A level examinations are necessary
In our country (that is, Great Britain), we have public school examinations for GCSE, AS and A2 level subjects. To get into universities as well as to access better employment opportunities, good grades from these exams are required (typically, a Cambridge natural science course offer is for example, 2A*s and an A). Some criticise the current system for emphasising more on exam techniques as opposed to applied knowledge, leading to students simply practice (i.e. memorise facts) for exams. Students supposedly retain limited knowledge from their subjects, or at least cannot apply their knowledge for real-life scenarios. In other words, 'jumping the hoops'.
Although I believe their must be some reforms to the current system, I would like to defend the formal examination system (or the 'status quo' if you prefer) in this debate.
First round is acceptance.
Second is for the opening arguments
Third is for rebuttal/more arguments
Fourth is for closing arguments
I now turn to my respected contender.
Oh, it's my turn. OK, I'll make mine brief.
I believe that the current examination system is not a limiting factor on our knowledge or our creativity for that matter.
Firstly, grading provides incentive. Students will be motivated to work harder, especially if good grades will 'get them far in life'. The current system differentiates students into different grades: A*, A, B, C, D, E and U for A level as an example. It is not being 'condescending' by separating them by grades- instead, because some students get As and Bs in some subjects and Es and Ds in others simply means that they will 'specialize' into their best subjects.
Although we may be distasteful of the horrible seats as well as (possibly) having to sit in absolute silence, the examination system is a standardised system. It is systematically controlled so that very little factors can provide some students with unfair advantages. A typical exam room consists of separate tables per student, each about 1.5m to 2m apart from the adjacent table. The student must be absolutely silent to ensure no communication. The starting time and finishing time given for candidates are the same. All these ensure a 'level playing field' for examination candidates, and to ensure that it is the candidate, not his friend next to him, that knows the answer.
The controlled environment provides the additional challenge of time, so that the candidates are forced to keep a track of it. This is representative of real life scenarios, whereby assignments must be completed on time. It teaches candidates to cope with stressful situations which may occur in the line of work, time being the most obvious. I do not see much problem with practising examination techniques. I believe that the criticism of the emphasis on exam techniques over application of knowledge is out of proportion.
For example, this is a question from AQA AS Physics A, unit 2, June 2013 (refer to page 2 of the exam paper at http://filestore.aqa.org.uk... ) Source: AQA
This particular question gives an example of a potential real-life scenario. This question requires (albeit simple) mathematical reasoning, as opposed to using a set of keywords. The questions asked every year in regard to mechanics and waves are different- thus mathematical reasoning, as opposed to what we stereotypically call 'exam techniques', are more important.
Let us take another subject for example. Looking at context two of AQA AS macroeconomics, June 2013 series.
Refer to pages 14 and 15 on http://filestore.aqa.org.uk...
The last question, the '25 marker', helps to develop the students' essay writing skills, critical thinking as well as data analysis. Real life data and articles are given. If you look at the mark scheme of AS economics, the examiners actually encourage strong evaluation as well as broad understanding of the subject. Candidates are credited for 'reading around the subject'- quoting the Economist magazine, well-known economics books like the Road to Serfdometc. For example, to obtain AO4 level, the candidates are required to have 'good (evaluation) with clear final judgment' (Source: http://filestore.aqa.org.uk... ). This phenomenon is not exclusive to economics- other social sciences and humanities like history and geography also require one to have clear judgment as well as deep understanding of the subjects concerned.
As one can see, the exam boards are trying their best to equip the candidates with useful knowledge related to their subjects. Admittedly there had been controversies such as OCR's 'impossible' physics paper this year. But the exams nevertheless teach us other important skills like time management, evaluation, data analysis and mathematical reasoning.
I would like to thank my esteemed opponent for accepting the challenge, I now turn the argument to him...
The issue with the grade system is the over-emphasis on it. 85 marks for a B, 86 marks for an A (hypothetically). Does this sound like a fair system if that could be the difference between getting into university or not?
For me, the standardised nature of the system is the issue. It trains for hoop-jumping and actually causes some students to have disadvantages. Most exams are catered to explanatory skill in writing, although some of the more able students may have issues with their explanatory skills in that area and prefer to explain orally, of which if they were examined, may be exceptional.
