Exam paper setters ‘play it safe’ fearing online backlash

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The fear of being bombarded with hate tweets and Facebook posts has coaxed examiners to set easier question sets, an advisor to Ofqual, the exams regulator, has claimed.

Durham University professor, Robert Coe also said that the exam papers have become too easy and predictable and that ‘low-level thinking’ was increasingly being rewarded in exams.

This has been in response to the increasing number of students taking to the web to complain about being ‘haunted’ in their dreams by the tough questions.

While addressing the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference annual gathering earlier this month, Prof Coe argued that today’s exams are ‘overly predictable’ because of the sense of public backlash that the exam setters would receive on social media. “The students will be complaining [online] straight away – probably not before the exam’s finished but not many minutes after,” said Prof Coe.

Professor Coe recounted the case of a ‘bamboozling’ question about a crocodile stalking its prey as a case where the qualifications authority in Scotland ended up apologising for having written a challenging question. He stated that this example showed how today’s exams rewarded “recall with limited thinking required”, “question spotting”, and “playing safe”.

Refuting these allegations, the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ), which represents the UK’s exam boards, said there was no fear of being innovative with exam questions. Michael Turner, JCQ director general, said: “Teachers can be confident that a huge amount of research and expertise go into creating examination papers so they can properly assess a student’s skill and knowledge – at both end of the grade spectrum.” He further added, “As media stories and Twitter show each year, exam boards are not afraid of being innovative in setting questions. And with the new set of reforms coming, we will see further stretch and challenge in the system.”

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