Examination body admits Higher Maths exam was ‘too hard’

Aug 3, 2015 by

Scotland’s exams body admits this year’s new Higher Maths exam was “too hard” but says grading was adjusted.

Scotland’s exams body has admitted the new Higher Maths exam was too hard.

Thousands of students complained the exam in May was more difficult than they had expected.

Changes to the grading system in maths mean that candidates should still get the mark they deserve.

The Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) admission comes as students across Scotland receive their results. Overall there were a record 156,000 Higher passes – up 5.5% on last year.

This year many students sat the new-look Highers which are being phased in this year and next.

The changes to the Highers were designed to help fit them in with broader changes to education in recent years, including the replacement of Standard Grades.

By and large, the changes were not controversial in themselves although a greater number of schools and councils chose to delay introducing the new-look Highers until this academic year.

‘More demanding’

However, the new Higher Maths did provoke a storm after the exam in May.

Many students took to social media, claiming the paper was much more difficult than they had anticipated.

The SQA said the assessment did prove to be more demanding than intended so the grade boundaries were reduced.

It said this ensured that candidates still received the grades they deserved. If someone who received a C last year had sat this year’s exam, they would still have been awarded a C grade.

While this should be a reassurance for students in a year of significant change, questions are bound to be asked about why this happened.

The pass rate for the new Maths Higher was 70.8%, similar to that in previous years.

Education Secretary Angela Constance said: “Despite concerns about the new Higher Maths exam, it’s clear that the system worked, that candidates have been treated fairly, and that standards have been maintained.

“The checks and balances in place ensure that students who would have gained a particular grade in a qualification in any previous year will still have done so at the same grade this year.”

More than 140,000 candidates should receive their results on Tuesday for a wide range of qualifications including National 4s and 5s, Highers and Advanced Highers.

  • Higher English passes were up 17.7% to 27,902
  • Higher modern languages passes increased by 15.2% to 7,419.
  • Advanced Higher passes have increased by 4% to a record level of 18,899.

Ms Constance added: “This is another strong performance by Scotland’s young people.

“They have worked hard, and I congratulate each and every one of them, as well as the families and carers, and teachers and lecturers who have provided support.

“Scotland has seen record numbers of Higher and Advanced Higher passes. Students are performing particularly well in English and in modern languages.”

This year was the second year of the National 4 and 5 qualifications which have replaced Standard Grades. A National 5 is broadly equivalent to a Credit in a Standard Grade or a good pass in an old O Grade.

There was a large increase in National 5 course entries, particularly among those taken beyond fourth year – with 229,870 A-C grades awarded.

S4, 5 and 6 are now grouped together as a “senior phase” in schools. The emphasis is increasingly placed on what qualifications a student has achieved by the time they leave school – usually in S6 – rather than what they have achieved by a particular stage.

A total of 107,295 pupils sat the new Highers

For instance, some academically able youngsters may bypass National 5s to spend longer studying for their Highers.

Dr Janet Brown,. SQA chief executive and Scotland’s chief examining officer, said: “On behalf of everyone at the SQA, I would like to congratulate all candidates on their achievements.

“There is a broadening recognition of the different ways candidates can demonstrate their skills and achieve success, whether it be National 5, the new or existing Higher, Advanced Higher, Skills for Work or National Progression Awards.

“Employers require candidates to display a wide range of qualities. Our assessments and qualifications have been designed to provide people with the skills required to succeed today and in the future whether that be further study, training or employment.”

Skills Development Scotland has a free exam results helpline which can offer advice to candidates whose exam results were poorer – or better – than expected.

Source: Examination body admits Higher Maths exam was ‘too hard’ – BBC News

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