TESS analysis uncovers out-of-date and insubstantial exam prep

14th January 2011 at 00:00

Teachers in several subjects have been criticised for out-of-date and insubstantial exam preparation that left pupils ill-equipped to get the best marks possible.

This striking trend has emerged from TESS analysis over the past three weeks of external assessors' reports on last year's exam candidates.

Music assessors were highly critical of Advanced Higher teachers who prepared pupils as if for the old-style exam, despite a new format being in place since 2007. Some appeals failed because teachers were misguiding pupils in how to answer questions.

Markers of religious, moral and philosophical studies were concerned about Intermediate, Higher and Advanced Higher teachers who appeared unaware of changed arrangements, and left some pupils badly prepared.

A number of candidates were not aware of prescribed topics at RMPS Advanced Higher. No penalties were incurred last year but, the Scottish Qualifications Authority has warned, they will be in 2011.

Higher geography teachers were urged to use modern technology and not rely on "seriously out-of-date" materials. Advanced Higher history candidates, meanwhile, are still writing dissertations on discontinued titles.

There was irritation among Advanced Higher English assessors about schools' guidance for specialist study: "In too many centres, ill-advised textual choices andor unhelpfully vague topic statements were disadvantaging apparently able candidates."

Higher chemistry candidates' responses to practical questions, or PPAs, were "very poorly done", suggesting that some had no experience of crucial experiments. In some schools, "many answers still suggest that the candidates have absolutely no experience of the PPA".

The assessors' reports were generally upbeat, but another common problem was plagiarism.

Probably "the most significant issue" in Advanced Higher English dissertations was plagiarism of support notes. Advanced Higher modern studies candidates had to be warned that cutting and pasting from Wikipedia and BBC News represented plagiarism, while there was a particularly blatant example of an Advanced Higher history candidate using material from the internet (he received no marks).

Plagiarism was a growing problem due to the vast amount of information on the internet, said James Thewliss, president of School Leaders Scotland and headteacher at Dundee's Harris Academy. But most involved innocent mistakes made by pupils who did not understand how to use sources, rather than blatant cheating.

Last year's exams also threw up some unusual complaints. Higher art and design candidates have been warned not to use materials that might endanger markers, such as broken glass and jagged metal. Intermediate 2 markers pleaded for an end to photography in which candidates model bikinis. And Higher Spanish markers bemoaned a common practice among indecisive candidates: writing their answer, with an alternative in brackets as back-up.

henry.hepburn@tes.co.uk.

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