Every year around this time the great debate begins: Are exams getting easier? This year I have tangible proof that exams are in fact getting harder - English A Level exams at least. Having just finished teaching the gender question to Year 12 and helped moderate their coursework, I can safely say mark schemes seem to be weighted against success.
The group I've been teaching have been struggling to shape all the research they've studied into essay structures. Attempting to help them, I found both old and new “sample essays”. In order to show a range of responses, I had to dig around in teaching files unused for the last eight or nine years. Here I found an “A grade” essay marked by a more experienced teacher I shadowed in my earlier teaching days.
Reading this practise exam script, I was doubtful whether it would still achieve a top grade now and compared it with the most recent mark scheme. Still sceptical, I conferred with a colleague and my suspicions were confirmed – this once-great essay would now likely be graded at a B or C, rather than the A it was originally deemed worthy of.
In the past, there's been a whole variety of research done attempting to prove or disprove the claim that exams are getting easier and education is being “dumbed down”. As a teacher who has been through the education system and remembers the days of exams, without this week's revelation my gut instinct has always veered towards exams getting progressively trickier over the years.
Back in my day, pupils were allowed to annotate set texts to take them into exams and there seemed to be less sections for each exam – not to mention less topics to study and literary/linguistic terminology knocking about. Students now are expected to learn far more to succeed and complete more questions but given no extra time to do so.
Twenty years ago, more independent research was encouraged and students were frequently left to their own devices whereas now pupils are a lot more dependent on the teacher for success.The main difference is in the way that I was taught and the way teachers now deliver lessons. The focus today is much more on how to approach exam questions, structure essays and a lot more exam practise is done because schools are much more results driven due to the pressures of league tables.
As a direct result of this qualification-driven society, more students are applying for Universities, realising employers expect a greater level of education from their prospective employees. The birth of the Internet has also had a huge impact on the modern brain, exposing us to huge swathes of information and perhaps as a result improving the nation's average IQ. This theory is supported by the existence of the term “The Flynn Effect”, coined to describe the gradual improvement in IQ scores (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/aug/21/ben-goldacre-bad-science-exams). So cynics, leave those kids alone!