As I sat in my final science module exam of the year, I began to be nervous; but not for the reasons you may expect. I was scared not that I would be disappointed in my results or run out of time, nor was I worried that I would entirely lose my head, freak out, hit head on my desk and end up in a twelve year self-induced coma. No, I was worried that after months of hard effort, thanks to AQA I would open up my paper and see unanswerable questions and have to re-sit the exam months later.
The problem started with a few unanswerable questions in an A Level paper, and then progressed to the June GCSE Foundation Maths paper where although the start and end of the paper had the correct June questions, the middle section of the exam contained questions from the March test: an entirely different module. As it is, one of the science papers sat this week at my school (although not mine) had several misleading spelling mistakes; and if this were not frustrating enough, those of us who were fortunate to have a correct paper were left to watch those with issues “turn to the correct page only” to edit the mistake. However, I myself saw several people glancing through the entire piece, gaining a slight yet undeniable advantage, whilst we had to sit with our papers and our mouths tightly shut.
So why is it happening? I mean, of all the details to get sloppy over (and let’s face it, they’re getting sloppy over a lot of things), can it please not be something as important as education? Some may say that everything is equally important in its own way, but without intention to offend: is the select time-tabling of bin collection really more important than the education of the next generation? It may not be lack of spending but lack of care that has resulted in these slip-ups. Unless only one person checks the questions before they are printed – which I highly doubt – then I cannot fathom how these mistakes have slipped through so many supposedly tight nets. Maybe we’re looking at it all wrong: maybe the government and AQA have deliberately placed these mistakes as a new GCSE of detective work, and we are all secretly being trained as an elite society of agents. As intriguing an idea as this may be, I doubt that this is actually happening; instead we are the collateral damage of a badly done job.
Yet maybe these mistakes are guaranteed to keep happening if the exams are changed as frequently as they are currently. Next year, they are getting rid of multiple choice answers in science, as they think it is “too easy” (I’d like to thank anyone and everyone who made it possible for me not to be just one year younger) and as of 2013 all subjects will be non-modular, meaning that all exams will be taken at the end of year eleven. For some this may mean that they have two years to learn everything they need to and will supposedly be at the top of their game at this point; for others this means that they have a few weeks of stress with more exams than could be prevented and hours spent trying to remember something they were taught two years ago and was left without assessment at the time where it was best known. And how will these modifications affect the new English GCSE, which was only changed at the beginning of this (nearly finished) school year. Many are anxious to know whether this will remain the same or whether they will be expected to write essays on half a dozen texts, as well as an anthology exam in the same time frame. These quick changes impact the teachers just as bad: at least the students only have to understand and cope with the system they are sitting, whereas their teachers have to deal with the structure just gone, the one coming in and the one that is most likely to change it all again in a few years’ time.
It seems foolish to think that my opinions will alter the government’s upcoming policies or even the way in which AQA works. The best we can do is hope that in the future they are a little more careful, both with what they choose to keep the same in unchecked papers and with what they choose to change in a process that may already be as good as anything else.