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A-level maths standards down on 1960s but not on 1990s Watch

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    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-35632198

    Having done a few A-level papers from to 60's and 70's last year, I would probably agree with this. What do others think? (Sorry if it already has been posted today, only just got up)
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    (Original post by zetamcfc)
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-35632198

    Having done a few A-level papers from to 60's and 70's last year, I would probably agree with this. What do others think? (Sorry if it already has been posted today, only just got up)
    I will be back in around 45'
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    I have a few questions about this.

    - Has technology been taken account of? In a world where even scientific calculators can be used to check definite integrals, handle matrices and vectors, and where graphical calculators reduce curve sketching to a mere sequence of buttons, it makes sense that some questions will be easier to complete in 2016 than in 1996, even if they required the same theory.

    - It doesn't surprise me much that papers have not changed much in terms of difficulty, certainly since 2001 (the earliest paper I have completed) the papers have not changed much at all, which is rather the point! Take S2 for example, the papers were nearly identical year on year (with MEI atleast). Do 10 papers and when you sit the exam it will be like the past papers with different numbers. Hence preparation is easy nowadays. Did students of the '90s have the benefit of repetitive papers
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    I agree with the report but there is more to it ...
    It appears there is no more decline but there is due to the super -modular nature of the course ....
    Take PEARSON for example
    in 1995 there were 12 modules in total now 18 and slightly less content (20 modules in fact from 2001 to 2006)
    in 1995 there were 4 "pure/core" modules with more content (now there are 7)

    Maths A level in 2016 as a measure of mathematical proficiency
    • for non mathematicians is accessible and inclusive
    • for mathematicians to be is a joke
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    (Original post by 16Characters....)
    I have a few questions about this.

    - Has technology been taken account of? In a world where even scientific calculators can be used to check definite integrals, handle matrices and vectors, and where graphical calculators reduce curve sketching to a mere sequence of buttons, it makes sense that some questions will be easier to complete in 2016 than in 1996, even if they required the same theory.
    How does a definite integral at A-level become easier with a calculator? Also if you were to rely on a graphical calculator to sketch a graph you will not have a chance of getting a C thus kind of pointless for this comparison. Calculators merely speed things up, until Wolfram Alpha pro comes coded into a calculator, I don't see that it has any great advantage.
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    (Original post by zetamcfc)
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-35632198

    Having done a few A-level papers from to 60's and 70's last year, I would probably agree with this. What do others think? (Sorry if it already has been posted today, only just got up)
    I think it's fair, but I'm sure this type of study has been done previously so not sure why someone needed to repeat it

    (Original post by 16Characters....)
    I have a few questions about this.

    - Has technology been taken account of? In a world where even scientific calculators can be used to check definite integrals, handle matrices and vectors, and where graphical calculators reduce curve sketching to a mere sequence of buttons, it makes sense that some questions will be easier to complete in 2016 than in 1996, even if they required the same theory.
    The study shows differences between 1960s and now, not 1990s and now, but I think that's a fair point - you can end up depending on the calculator to do a lot for you. I certainly did during my A-levels. Without it, I can see a lot of people struggling to cope without it.

    - It doesn't surprise me much that papers have not changed much in terms of difficulty, certainly since 2001 (the earliest paper I have completed) the papers have not changed much at all, which is rather the point! Take S2 for example, the papers were nearly identical year on year (with MEI atleast). Do 10 papers and when you sit the exam it will be like the past papers with different numbers. Hence preparation is easy nowadays. Did students of the '90s have the benefit of repetitive papers
    I think this is the reason why grade boundaries have become so ridiculous these days, and my guess is that it's the single biggest reason why standards are broadly comparable to 20 years ago.

    (Original post by TeeEm)
    I agree with the report but there is more to it ...
    It appears there is no more decline but there is due to the super -modular nature of the course ....
    Take PEARSON for example
    in 1995 there were 12 modules in total now 18 and slightly less content (20 modules in fact from 2001 to 2006)
    in 1995 there were 4 "pure/core" modules with more content (now there are 7)

    Maths A level in 2016 as a measure of mathematical proficiency
    • for non mathematicians is accessible and inclusive
    • for mathematicians to be is a joke
    Between 1996 and 2001 what came off the syllabus? I'm not aware of anything in either pure or mechanics. Between 2001 and now, in core/pure I'm aware of intrinsic coordinates being taken out of what was P5 (because it was only in for M6). Clearly M6/S5/S6 have been taken out, but S6 had no maths in it anyway so that's not too much of a loss.

    I do agree with the overall point but it's inportant to be balanced. I wouldn't have been able to manage the UMS I did if I were to take the exams now, simply because of how ridiculous grade boundaries have become. For the top students, getting an A* is stressful - we only had to worry about getting an A. (On the other hand, they don't get to do S5 or M6 which is a real shame because both of those were good modules with genuinely interesting maths in them. M6 less than S5 though.)
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    (Original post by zetamcfc)
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-35632198

    Having done a few A-level papers from to 60's and 70's last year, I would probably agree with this. What do others think? (Sorry if it already has been posted today, only just got up)
    It's interesting reading the paper that the BBC article links to, to see how little data such studies are based on. In this case 66 scripts were retrieved from Ofqual covering four different years at three grade boundaries (one year/grade boundary combination had no data). Not really a comprehensive study from a statistician's point of view.