This system can only be a level playing field if you assume all students to be the same in their preferred method. The thing is, we aren't robots my friend. Different people have different skillsets, and a standardised system may lose valuable people to the trap of lower grades. Generally people with a natural talent in a subject learn and perform in a unique way, and are unlikely to perform well in exams, while people who are great at exams are less likely to be able to use their knowledge on the subject in practise.
A single exam is also an issue, especially with a time stamp. Limited time can cause people to rush their exams, and skim read questions, especially if they know they aren't a fast writer. This can cause the issue of candidates who are generally superior perform worse because of the fact that they can't transfer mental information onto paper as fast, while retaining more than their fellow students.
As much as this time stamp is a mock of real life in the workplace, this is not a good argument, as in the workplace, one is able to use resources and therefore doesn't need to retain information. Also, other situations in the workplace like teamwork would be applicable under that argument too. Although learning to perform well in a high-stress environment is a worthy skill, and on a deadline, it is still absurd to ask someone to give scientific explanations in a limited time, which is why Bill O'Reilly only gives small windows for his 'guests' (when scientists come on the show) to explain reasonably complex things that he disagrees with, and so it is always ineffective.
Also take into account these are the same people who sat exams like this in the past, and so they have jumped through the hoops and still can't explain in a high-stress situation.
Although that kind of example is an extreme, it does highlight that adequate time should be allowed, as even the best need time to explain adequately.
Another issue of overstandardisation is the "one explanation fits all" mark scheme.
When one is to move into a field of study, and were to educate others, the delivery is different to different audiences. For example, a layman audience is going to be filled more with analogies and basics, while an expert audience is looking for detailed and specific information, generally with a large amount of technical language and most likely are less bothered with charisma. This issue is what plagues the exam system, how much explanation does it want? Over explain, and waste time (another blow to time limits) and the other risks inadequate explanation. This is a part of exam technique, which can be an issue for many people who are less adept at suiting it to an ambiguous audience. You can't really ask the examiner, "how far do you want me to go with this?"
Although not every exam question is plagued with this issue, and you can rightly point to questions that don't, but it doesn't mean none of them are.
I think that a more individual approach to student evaluation is definitely superior, as it means less mistakes for slower, but otherwise educated students, and allows the student to find their best method of delivery.
Back to you my good friend...
Thank you for your argument.
You mentioned the 'unfairness' of the grading system- I would like to rebute this claim. It is true that a student may feel disappointed that he or she missed the grade by one or two marks, but there are several factors to consider. For example, every AQA, EdExcel and OCR sciences are comprised of three units for AS, three for A2. A scenario whereby one misses an A grade for example for one of the unit is not very likely to be repeated in the other papers. The overall results are calculated to generate a grade, which will change in proportion to the 'difficulty' of the paper (though arbitrary, the distribution will be reflected in the distribution of the raw marks). Furthermore, this scenario does not happen every time, and that if a student does JUST get an A in his/her AS, it will make a difference as to how easy it will be for him/her to attain an A or A* overall in his A level. To further reinforce my point, I would like to point out that the UMS is shown on the result sheet (though not necessarily on the certificate). Moreover, some university will lower grade requirements if one NARROWLY misses the required grade (i.e. 1 or 2 marks) if other supplementary projects are carried out- for example, LSE stated that:
'LSE recognises and values the addition of the Extended Project (EP) to the post 16 curriculum, although we acknowledge that not all applicants will have the opportunity to complete one. For this reason, it is not normally included in any conditional offer that we make. However, the skills of independent study and research which can be demonstrated through the EP are clearly good preparation for undergraduate study. We therefore encourage those of you who are undertaking an EP to make reference to it in your application. Whilst the grade that you achieve for your EP may not be specified in any conditional offer, it may be taken into consideration in the summer if you narrowly miss your A level grades. '
Also, for the other points, I would like to point out that exam boards such as AQA take into 'special considerations' for students with special needs:
This demonstrates that the exam boards are not as rigid as some make it out to be. In fact, I might add that such a proposition that public exams are more to do with rote learning is a straw man argument made by certain chemistry teacher/ conspiracy theorist (only my opponent will get the reference xD)
You said that 'Limited time can cause people to rush their exams, and skim read questions'
Firstly, I have mentioned that exam boards do take into account of special needs (see above). I must also reiterate that although it seems harsh, limited time is given as another mean of 'filtering' candidates. To give candidates a set amount of time is not the same as encouraging them to 'rush' their work. A slight digression- as an economist, we understand that human beings must deal with alternative use of limited resources. In this case, the resource is time- productivity of work is about both speed and quality. I personally think that 1 hour and 30 minutes for OCR mathematics modules, 1 hour 15 minutes for AQA AS biology unit 1, as well as 2 hours for GCSE English literature (which is ample time) are sufficient for the production of decent works. Also, I might add that some exams, such as the ISA practicals for science (which in reality really do test one's practical and scientific skills) allow unlimited time.
