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

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    To be fair to the exam boards. A 2016 exam paper has to examine a range of ability from about the fortieth percentile upwards, all in one paper. In the 1960s, all the candidates had passed at least two sets of selection tests just to get to sit a paper and so the range was in roughly the 90th percentile upwards.

    Without having several levels of paper the distribution of marks is almost bound to very peaked with the grade boundaries at A/B likely to be very close together. As is the case.

    Essentially, the comparisons are not really like with like.
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    (Original post by PQ)
    On the first point - we had graphical calculators in the 90s for A level maths :yep:
    Whoops, I knew they had been "invented" back then but didn't think their use would be particularly widespread.

    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).
    Sounds rough. At my school at the very least, the standard remedy to most issues is to do past paper questions. Now obviously you had textbooks which contained exercises and past paper questions to supplement the past papers your teachers had, but life sounds much easier when you are one click away from them!
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    (Original post by 16Characters....)
    Whoops, I knew they had been "invented" back then but didn't think their use would be particularly widespread.



    Sounds rough. At my school at the very least, the standard remedy to most issues is to do past paper questions. Now obviously you had textbooks which contained exercises and past paper questions to supplement the past papers your teachers had, but life sounds much easier when you are one click away from them!
    In my maths mock I only noticed the staple in the corner of the page (indicating a second page of questions) with half an hour to go :o:
    At least the exam booklets were decent - but then 2 three hour exams per subject was everything
    EVERYONE had Letts revision guides...they were the only useful resource. To be honest though I was **** at revising, didn't really do any revision for maths or chemistry and only did physics revision because I liked it.
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    (Original post by PQ)
    I was **** at revising, didn't really do any revision for maths or chemistry and only did physics revision because I liked it.
    So students have not changed too much then :P
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    (Original post by PQ)
    The study this thread links to says the difficulty is unchanged since the 90s.
    And other studies say different - certainly Ofqual studies say that, amongst others.

    But I am comparing them to when I was of the age to be doing them which is 40 years ago. I know damn well the maths/science ones are easier now, just look at them never mind do the questions.

    The questions are very often what I call hand holding questions now. The material covered is somewhat similar though some A level maths topics have been pushed into further maths and some seem to have disappeared. However, physics A level now is a bit of a joke to be honest.

    I agree the modular approach is responsible for some of the grade inflation but easier exams is probably the biggest reason.
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    (Original post by etjayne)
    And other studies say different - certainly Ofqual studies say that, amongst others.

    But I am comparing them to when I was of the age to be doing them which is 40 years ago. I know damn well the maths/science ones are easier now, just look at them never mind do the questions.

    The questions are very often what I call hand holding questions now. The material covered is somewhat similar though some A level maths topics have been pushed into further maths and some seem to have disappeared. However, physics A level now is a bit of a joke to be honest.

    I agree the modular approach is responsible for some of the grade inflation but easier exams is probably the biggest reason.
    There's also the perfect storm of expectations
    Universities demand higher grades, schools and colleges are in league tables for grades, students are told over and over that these grades matter

    I don't know the specific content of A levels (and even if I did my A level materials are all long since chucked....except physics :ninjagirl: ) - but I do get fed up with adults belittling the achievements of students because the exam system designed by those adults is apparently not as rigorous as it once was. (the exam system that is currently being rejigged based on the preconceptions of someone who went through the scottish system in the 80s and curriculum 2000 brought in by someone who went through the system in the 70s - although to be fair to David Blunkett he listened to advice from education specialists rather than ignoring all the current research).
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    (Original post by PQ)
    but I do get fed up with adults belittling the achievements of students because the exam system designed by those adults is apparently not as rigorous as it once was..
    Kids are the same as they always were. A Gaussian distribution from the terrible to the great. But compared to days gone by a far higher fraction of poor students are taking A levels. It used to be the top 5% went to a university; now it is, what, 40%. Most of the kids doing A levels today would have failed them four and five decades ago. So what they did was a several decade process of making the exams less rigorous and making them modular. And you end up with what you have today - where an A is easy to get and top universities complain that A level does not separate students out any more. Which is why admissions tests have become more in vogue and lists of "soft A levels" start appearing.
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    (Original post by 16Characters....)
    Whoops, I knew they had been "invented" back then but didn't think their use would be particularly widespread.



    Sounds rough. At my school at the very least, the standard remedy to most issues is to do past paper questions. Now obviously you had textbooks which contained exercises and past paper questions to supplement the past papers your teachers had, but life sounds much easier when you are one click away from them!
    graphing calculators existed in 1987 when I did my A levels... they weren't widespread but some kids had them... they were forbidden in exams though.

    imo time pressure was traditionally part of the exam and allowing candidates to check answers for correctness on a calculator is imo giving them an advantage.

    can confirm past papers weren't used in my school - I think the mock was cobbled together from genuine past papers with the bits we hadn't done yet edited out (monolithic final exam). TBH I think the teachers saw their job more as helping the system do it's job of sorting candidates out rather than beating it.

    Also you didn't get formulae sheets for maths and physics - you had to remember. (probable exception for stats which I didn't do)
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    (Original post by Joinedup)
    Also you didn't get formulae sheets for maths and physics - you had to remember. (probable exception for stats which I didn't do)
    Formulae booklets were in for physics by 97...not for maths though (and given that both had mechanics in you ended up learning the equations anyway...1/3 of our physics class didn't take maths A level - dropped out within 3 months - plus they deliberately left some equations out so learning them [derivation of the formula for an ideal gas] was an easy way to get marks).

    I thought I still had mine but looking it's just my NEAB GCSE Science dual award "data book"
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    (Original post by etjayne)
    And other studies say different - certainly Ofqual studies say that, amongst others.

    But I am comparing them to when I was of the age to be doing them which is 40 years ago. I know damn well the maths/science ones are easier now, just look at them never mind do the questions.

    The questions are very often what I call hand holding questions now. The material covered is somewhat similar though some A level maths topics have been pushed into further maths and some seem to have disappeared. However, physics A level now is a bit of a joke to be honest.

    I agree the modular approach is responsible for some of the grade inflation but easier exams is probably the biggest reason.
    fwiw I just googled this up - a selection old and new physics papers and uni entrance papers with the questions assessed for difficulty and pithily marked in red ink http://www.corpus.cam.ac.uk/mw141/An...s-Qs-small.pdf
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    (Original post by Joinedup)
    fwiw I just googled this up - a selection old and new physics papers and uni entrance papers with the questions assessed for difficulty and pithily marked in red ink http://www.corpus.cam.ac.uk/mw141/An...s-Qs-small.pdf
    I have seen that before and the guy is spot on.
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    (Original post by Joinedup)
    fwiw I just googled this up - a selection old and new physics papers and uni entrance papers with the questions assessed for difficulty and pithily marked in red ink http://www.corpus.cam.ac.uk/mw141/An...s-Qs-small.pdf
    Looking at that I do wonder how much the changes are for the benefit of the exam boards and markers. Especially with more and more papers to be marked and the introduction of electronic marking...the breaking down of components is one way to make exam marking a less skilled and more high volume job.

    The rumours of exam markers marking the first page of a booklet and then making up the overall mark based on that were rife when I was a student (and I know of at least one case where it was true). With applicants now able to get their marked papers back easily and ask for remarks the pressure on the exam boards to do more (and more accurately) with less is substantial.
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    (Original post by PQ)
    Looking at that I do wonder how much the changes are for the benefit of the exam boards and markers. Especially with more and more papers to be marked and the introduction of electronic marking...the breaking down of components is one way to make exam marking a less skilled and more high volume job.
    Or the more likely explanation they were watered down because the average quality of student is far less than 40 years ago. When approximately 8 times as many students are taking them then a lot of those students are the ones who in former times were not good enough to do A levels.

    I am doing A levels this summer because forty years ago I emigrated. I cannot believe how easy they are. This is not boasting it is fact.
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    (Original post by morgan8002)
    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.
    Never had a calculator like this...must have missed out...
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    (Original post by etjayne)
    Or the more likely explanation they were watered down because the average quality of student is far less than 40 years ago. When approximately 8 times as many students are taking them then a lot of those students are the ones who in former times were not good enough to do A levels.

    I am doing A levels this summer because forty years ago I emigrated. I cannot believe how easy they are. This is not boasting it is fact.
    Except far more people took Physics in the 80s than now, according to the Corpus paper, so numbers taking the exam doesn't explain any changes in difficulty.
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    (Original post by shamika)
    Except far more people took Physics in the 80s than now, according to the Corpus paper, so numbers taking the exam doesn't explain any changes in difficulty.
    My understanding from my physicist wife is that the watering down of the physics A-level is even more extreme than that of mathematics. In particular, the mathematical content of A-level physics is now much simpler...
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    (Original post by Gregorius)
    My understanding from my physicist wife is that the watering down of the physics A-level is even more extreme than that of mathematics. In particular, the mathematical content of A-level physics is now much simpler...
    Yup, no calculus :eek: (From what I gathered from friends doing it)
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    (Original post by Gregorius)
    My understanding from my physicist wife is that the watering down of the physics A-level is even more extreme than that of mathematics. In particular, the mathematical content of A-level physics is now much simpler...
    :yep:

    This is my understanding. It's still seen as a hard subject though for some reason. Often A level mathematics is suggested to be taken at colleges offering the subject. An entire class at my old college got E-Us in their mocks for physics :eek:.
    The question in that pdf does look rather light. I think A level chemistry is harder.
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    (Original post by Gregorius)
    My understanding from my physicist wife is that the watering down of the physics A-level is even more extreme than that of mathematics. In particular, the mathematical content of A-level physics is now much simpler...
    I don't disagree with there being a dumbing down*, but we shouldn't be quick to guess at reasons when we have data which invalidates our guesses. Specifically, it can't be that physics is trying to "cater to the masses", because there's been a massive drop in uptake since the 80s.

    *I got ridiculous UMS despite never opening the textbooks, because you could answer questions with just common sense and plugging into formulae (which are given to you). That shouldn't be possible, particularly for someone as stupid as me.
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    (Original post by shamika)
    I don't disagree with there being a dumbing down*, but we shouldn't be quick to guess at reasons when we have data which invalidates our guesses. Specifically, it can't be that physics is trying to "cater to the masses", because there's been a massive drop in uptake since the 80s.
    Yes, I agree.
 
 
 
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