this and it is a mistake to think that they cannot test higher-order thinking skills. In AQA's science specimen question papers, there are questions testing the linking of evidence, the application of knowledge and understanding, as well as how science works and the nature of scientific enquiry.

GCSE science exams have used multiple choice tests as part of a mix of assessments for decades. Of course, practical skills and writing also must be tested, so we have included student assignments in the package.

The format of an exam does not necessarily make it easy or difficult. Many exams for doctors are multiple-choice, but nobody suggests that qualifying as a doctor is therefore easy.

Young people starting GCSE science courses in September can be reassured that the exams they take will be fair, comprehensive and robust. Similarly, teachers can be reassured that there is no final accreditation of any sort still awaited for AQA's new GCSE science specifications. The entire suite has been accredited by the Regulatory Authorities since August 26, 2005.

Dr Mike Cresswell

Director general, Assessment and Qualifications Alliance

Stag Hill House

Guildford, Surrey

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