‘It had nothing to do with biology!’ a 15 year-old told me after she’d taken her AQA GCSE biology Higher Unit 1 paper today.
She’d spent time revising; she did mind maps; she downloaded past AQA biology papers to practice. She thought she'd done enough.
But she’s not happy. She, like thousands of her peers, feel she hasn’t been given a chance to shine.
One of the questions contained a table showing the percentage of girls and boys who drank particular alcoholic drinks: beer, lager, cider. She was asked to compare the amount of alcohol consumed and then use the data to disprove a statement like, ‘All boys drink alcohol’.
This sounds more like statistics than biology.
Another question was about ‘an independent company’. Business studies, surely?
The paper created a Twitter storm. One student was furious that she’d ‘wasted the last two years learning the carbon cycle, IVF and hormones for no reason.’ Another wanted a refund for the money spent on a revision guide which included nothing that appeared in the exam. A third wrote:
‘NOTHING on hormones/menstrual cycle. NOTHING on cloning. NOTHING on vaccination. Who designed this exam, the drunk hamsters?’
An AQA spokesman told the Telegraph: "Exams aren't meant to be easy and students are obviously going to tweet about that, but there was nothing wrong with this paper.’
The Telegraph quotes ex-teacher, Pete Langley, founder of Get Revising, who advised students ‘not to panic’. "They’re not alone in feeling this way, we are seeing a record number of posts about the AQA GCSE Biology exam on The Student Room which can provide some reassurance post-exam.”
Langley said it sounded like the exam was ‘really tough’ which could leave pupils ‘feeling disappointed after all the hard work they’ve put into preparing for it.’
It doesn’t appear to be just disappointment over a ‘tough’ exam. The students on Twitter felt the exam hadn’t given them the chance to demonstrate the work they’d put in.
Students have two more AQA Science papers to take: Chemistry and Physics. Today’s experience will have left many feeling angry and wondering if the next two papers will be as poorly written as the Biology paper appeared to be.
This isn’t the first time AQA has faced criticism over a science paper. Last year their GCSE Chemistry exam contained a passage which answered one of the questions. On that occasion, pupils used Twitter to express their glee. Today, however, pupils are tweeting their anger.
If exams are to be of any use to pupils, future employers, university admission tutors or companies offering apprenticeships, they must be reliable. If papers seem unfair, overly difficult or too easy, if grade boundaries fluctuate from year to year, then confidence in the exam system is destroyed. And the greatest losers are the young people, like the one I spoke to today, who take exams which don't appear to be fit for purpose.
AQA needs to explain and justify today's Higher Unit 1 Biology paper.
UPDATE 30 May 08.45 Schools Week published this comment by a parent of a pupil taking AQA Biology in its Readers' Reply column 27 May 2016 (comment not available on line):
'My son checked the cover of his GCSE biology paper twice during the exam as he thought he must have been given the wrong paper by mistake. So did his friend and so, according to social media, did other students. It wasn't that the exam was hard, it was that it was odd and lacked opportunities to show off the biological knowledge they had been learning. He felt short-changed. He's really good at maths so being asked to do lots of data analysis wasn't hard for him. If anything it made the paper easier. But he wanted to be tested on the biology he had worked hard to learn - or at least some of it.' (My highlights).