Exams aren’t as easy as A,B,C

MANY thanks to columnist Gita Conn for asking us to remember those who did not gain As in their school exams.

Man and boy, I saw four changes to the OL, GCE/CSE and GCSE exams.

And last week’s Any Questions/Answers exposed that although all the panel and questioners had sat exams, maybe one had marked or ranked them.

There was indignation that pass marks should be 50 per cent or that results be published as the percentage of the marks gained.

Both these numbers are movable feasts that depend on the purpose of the exam.

The best image of an exam is a race — whether horses, cyclists or on the road. You have the leaders, about two-thirds in the central pack and the tail.

The leaders and tail will be a sixth each and the central pack should also halve evenly to bestride “average” — itself a variable.

Most think of the “mean” but pay talks are around the “median” (half way between the lowest and highest). Then there is the mode or biggest sub-group as in fashion’s “a la mode”. This is why we moved from straight percentage results in the 50s to grades because too many applicants were being told to resit for an extra five per cent or even three per cent.

If you are training a large group in basic skills, you need a test and mark scheme with a high pass mark.

And as it is not rocket science, expect 85 per cent of the entry, leaders and central pack to clear the hurdle.

The purpose is to check on the teaching and find those who need extra training to be of use.

If you are picking candidates for some specialist and complex task, then the pass is going to be lower so that all who have studied conscientiously get some reward and certified a certain competence, while the top grades can be more discriminating to indicate promise as in firsts for outstanding graduates.

Frank Adam,

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