    Anecdotally, it very celar that the standard expected of an A grade in the 1960's was well in advance of what is expected now. However this is to be expected, as policy decisions dictated a requirement that A-level maths became a facilitative qualification for many other disciplines and for far more students.

    As for changes more recently, I don't really have an opinion as I haven't looked in detail; syllabuses appear to have been relatively constant - but what is unclear is how standards of marking have changed in that time. Certainly at other levels and in other subjects (my wife is an examiner for one of the big exam boards) there appears to be a great deal of leniency in marking these days.
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    (Original post by Gregorius)
    It's interesting reading the paper that the BBC article links to, to see how little data such studies are based on. In this case 66 scripts were retrieved from Ofqual covering four different years at three grade boundaries (one year/grade boundary combination had no data). Not really a comprehensive study from a statistician's point of view.

    Anecdotally, it very celar that the standard expected of an A grade in the 1960's was well in advance of what is expected now. However this is to be expected, as policy decisions dictated a requirement that A-level maths became a facilitative qualification for many other disciplines and for far more students.

    As for changes more recently, I don't really have an opinion as I haven't looked in detail; syllabuses appear to have been relatively constant - but what is unclear is how standards of marking have changed in that time. Certainly at other levels and in other subjects (my wife is an examiner for one of the big exam boards) there appears to be a great deal of leniency in marking these days.
    Is further maths more comparable to the standard required in the '60s?
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    (Original post by Kvothe the arcane)
    Is further maths more comparable to the standard required in the '60s?
    Difficult question to answer. The focus of FM has always been to do with a wider coverage of mathematics than the ordinary maths "A" level. What is hard for me to gauge is the extent to which the treatment of the content of FM is harder than M. The FM papers of today look to me to be quite straightforward - but then I've had a bit more practice!

    Perhaps current students might like to comment.
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    (Original post by Gregorius)
    Difficult question to answer. The focus of FM has always been to do with a wider coverage of mathematics than the ordinary maths "A" level. What is hard for me to gauge is the extent to which the treatment of the content of FM is harder than M. The FM papers of today look to me to be quite straightforward - but then I've had a bit more practice!

    Perhaps current students might like to comment.
    Well for me the papers in the 60's and 70's seem a lot like the FM papers of today. As in they cover pretty much the same topics.
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    Papers today hand hold the student through questions much more than they did a few decades ago. A question back then would ask something like solve the following 2nd order inhomogeneous differential equation - 15 marks.

    Today the question is more likely to be - solve the following quadratic. Hence write down the general solution of the following homogeneous differential equation. Now try a particular integral of the form blah blah blah - hence solve the following inhomogeneous differential equation - total of 15 marks.

    Same question being asked but the modern version breaks it down and nannies you through the question - effectively jogging your mind if you've forgotten things.
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    (Original post by zetamcfc)
    How does a definite integral at A-level become easier with a calculator? Also if you were to rely on a graphical calculator to sketch a graph you will not have a chance of getting a C thus kind of pointless for this comparison. Calculators merely speed things up, until Wolfram Alpha pro comes coded into a calculator, I don't see that it has any great advantage.
    Use the calculator to substitute some limits into the indefinite integral as you've found it and hence calculate the definite integral. Use the calculator to numerically calculate the definite integral between the same limits. Compare these values and you know if you've got the question right.
    For things like finding the product of matrices, calculating determinants, sketching graphs or solving systems of equations it's even easier to use the calculator to check your answers.
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    i guess that today's A level ≈ O level Additional Maths of 1970s ?
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    (Original post by the bear)
    i guess that today's A level ≈ O level Additional Maths of 1970s ?
    I don't think that's entirely accurate. There is plenty of stuff in A level these days that wasn't covered in Additional Maths.
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    (Original post by Gregorius)
    Difficult question to answer. The focus of FM has always been to do with a wider coverage of mathematics than the ordinary maths "A" level. What is hard for me to gauge is the extent to which the treatment of the content of FM is harder than M. The FM papers of today look to me to be quite straightforward - but then I've had a bit more practice!

    Perhaps current students might like to comment.
    There are certainly topics that used to be in Maths in days of yore that have migrated into FM these days (e.g. complex numbers, hyperbolic functions, reduction formulae, inverse trig integrals!), and topics that have disappeared entirely, or been reduced greatly, from FM (e.g. use of plane polar coords in mechanics, geometry of conic sections). So overall, yes, I think that at the top end, the A level treatment of maths is a lot thinner than it used to be.

