Beat the #ResultsDay media scrum with buzzword bingo!

With A Level results day pending, press, politicians and performative celebrities alike will be preparing for the inevitable annual media scrum.

Navigate your way though the quagmire of commentary with this handy results day buzzword bingo card. I hope it helps a little to make the day more manageable!

If you’re looking for some advice with the UCAS Clearing process, you might find this Clearing Checklist helpful.

Clearing Checklist

2022 Update

I wrote this post for A Level results day last year. If anything, the 2022 results carry even more uncertainty. For students, parents and teachers. We had a return to exams in school, but for a cohort that had not sat exams for GCSEs, had coped with lockdown, and then coped with A level study under pandemic conditions. Add to that Ofqual’s move to a ‘midway point’ for grades and record competition for university places, and it’s a tense time for all concerned.

I hope this checklist will be helpful for anyone using the UCAS Clearing system to find a university place this year.

Clearing checklist

The 2020-21 school year was different from any that went before but one constant is the UCAS Clearing process for university grades. Here’s my checklist for those using this system:

  1. Wait until you have your grades. While UCAS open clearing early in July, universities can’t make an offer to you unless you know your grades.
  2. Make sure you know how clearing works. UCAS explain it here: What is clearing?
  3. Have your personal statement to hand as well as your grades and UCAS ID. You’ll need to be able to speak about yourself, not just your grades.
  4. Do some research on colleges. You may want to go for an alternative course at a university that made you an offer, alternatively you may be phoning a uni you didn’t originally apply to. Either way, you will need to give a positive reason why you want a place there.
  5. Similarly, research the courses on offer. You should be able to give a positive reason for doing that course and be able to say why it interests you.
  6. Avoid reasons that will set alarm bells ringing for tutors. Examples are ‘My friend is going there’ or ‘My Dad thinks it’s a good idea’.
  7. Be ready to explain why you got lower grades than you expected. Was it down to a particular topic? Did something happen that affected your performance? Show that you have reflected on this and remain positive about your subjects. Be ready to talk about what went well and areas of study you enjoy.
  8. You need to make the call yourself. The university want to hear from you and learn about you, not your teacher or your mum!
  9. Don’t worry about being nervous when you call, the tutor you speak to will be used to this, but do be prepared to speak clearly. Write out a sheet with key points and have this in front of you when you call.
  10. If you get an offer, don’t forget to add this as a clearing choice in UCAS track. Only do this when the university give you permission.

You may want to take some time to think about if this is the right time to go to university. Your friends or family may be encouraging you to go but it’s a decision you need to make for yourself. Retaking exams might be the right decision, or employment might provide additional experience for a future application. Whatever you decide, best wishes for your chosen future!

This year, more than ever, schools can make all the difference on results day

Last week we experienced the extraordinary turmoil around A Level results. In the face of the downgrading debacle, students now have the option to use the grades provided by teachers. Unfortunately that Government announcement came too late for many to take up university places this year.

Whether through inherent biases in the system, incompetency in those in charge of the process, or a mixture of both, the awarding of grades in a year when exams were not taken has become a farce. But while A level students, and their aspirations for their educational future have been caught in the middle of that farce, the same need not be true for GCSE students.

For most students, progression from GCSEs will be to sixth forms and FE colleges. It’s those sixth forms and colleges that have the power to make a difference on results day, despite the controversies that have led up to it.

At the time of writing I’m not exactly sure what grades year 11 (including my own son) will be getting on Thursday – those from Ofqual’s algorithm? the CAGs? The best of the two, or perhaps one this week and the other next? does anybody know?!*

Whatever is in those envelopes, school staff will know the grades that they gave students and are in the position to offer them their next educational opportunity. For GCSEs, this means that it’s schools that are in the position to tackle each of the iniquities – of disadvantage, school type, geography, and background- that arose for the A Level results. whatever the failures of the system set up to deliver grades this year, those failures don’t have to impact on the class of 2020.

It’s been an extraordinary year. Now, more than ever, students deserve access to the extraordinary individual futures that sixth form and college education can provide. Some schools have already announced their intention to provide this, I hope all will follow.

*Today (Wednesday 19/8/20) My son’s school notified parents that they would be emailing the highest grade for each subject out of the CAG and algorithm-generated grade.

Things to look forward to in the 2019 Summer term

The summer holiday may seem a long way off, and exams may loom for many, but there’s also plenty to look forward to in the Summer Term.

