Pearson Edexcel slammed for "completely unreasonable" A-level Maths papers

Students in exam hall
by Hayley Pearce | 13 June 2019

Students say the exam board 'abandoned the specification'

A-level maths students say Pearson Edexcel’s papers so far have been “unfair" because the questions were so different from those in specimen papers and textbooks.

They have gone as far as saying that the exam board’s pure mathematics papers 1 and 2 – sat on Wednesday 5th and Wednesday 12th of June – have negatively impacted their mental health, which has interfered with their revision for their upcoming exams.

Two petitions – one calling for A-level maths students to be awarded their target grades regardless of how they performed and one demanding “support for our mental health following these papers as well as consideration to give us good grades” – have amassed more than 9,000 signatures between them.

TSR member sachinihimara said: “I can't speak for everyone but I'm not mad that it was harder, I'm mad that it was so unlike any of the material we were given to prepare with.

“We were given a full paper of oddly worded abstract questions that did not remotely resemble the specimen papers or the endorsed textbook exercises.”

And tereziscool agreed, saying: “Specimen papers and last year’s papers should be similar to the two papers we sat, but we can all agree they were a little more abstract, especially for timed conditions of two hours.”


The papers have caused some students anxiety about their performance both in this exam and their upcoming exams, with 8Greenorange saying: “I’m still stressing about this exam and I have another exam tomorrow. Fml. This paper is now messing up my revision for my other exams.”

And after Paper 2, FailingXDXDXD posted: “Literally have not stopped crying since 11.”

As well as posting on TSR, students have taken to Twitter and the comments sections on the petitions to vent their frustration.

Twitter user @ThomasBEParker tweeted: "Why can't Edexcel just explicitly ask the questions in the Maths exams? Why did they have to hide what they are asking behind unfamiliar notation intentionally?"

He added: "I have lost the marks to do with integration on that exam, not because I don't understand how to do integration itself, but instead because I couldn't figure out what I was being asked to do and could therefore not apply my skills which I have been learning for the past 2 full years."

    Many others agree with him, saying Pearson Edexcel papers were “poorly written” and impossible to prepare for. 

    One of the petition blurbs states that "students' hopes of attending university have been shattered as a direct result of Edexcel deeming it appropriate to abandon the specification taught over two years."

    One student even said that papers like these are “one reason why teenage suicide is growing.”

    'Grade boundaries will reflect this'

    But some have pointed out that grade boundaries would likely be lowered anyway based on how the exam questions were answered across the country.

    Notnek said: “I totally agree that they were hard and it was tricky to impossible to prepare well for them.”

    He added: “Everyone’s in the same boat so I can understand the frustration but it's not going to affect your overall grade (on average) just because the exam was hard and preparation was tricky. Exam boards could have done so much more to help students prepare and we should all be moaning about this.

    "The posts that I don't agree with are ones that say that say that are going to do worse this year because of the harder exams and that there should be a petition to lower grade boundaries.”

    Barney27 felt the same, saying: “Everyone found it equally hard to prepare for these exams and the easier spec papers did not help, but the grade boundaries will reflect this.”

    Grade boundaries are set by senior examiners with the help of statisticians and other experts, who use a range of evidence including samples of marked papers from the current year and a sample from previous years.

    For more detail on how grade boundaries are decided, read TSR's article What are grade boundaries and should I care about them?

    Exam boards must 'look carefully' at their papers

    Joe Woodcock, community manager at TSR, said: “When a student is taking any exam the most important thing for them is that the questions are clear and comprehensible

    “This is all about ensuring that every student can feel confident about their preparation for each exam.

    “Exam boards need to look carefully at their papers to make sure students taking those exams can clearly understand what’s being asked of them.”

    Sharon Hague, head of Pearson's UK schools organisation, said: "It's really important to understand that we set the grade boundaries for each paper every year. This ensures a level playing field and means that if an individual paper is more challenging in any given year, students will never be disadvantaged.

    "Once the marking is completed, we will be looking at student scripts and statistical data to help us understand whether you have found this paper more or less demanding than previous years and so we can then make a decision about where best to set the final grade boundaries.

    "This helps ensure that a candidate who would have achieved an A, for example, in last year's paper would achieve an A in this year's paper."

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