    Anyway, aren't you a don (sitting, no doubt, on a comfortable leather chair in an oak-lined SCR, sipping port, and puffing on a pipe)? I would have thought that you had access to the stats that would prove/disprove this kind of argument e.g. have universities had to change first-year syllabi due to weaknesses in current applicants, have they introduced remedial maths for science students, and that kind of info?
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    (Original post by atsruser)
    Anyway, aren't you a don (sitting, no doubt, on a comfortable leather chair in an oak-lined SCR, sipping port, and puffing on a pipe)?
    I'm in York, not Cambridge. After I've finished my black pudding for lunch, I shall be off to give the whippet a run in the fields. :sheep:

    I would have thought that you had access to the stats that would prove/disprove this kind of argument e.g. have universities had to change first-year syllabi due to weaknesses in current applicants, have they introduced remedial maths for science students, and that kind of info?
    I expect I do, if I had the time to go digging. But from our practical point of view, the effect is so obvious it really doesn't need any great study. We assume much less mathematically of students arriving these days - specialists and non-specialists in mathematics - and, yes, first year maths courses start at a much lower level than thirty years ago and we need to run remedial sessions for students in other disciplines.
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    (Original post by 16Characters....)
    I have a few questions about this.

    - Has technology been taken account of? In a world where even scientific calculators can be used to check definite integrals, handle matrices and vectors, and where graphical calculators reduce curve sketching to a mere sequence of buttons, it makes sense that some questions will be easier to complete in 2016 than in 1996, even if they required the same theory.

    - It doesn't surprise me much that papers have not changed much in terms of difficulty, certainly since 2001 (the earliest paper I have completed) the papers have not changed much at all, which is rather the point! Take S2 for example, the papers were nearly identical year on year (with MEI atleast). Do 10 papers and when you sit the exam it will be like the past papers with different numbers. Hence preparation is easy nowadays. Did students of the '90s have the benefit of repetitive papers
    On the first point - we had graphical calculators in the 90s for A level maths :yep:

    On the second point - absolutely not. Pre internet past papers were difficult to come by. Teachers had them - but only for whichever exam board that school was using at the time. Switching to a new exam board was extremely risky. The papers were repetitive within each exam board but the access to students for revision purposes was non-existent (at least in my school).

    All that being said - my highest offer (not for Maths...I did A level that was enough!) was from Durham and Bristol - both asking for BCC. And I had offers from Cardiff, Edinburgh, Royal Holloway and Sheffield for CCC/18 points (ie CCC equivalent). Noone asked for As (and not for straight As) back then except a very small selection of courses. See http://www.thestudentroom.co.uk/showthread.php?t=700114 for published offers from 2001. Offer inflation went through the roof following the introduction of Curriculum 2000 (hit universities in 2002) when the AS and A level performance was tied together and resits became common.

    So the difficulty might not have changed but the expectations for grades has changed a bunch.
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    And now I'm caught in archive.org laughing at old university websites
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    (Original post by PQ)
    So the difficulty might not have changed but the expectations for grades has changed a bunch.
    Can't speak for non-maths/non-sciences but the difficulty has changed a great deal. Hence the modern day grade inflation and the expectation from universities. They are asking for AAA now because there is little differentiation to be had these days. Anyone half decent gets A grades. Also that is why A* was introduced and why Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial use things like STEP, AEA, MAT for certain departments admissions. They found A level was not separating people out. Looking at todays A level maths and physics a lot of it is spoon feeding.
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    (Original post by etjayne)
    Can't speak for non-maths/non-sciences but the difficulty has changed a great deal. Hence the modern day grade inflation and the expectation from universities. They are asking for AAA now because there is little differentiation to be had these days. Anyone half decent gets A grades. Also that is why A* was introduced and why Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial use things like STEP, AEA, MAT for certain departments admissions. They found A level was not separating people out. Looking at todays A level maths and physics a lot of it is spoon feeding.
    The study this thread links to says the difficulty is unchanged since the 90s.

    What has changed since the 90s is the introduction of modular A levels, availability of past papers and resits becoming common - the content is the same difficulty but the tools and structure of the exams makes higher grades more common...and it was when those hit in 2002/3 that had a substantial impact on university offers.

    Don't forget that introduction of modular and AS/A2 linking also had a substantial impact on continuation. A student likely to get Us or Es at A level isn't going to carry on past AS level. In the 90s the first you'd know about the fact that you were not doing well was your final grades after 2 years. The proportions of students getting lower grades was greater back then because the early indicators for failure were extremely poor and so students wasted years studying for exams they were destined to fail. See http://www.jcq.org.uk/examination-re...ts-summer-2001 - in 2001 4% of A level entries were U grades, another 6% were N grades and another 12% were Es - that's just under a QUARTER of all entries getting an E or lower and a shocking waste...if those students had directed their efforts elsewhere earlier then the tail of poor achievers disappears and the average grade shoots up.

    STEP isn't new, AEAs replaced S levels and admissions for certain courses/universities were always supplemented by additional tests.

    The only new thing has been the introduction of the A* (which given I had A* GCSEs in 1995 was always going to happen)
 
 
 
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