Summer Term Top Ten

    Enjoyed the bank holiday weekend? There’s another one soon on Monday 6th May!
    Easter isn’t over! It isn’t just one chocolate-laden bank holiday weekend, but the greatest season of the Christian tradition, running until June this year. In the Orthodox calendar, Easter Monday is on 28th April.
    Easter is traditionally a time for embracing new life and new beginnings. Perhaps it’s a good time to consider our own professional practice – are there any aspects that we might revitalise or new things we could try?
    There’s no more waking up before sunrise and coming home in darkness. Longer (hopefully) sunlit days help lift our mood, so make some time to go outside each day. Even when it’s overcast, natural sunlight will do you good.
    While you’re out and about, take some time to connect with nature. Look out for the signs that spring is turning into summer. Which plants are coming into bloom? Which birds, bees and butterflies do you notice? Take note of these small changes and you’ll soon see that no two days are alike. You can even use the iRecord app to add your nature sightings to the National database
    A couple of international dates recognising our dependence on our environment fall within the Summer term. The UN World Environment Day is on 5th June and Oceans Day is on 8th June. With young people becoming increasingly concerned about climate change, perhaps that week could be a focus for environmental awareness and action at school?
    There are plenty of key dates, holidays and festivals during the Summer term. These include St George’s Day on 23rd April and the last day of Passover on 27th April. Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) is on 2nd May this year and Ramadan starts on Monday 6th May, running until Eid I’ll Fitr on 4thJune. 6th May is also 75th anniversary of the D-day landings in Normandy. The Spring Bank Holiday is on Monday 27th May. 9th June is both the Christian Pentecost and Jewish Shavuot. In the UK, Fathers’ Day is on 16th June, and the Summer Solstice is on 21 June. 22nd June is Windrush Day. Initiated in 2018, this day marks the anniversary of the arrival of the Empire Windrush at Tilbury docks in 1948 and celebrates the British Caribbean community.
    You may have pupils taking exams this term. While I’m proud of my qualifications, I’m also very pleased that the ticking clock and wobbly exam desk are well behind me! We all survived the process, so now we get to use our experience to help our students to succeed as well. I’ve written about tackling exam stress here. The article also contains links to useful websites offering further advice to students and parent & carers.
    Some of the most memorable aspects of school life happen in the Summer term: school trips, outdoor education, Summer concerts and productions, PTA barbecues, sports days, proms, end of year awards. Some schools have activities weeks, others move to their new timetables before the holiday. These and more enrich the curriculum and help build communities.
    At the end of this term… Summer holiday!

So, what are you looking forward to this Summer term? Are there any dates I’ve missed out? Why not share them with a comment?

Festival dates from timeanddate.com

Image: Rodger Caseby

Does music help or hinder revision?

In the run up to the Summer exam season, when even the most laid-back students begin to think that some revision might be a good idea, teachers are likely to be asked if music is a help or a hindrance.

The current crop of GCSE and A Level students are probably too young for their parents to have been devotees of the ‘Mozart Effect’; Those claims made in the 1990s have long been debunked and were a mixture of overgeneralisation from Frances Rauscher’s original research on the effect of a particular Mozart piano sonata on a specific type of spatial learning, popularisation by the media, and marketing of Mozart recordings. The results could not be reliably replicated and the wider claims for an effect on IQ were never made in the original research.

So, listening to Mozart won’t make us smarter, but there is research showing that music can raise task performance. The most likely reason for this is that music raises the arousal level of participants, increasing their performance. An example is a study by Shellenberg et al (2007) who reported improved cognitive and creative task performance in children and adults after listening to music (see the abstract here).

On the other hand, some research has shown that listening to music is counter-productive to learning. Jones et al (2000) found that the variability in the auditory input was the key factor. Alley & Greene (2008) found that vocal music impaired performance (as did listening to speech) but not instrumental music. These effects happen because processing an additional, auditory, channel is a distraction to cognitive processes which require us to use our working memory capacity to hold and process items of information.

Why then does some research point towards a beneficial effect, and other studies indicate that music impairs performance? The answer may lie in these areas:

1) individual differences between participants.

Most studies report summary results: the overall effect among all the participants, but this may obscure differences in individual responses. There is some evidence that personality traits play a role in this, with negative effects on introverted participants but not extroverts (Dobbs, Furnham & McClelland, 2011), possibly because of differences in optimal arousal levels between these two groups.

