Good Intentions

Path Through The Forest

Path Through The Forest by George Hodan

If you’re a teacher, it’s definitely not cheating to know what is in the exam board’s specification for the courses you teach.  In fact, it’s pretty unprofessional not to know.  Similarly, it’s right and proper to have a working knowledge of the recent past papers, mark schemes and examiners’ reports.  Whilst this might need some processing before sharing with classes, it’s important that they have access to that information as well.

We all want pupils to do as well as they can.  If there are patterns in the exam questions and expected answers, it will help them achieve if they are aware of these.  If there are stock phrases, mnemonics or sentence starters that will help them to scaffold their thinking, those will help them not lose marks by missing out anything important.

Some pupils find the memorisation difficult.  It will help them to have a final reminder just before they go into the exam space.  That’s fine, if their teachers organise a final briefing for them at breakfast / lunch.  Besides, it gives an opportunity to make sure that they have had a healthy meal, and are in a positive frame of mind before an exam.  Like a coach with a team just before an important match.

So far, so good.

But what if it’s not a traditional exam, but a controlled assessment?  One which is spread out over several lessons, maybe several weeks of lessons?  One where the questions are often not just similar each year, but identical?

It’s right and proper to have a working knowledge of the recent assessments, mark schemes and examiners’ reports.  Whilst this might need some processing before sharing with classes, it’s important that they have access to the allowed parts of that information as well.

We all want pupils to do as well as they can.  If there are patterns in the questions and expected answers, it will help them achieve if they are aware of these.  If there are stock phrases, mnemonics or sentence starters that will help them to scaffold their thinking, those will help them not lose marks by missing out anything important.

Some pupils find the memorisation difficult.  It will help them to have a final reminder just before they go into the controlled space.  That’s fine, if their teachers organise a final briefing for them at breakfast / lunch.  Besides, it gives an opportunity to make sure that they have had a healthy meal, and are in a positive frame of mind before writing up the assessment.  Like a coach with a team just before an important match.

Some of this is OK, some of it isn’t, really

A part of what teachers and schools do is about maximising the return (in terms of exam grades) from a given amount of learning.  That’s not an impulse to be despised, especially if it opens doors for young people that would otherwise be closed.  It’s not cheating, as such- that is a different, much murkier kettle of fish.  But a lot of “good practice” that gets shared is about working out ways of completing assessed tasks that are easier for pupils to do.  Some of these probably fall within the intentions of the task designers, but some don’t.  And it’s hard to talk about the difference, because it’s all done from the very best of intentions.

Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts…

C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters