Right answer, wrong place

4th November 2005 at 00:00
That old teacher chestnut of reminding students to read the question carefully and answer it precisely is the principal assessors' chief complaint across Higher subjects in last session's exams.

As ever, many students appear to go into the exam hall with prepared answers locked in their minds, ready to tailor them to any question, regardless of the relevance. But teachers are also chastised for over-coaching.

The situation is no more clearly illustrated than in history's paper 1.

Referring to students' analysis of historical questions, the assessor comments: "The single change in behaviour that would have the biggest influence in this direction would be for candidates to read the question carefully and ensure that their essays answer the question asked, not the one they would like to be asked."

The assessor adds: "As in 2004, some markers commented on the trend in some centres towards over-preparation in the sense that candidates in these centres appeared to be trained rather than taught.

"Evidence of this was seen: in the high proportion of candidates from a centre who selected the same questions; and in their formulaic responses to questions where, despite the fact that this is an unseen examination in invigilated conditions, every answer to a particular question would have the same introductory sentence or even almost exactly the same introduction (and sometimes conclusion)."

The report continues: "While this form of preparation may help borderline candidates (assuming that the question they have prepared for is actually in the paper), it discourages independent thinking and as a result may well prevent more able candidates from reaching their full potential."

In Higher history paper 2, the assessor notes: "From one centre, every candidate used exactly the same phrasing to introduce the answer to each question."

In French, the assessor calls on teachers to "encourage candidates to answer the specific wording of the question and discourage candidates from giving a word for word translation of the test as a response to the reading comprehension questions, as this often results in incomprehensible use of English".

It is a similar story in physics where the assessor stresses that "candidates should be encouraged to read questions carefully".

Maths echoes the refrain with the assessor commenting: "Candidates need to look at the marks available and ask themselves if they are tackling the question correctly - if a part is only worth one or two marks, then it should not be taking a whole page of working."

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