I might also add I don't see any connection between Bill O'Reilly the crazy creationist and this particular topic.
Regarding the 'one size fits all' argument, perhaps you are confusing general topics covered with this proposition. Except for this AS unit 2 biology, of 46 past papers I have used, ranging over 6 subjects, almost all of them cover a broad range of topics in their respective unit, as well as drawing some topics from earlier units to make sure it isn't just a memory test.
I now turn to you, comrade...
The EP is not necessarily cost-free as it sounds. In that example, the extra time is spent on the project rather than possibly studying, of which is why it is taken into account. However, someone cannot choose to then start the EP after their exam if their results are not as high as expected, so it's a bit of a red herring.
The disadvantages that can count are those that show up in simple tests of which I have personally completed. They are for visual memory, reading ability and spelling. These tests should only flag up when a student has a learning disability such as dyslexia, and other afflictions like ADD can pass by unnoticed. As I was given the tests to search for any issue with learning difficulties like this, I was found to be the highest performer in the tests the department had ever seen. Undiagnosed attention deficits and other difficulties can cause a disadvantage in an exam, as I have trouble keeping focus in some tests (even in the middle of answering questions I have to stop my mind trailing off!) but gain no extra support, and can be given none through the school.
So this actually leads quite well into the next argument. For every second I lose focus, I have lost time in an exam. I daze out for five minutes, I am already at a serious disadvantage. My first exam, the final five minutes was pivotal. Ianswered ten marks worth of questions out of an available 72 in those last couple of minutes.
Filtering for the ability to answer questions quickly is fundamentally flawed. That was why I referenced Bill O'Reilly (he actually isn't a creationist, he believes in god-guided evolution - don't tell him how that doesn't make sense) as explaining a scientific concept in a short space of time is woefully inadequate and so is a pointless task. The best explanations are those that take longer, as more can be explained in that time. I do not think that someone who spends longer explaining is necessarily worse. It is a lazy method of selecting people, it is just those who can jump through hoops and do it faster. Is that what an education system really wants out of their students?
I am not sure what you got from the one size argument, but what I mean is that it assumes the ability to explain to one audience, the exam board, can be extrapolated to other areas. I myself feel more comfortable explaining to laymen scientific concepts, while others may prefer to explain to more educated folk.
As for the cariacature (not a strawman, as that can't really apply to this area) of rote-learning I would agree. My issue is the way that it focuses extremely hard on "explain the way we like it" of which has by no means infected every question on every exam, but the actual requirement of knowledge is very little.
Your move... *leans back smugly*
I understand your concern with the 'one mark makes all the difference' argument. However, though I am by no means saying that the current system is perfect, the purpose of the grades is not to encourage one to 'just hop over', but to excel. I know that people are often against this, but we must have a way of differentiating two 'groups' of individuals based on abilities. We cannot have a blurred boundary which does not differentiate between an A and a B easily. Regarding university grades- it is the fault of the universities, not the exam board or the examination system, which are responsible for the 'one mark difference' problem. Even then, as two Cambridge applicants from my school have testified, the offers made by universities such as Cambridge is not always just a grade- UMS, or more specifically a small range of UMS values, are considered and required by these institutions. Furthermore, though the website of the University of Cambridge claims that typical grades required for natural science are A*A*A, in reality this may be much higher or even lower occasionally, though I do apologise for my lack of knowledge for the reason behind the variation. But the point is, even the universities do not necessarily make rigid requirements.
As for my comment on Mr H's straw man, I should make it clear that it is a straw man argument in which he had given the impression that we are trying to memorise the specific mechanisms, mark schemes etc. of PUBLIC EXAMINATION, not rote learning (rote learning is not what I said).