In a recent study, Researchers looked at how prone students were to boredom (Gonzalez, M. F., & Aiello, J. R. (2019), Advance online publication). They found that more boredom-prone individuals who tended to seek distraction (and so perhaps are most likely to play music while working) were the most distracted by background music. This is possibly because they tended to focus more on the music than the set tasks, whereas for less boredom-prone individuals the music provided just enough stimulation to prevent them becoming bored with the tasks.

2) Differences between the type of tasks studied. Crucially are they like revising for an exam?

Often research features simple, easily replicable tasks. Exam revision in contrast is complicated, involving not only recall of information, but also the formation of complex associations, the understanding of abstract models and application of all this to novel questions. Research studies such as that by Alley & Greene (2008) indicate that the more complex the task, and the greater the requirement for abstract reasoning, the greater the reduction in performance caused by music. It may be that the harder the learning gets, the more we should avoid distractions such as music. In a study specifically looking at revision, Perham & Currie (2014) found that music with lyrics impaired learning (irrespective of whether the students liked the songs or not), but there was no significant difference between performance when listening to instrumental music or in quiet conditions.

3) What is the type of music?

Many of the research studies mentioned featured instrumental music. That probably isn’t the first choice for most students but it may be the option that doesn’t interfere with cognitive processes. Perham and Currie (2014) reported that instrumental music did not impair revision significantly and Hallam, Price and Katsarou (2002) found that 10-12 year-old pupils actually performed better at a memory task when listening to a pleasant melodic piece than no music and much worse when listening to to an unpleasant aggressive piece.

4) What is the alternative to music?

Typically in a research study the control will be silence, but what will conditions be like where a student is revising? Hopefully they will have a quiet space to work in but this is not always the case. Schlittmeier et al (2012) collected data on the impact of 40 different sounds on working memory task performance. These included background speech, traffic noise, music and duck quacks. All these impaired performance, the greatest interference being produced by background speech. For those who don’t have a quiet study space and need away of blocking out such distracting sounds, listening to music over headphones could be beneficial.

How to decide?

Overall, most of the research indicates that while pleasant instrumental music doesn’t impair cognitive performance for most people, it won’t enhance it either. So the safer option would be not to play music when revising. In some circumstances, however it could be helpful. Answering these questions will help students decide:

1) Is there a lot of background noise where I have to revise?

2) Do I prefer to work in a lively environment with a group, as opposed to working quietly on my own or with a good friend?

3) Do I find it easy to concentrate on a single task, such as revising one topic?

4) Is the music I want to listen to instrumental, rather than songs with lyrics?

If the answer to these questions is ‘yes’, then you can probably listen to music quietly with no harmful effects on your work (and if you need to cut out distracting ambient noise it will be helpful). Otherwise, it’s probably best to save the music for the times between revision sessions.

References

Alley, T. R., & Greene, M. E. (2008). The relative and perceived impact of irrelevant speech, vocal music and non-vocal music on working memory. Current Psychology, 27, 277-289.

Dobbs, S., Furnham, A., & McClelland, A. (2011). The effect of background music and noise on the cognitive test performance of introverts and extraverts. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 25, 307-313.

Gonzalez, M. F., & Aiello, J. R. (2019). More than meets the ear: Investigating how music affects cognitive task performance. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied. Advance online publication.

Hallam, S., Price, J., & Katsarou, G. (2002). The effects of background music on primary school pupils’ task performance. Educational Studies, 28, 111-122.

Jones, D. M., Alford, D., Macken, W. J., Banbury, S. P., & Tremblay, S. (2000). Interference from degraded auditory stimuli: linear effects of changing-state in the irrelevant sequence. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 108, 1082-1088.

Perham, N., & Currie, H. (2014). Does listening to preferred music improve reading comprehension performance? Applied Cognitive Psychology, 28(2), 279-284.

Rauscher, F.H., Shaw, G.L., & Ky, K.N. (1993). Music and spatial task performance. Nature, 365, 611.

Schellenberg, E. G., Nakata, T., Hunter, P. G., & Tamoto, S. (2007). Exposure to music and cognitive performance: Tests of children and adults. Psychology of Music, 35, 5-19.

Schlittmeier, S.J., Weißgerber, T., Kerber, S., Fastl, H. & Hellbruck, J. (2012). Algorithmic modeling of the irrelevant sound effect (ISE) by the hearing sensation fluctuation strength. Atten Percept Psychophys 74: 194. 

