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The testing shape of exams to come

John Westaway provides an update on developments at GCSE and AAS-levels. New A-level and AS syllabuses, developed by the GCE examination boards, have now been approved by the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority. Schools and colleges offering AAS courses in geography will need to choose which syllabus they wish to adopt from this September.

The new syllabuses have been developed to incorporate the new AAS subject core for geography and to meet the requirements of the AAS Code of Practice, which has been jointly written by the GCE examining boards and SCAA.

The AAS core, which comprises about one third of an A-level syllabus and around two-thirds of an AS syllabus, requires all A and AS students to gain in-depth knowledge, understanding and skills through the integrative study of: o a theme which emphasises the interaction between people and their environment o a chosen physical environment o a chosen human environment.

The core also requires that students should undertake personal investigative work, which, in the case of A-level students, must, in part, be based on first-hand data. The requirements of the core must, in aggregate, cover a range of scales, from small to global.

In total, the eight GCE boards have proposed 13 A-level and 10 AS syllabuses, of which eight and six respectively are modular. The syllabuses incorporate and build on the core in different ways. Choices made by schools and colleges will reflect their views on syllabus content, as well as their views on, for example, the approaches adopted by different syllabuses, continuity and progression from current (and future) GCSE provision, modularity, and coursework weighting and assessment procedures.

Schools should soon be receiving copies of the new draft criteria for GCSE. In terms of aims, assessment objectives and subject content, the new criteria should not require major changes to current GCSE syllabuses. Where there are changes, they reflect the need for syllabuses to build on the national curriculum. In particular, they will need to demonstrate a balance between physical, human and environmental aspects and consolidate the geographical enquiry skills developed in key stage 3.

The main changes will be caused by changed coursework weightings and tiering. The weighting allocated to coursework is 20-25 per cent . Although this is the weighting in the 1993 GCSE criteria for geography, it will represent a change for schools following syllabuses approved against the original 1985 criteria, which placed no upper limit on coursework.

As with most subjects, GCSE geography exams will involve question papers targeted at two tiers: G-C and D-A*. Most current geography GCSE exams contain a single tier.

The examining groups are now working on their new syllabuses for submission to SCAA for approval before the year end. Schools should receive them early in January, which should allow sufficient time to make their syllabus choices and plan any consequential changes.

Although the new GCSE and AAS examinations are not to be introduced in quite the order envisaged when the national curriculum was first implemented, the same principles have underpinned the development of the geography curriculum at 5-14, 14-16 ad 16-19. The outcome - for those choosing the subject from 5-19 - should be a geographical education that demonstrates continuity and progression across the three phases.

John Westaway a is professional officer for geography at SCAA

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