Public examinations are controlled tests whereby a whole variety of topics are tested, so that one cannot just simply focus too much on a particular topic, e.g. tissue fluid (I might add I received a 'pleasant' surprise when I sat the Biology AS unit 2 paper). It is rather the students' misunderstanding of the examination system, coupled with the teachers' misinformation, which has lead to students to believe that learning is all about 'passing the exams'. To an extend that is true, but it is also to give students the necessary information from the subject. It is easy for grammar school and gifted candidates, to dismiss the examination system as simply memorising the mark scheme, while ignoring the Cs, Ds, Es etc. Moreover, the specifications of exam boards give a list of all the topics to revise for- this is not to encourage memorizing exam techniques but rather, to inform students what the course covers. Students tend to overlook non-specification contents being taught- but they are also important as supplements to some application questions which may come up in AS or A2 exams.
Regarding limited time, I may have failed to mention that some students may be eligible to have extra time.
You may not be able to concentrate during the exams, that is not to say the exam board has caused your discomfort- but rather the conditions of the examination room must be improved. Also, no offence, you must train your concentration skills, as a vast majority of students should have (at least from personal testaments). Hence, I must say the exams do not just train your subject skills, but a whole variety of other skills such as time management (though this is flexible), concentration, critical thinking (in arts and humanities), data analysis and essay writing. I am sorry if science subjects are very objective- but like I said, the purpose of the exam board is to equip you with 'foundation' knowledge from the specification from which you can build up your future scientific learning. Again, to reiterate, time is not a luxury you can always afford not just in the exams.
Regarding more flexible ways of examining candidates like 'mathematics speaking examination', that is not necessarily contradictory to standardised examination. We can still use this to generate grades for universities, differentiate between able and less able students for a particular subject. However, it must still be standardised (albeit with a flexible mark scheme) in order for it to be able to identify excellent students.
To close my argument, I would like to defend the proposition of keeping the public examination system, albeit with more flexible mark schemes and more, but concise units for each subjects. The current examination system is constantly being improved. The problem of 'dumbing down' can be reversed. Standardised examination with several exam boards in competition give schools choices and pressure the boards to not reduce/improve their quality, while it ensures that the national curriculum being taught do not include ridiculous pseudosciences like cdesign proponentsism (i.e. a typo of Intelligent Design) or astrology being taught in science classes. It ensures that every student receive a minimum standard in their secondary education, as well as ensuring a controlled, fair condition to test their abilities. Though it's not perfect, I must add it IS NOT the only way (but still the most important way) to be successful. The supposed monopoly of A levels on success is overrated.
Thank you for your time and that of the audience, may the best man win.
I now rest my case. Please vote pro
The universities mould their evaluation process in response to the examination system, and so changing the exam system would change the universities.
"Rote learning is not what I said"
"This demonstrates that the exam boards are not as rigid as some make it out to be. In fact, I might add that such a proposition that public exams are more to do with ROTE LEARNING is a straw man argument made by certain chemistry teacher/ conspiracy theorist (only my opponent will get the reference xD)"
Yes it was what you said.
"...which has lead students to believe that learning is just about passing exams"
No the issue is the fact that given limited teaching time, teachers and students alike realise that exams are the bottom line. It is a sad fact, but it has become the main incentive.
Students and teachers will both agree that learning is so much more than passing exams.
"It is easy for gifted students to dismiss the exam system as memorising the mark scheme"
But that's where it's the most competitive and important! That's where those several marks make a difference.
"I may have failed to mention students get extra time"
Some who may need it are often not able to get it.
"You must train your concentration"
If that were the issue, that motivation or something were possible to improve my concentration, I don't think it would happen in an exam, where my willpower is at its highest.
"I am sorry if science subjects are very objective"
Science is objective. It's the method that needs more flexibility and lenience.
"Time is not a luxury you can always afford"
What I mean is that the exams are an unrealistic time limit. No scientist will ever have to do that level of work in 75 minutes.
"It has to be standardised to identify excellent students"
Excellent cookie-cutter students. The best don't always fit e.g. Einstein, Bill Gates.
"Exam boards in competition" "Dumbing down can be reversed"
Choose one. The competition causes the dumbing down and grade inflation. Schools choose the exam board that gets them the best set of grades - lower schools will choose the ones that give the least low grades, and the best will choose the ones that maximise high grades.
"The standard curriculum prevents pseudosciences being taught"
State regulation does that, as far as I know, there is a national curriculum and then there is an exam curriculum on top of that.
I think that exhausts my arguments. That was a seriously good debate.
Vote for who you agree with!
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