Image: Pixabay

Computing, creativity and cheating

Creativity and coding

I believe that creativity is at the heart of computing. A couple of years ago I marked the passing of the creator of Logo, Seymour Papert with this post on his legacy. He created and promoted that computer language to foster creativity in students. The focus on creativity also drives many of the current generation of educational developers. Scratch, a free online scripting language allows all users, most of whom are children, to create and share stories, games, and animations. Created in 2007, Scratch now has more than 4.3 million users worldwide, mainly between the ages of 8 and 18, and nearly 7 million projects. It is used widely in UK schools and is many children’s first experience of scripting code instructions. Creativity is also a driving feature behind other computing innovations commonly used in UK schools such as the coding language Python, the Raspberry Pi and BBC Microbit.

Problems with assessment

If we accept this central role of creativity, it follows that the assessment of computational thinking, and its practical output as novel solutions to coding problems, must take account of this. Unfortunately, in recent years the assessment of GCSE Computer Science coursework has been bedevilled by the appearance of programming solutions to the set problems on the internet. This has forced the exams regulator, Ofqual, to remove this element from the assessment. The current situation is that a programming task forms part of the course, but marks do not form part of the assessment, which is therefore based solely on terminal exam papers. Unfortunately this is an issue that occurs not just at GCSE, but at all levels of education.

Ofqual consultation

Ofqual are currently consulting on this issue for exams from 2020 onwards through a consultation document on the future of assessment for GCSE Computer Science. You can respond to the consultation document here.

I think that they have thought carefully about the pros and cons about different methods of assessment. I am disappointed, however, that there is not more explicit mention of creativity in Computer Science. Ofqual make a comparison with other subjects with a coursework element, such as design technology, but this seems to be in consideration of practical skills which, while important, are not the whole picture. I feel that what is missing is the role of creativity in the elements and practice of computational thinking.

Nevertheless, I think Ofqual have left the door open to a solution that will allow students to demonstrate creativity in their thinking. In enabling exam boards to issue pre-release material to candidates (in a similar way to creative subjects such as art), there is scope for students to think and prepare for a creative response to a particular context, without the details of the specific task being revealed. I hope that in the future, developments in technology will mean that creative computational thinking can be securely assessed in a way that more closely mirrors the reality of programming than the exam hall.

The consultation closes at 4pm on Monday 3rd December 2018. I would urge anyone involved in teaching computing to take some time to make a response.

Image: Pixabay

Exams: Use the motivation, lose the stress

2021-22 Update

I have updated this popular article, originally posted in 2018, to include links to advice from the GCSE / A Level exam boards on examinations and stress.

Teachers look to balance ways to motivate our students to perform at their best, with awareness of how to avoid damaging stress or anxiety. Parents and carers also want their children to succeed, but may be worried by the pressure placed upon them. The pandemic has led to increased anxiety in many young people and disruption to both internal assessments and external exams means that they have had less practice preparing for and working under exam conditions.

With the move to norm-referenced GCSEs, there is an increased focus on terminal examinations but we do not know with any real certainty where grade boundaries will be set. Students who in the past would have been able to ‘bank’ a proportion of marks from centre-assessed components, coursework, or modular exams, must now pitch all their effort into a few summer weeks.

Here, I have extended previous posts on exams (based on an exercise I developed through teaching psychology) to produce this guide to maximising motivation while beating exam stress. I have also included further links to helpful information.


