“Rigorous” A Level Mock Exams 2020/2021

"Rigorous" A Level Mock Exams 2021

Gavin Williamson is due to announce that there will be more “rigorous” A level mock exams this academic year, to ensure that, should the real exams need to be cancelled, there will be a solid foundation for giving students a grade which reflects their competence.

Anything which is reasonable and which will bring more reliability to the process of assigning grades would seem to be good news, but it does throw up some concerns…

What does more rigorous A Level mock exams mean for students?

It’s not been an easy 8 months (socially or educationally) for our current year 13 students. They’ve had unequal access to education (through technology, school provision and the state of the home environment) and limited social contact with many of the people important to them. The less fortunate have been impacted by job losses and ill health at home. Those who have difficult home circumstances anyway have had increased exposure to these circumstances. Now, we’re piling on an expectation that they should treat their mocks as though they are the real thing (but, in case things weren’t confusing enough, they might not be the real thing). There’s a reason why we have exams in June – A levels are two-year courses – and there’s a reason why we call A Level mock exams ‘mocks’ – they give students a chance to experience the real thing ahead of time, and they offer a last-minute assessment of progress, to inform future study.

Will students be graded on the basis of how they perform in their mocks or will this be extrapolated to take account for extra study which would/could take place if the exams weren’t/aren’t cancelled?

Neither way is perfect. Students will frequently boost marks between January and June to allow for a couple of grades in improvement. But should all students be given the same increase? And if exams are cancelled soon after mocks, any increase on most students will give an idea of what they could have achieved by June if they’d carried on working. Many students won’t carry on working at anything like the same rate. Shouldn’t exam results give an indication of skills grasped, not what would have been grasped in more uniform circumstances?

How are schools going to effectively and safely run controlled mocks in the height of a second wave, should this occur?

Schools, teachers and students have adapted incredibly well to the raft of rules and guidelines which have been thrown at them since March. They’ve found creative ways to adhere to them and to overcome the practical challenges. However, clear guidance is needed on how mock exams should be run, with the input of government and exam boards. While using mock exam results is a reasonable suggestion, at this point, it’s just that – a suggestion. Both schools and pupils need support in effectively implementing that suggestion.

What do they mean by rigour?

Presumably, this is about seating requirements, the standard of the papers and eliminating the chance of any of the content having been leaked or shared prior to the exam, and there’ll be clear guidance on this. It would be nice to think that the government and exam boards will share in the burden of administering this. Are schools at risk of slipping up with these rigourous requirements, given the considerable extraneous challenges which everyone is facing? It’s a huge responsibility to take on in already difficult times.

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