Ten tips to beat exam stress

  1. Get organised. Make sure you know what exams you have for each subject and which topics are covered in each paper. Get to know which kind of questions to expect for each subject and paper. Make sure you know when each exam starts and where it will be. Your school should give you a list – stick a copy up at home or transfer the information to a family calendar.
  2. Manage your time. Your time is precious, so make the best use of it. Draw up a revision timetable to help you do this, breaking up your revision into manageable chunks. Many people like to plan in terms of an hour – 50 minutes of revision and a ten-minute break. Make sure you build in breaks between sessions to maintain your effectiveness. You might find it helpful to set a timer with an alarm to help you stick to your schedule. Block out any time on your calendar when you have to do other things, including some time when you can step away from revision and re-engage with friends and family (see No.8).
  3. Stay in control by sticking to your plan. Use it to review what you have already achieved and what you need to do next. It’s a good idea to spend the first few minutes of each revision session reviewing what you covered in the last one.
  4. Create the right environment. Work somewhere that is light, has enough space, and is distraction-free. Visual input from TV, screens & social media will just distract you, so it all needs to be switched off and put away while you revise. You may feel that listening to music is OK, or even helpful, but some research suggests that this can also reduce the effectiveness of revision. If finding a place to revise at home is difficult, ask your teachers about what school can do to help.
  5. Boost your confidence. Use a revision journal to record your progress. Recall things that have gone well in the past and the areas you have covered in your schedule. Make a note of things which you were unclear about but now understand. A journal is a good way to note any questions for your teacher the next time you have a lesson. You can also use it visualise your success.
  6. Eat healthily and stay hydrated. Build proper meal breaks into your schedule and time for exercise, even if it’s just going for a walk. Don’t forget to drink to stay hydrated while you revise. Avoid ‘energy’ drinks: they may give the illusion of alertness but actually impair your performance. People may say they help, but ask yourself why you never see an advert saying ‘Drink Red Bull: it helps you revise.’ It’s because it doesn’t and making such a claim in an advert would break the law.
  7. Get enough sleep; don’t stay up late revising; a tired brain does not work well, either at the time, or the next morning. ‘Energy’ drinks or tablets are not a substitute for sleep.
  8. Friends & family. Let them know you have exams and need to revise. Keep in touch during those breaks you planned into your revision, but be strict with yourself about keeping revision time for revision.
  9. Avoid life changes. Stay on course with your revision. It’s quite normal to find that things you don’t have to revise become suddenly interesting, but avoid distractions and stay on track. Now is not the time to start a new relationship or plan to run away to the circus (however tempting that may seem).
  10. Understand your body and the signals it sends you. Recognise that signs of exam nerves like ‘butterflies in the stomach’ a dry mouth, or sweaty palms are nothing to worry about. They are just symptoms telling you that your body is preparing for action. Actors sometime use a technique to tackle stage fright. They tell themselves that these feelings are of excitement, rather than fear. You might try the same for exams – they are a chance for you to perform, to show the examiner what you have learned.

Helpful Links

Many organisations provide advice on revision, preparing for exams, and tackling exam stress. Here are some of the most accessible:

  • Students can get more help and advice on student life in general, including specific advice on taking exams, and the impact of the pandemic, from the Student Minds website
  • These pages from the Mind website include a handy downloadable PDF document as part of their student Mental Health Hub.
  • The Teen Mental Health website has more information about the stress response, the ‘myth of evil stress’ and a range of strategies for healthy stress management.
  • AQA provide advice for candidates on Managing Exam Stress. They also advise talking to parents, teachers or a school counsellor.
  • Edexcel/Pearson have advice on Exam Stress and Wellbeing including tips for a calm approach to revision ans mindfulness.
  • OCR have tips on Looking After Yourself and guides on time management and avoiding procrastination.
  • WJEC/CBAC have advice on Exploring and Eliminating Stress, including recognising & combatting signs of stress written by Dr Rachel Dodge.
  • Parents and carers can find advice about supporting their children through exams on this area of the NHS Choices website

I hope you found this post useful – feel free to use and adapt it as you wish. If you know of other useful resources, or have your own advice, please let me know with a comment.

Image: Wikimedia

Ten things to look forward to in the 2018 Summer Term

There’s plenty for teachers to look forward to in the 2018 Summer Term.

The Easter eggs may all be eaten, the summer holiday may seem a long way off, and the new term will bring the challenges of exams for many, but there’s also plenty to look forward to in the 2018 Summer Term.

Summer Term Top Ten

  1. For some students, the holidays will have been difficult and, although they might not always show it, they’ll have been be looking forward to the new term. Make it a good one.
  2. Easter isn’t over! It isn’t just a bank holiday, it’s a whole season and the biggest festival in the Christian tradition, so you can keep on celebrating! In the Orthodox calendar, Easter Monday is on 9th April. That’s the day many schools start the Summer term, so perhaps you could save one last egg for then?
  3. Easter is traditionally a time for embracing new life and new beginnings. Why not consider our own professional practice – aspects that we might revitalise or new things we could try?
  4. We’re now well into British Summer Time, so there’s no more waking up before sunrise and coming home darkness. The days will be getting longer and (hopefully) warmer. Soaking up those rays helps lift our mood, so make some time to go outside each day.,Even on overcast days natural sunlight will do you good.
  5. While you’re out and about, take some time to connect with nature. Look out for the signs that spring is turning into summer. Which plants are coming into bloom? Which animals do you notice? Take note of these small changes and you’ll soon see that no two days are alike.
  6. You’ve got a big decision on 19th May – Royal wedding or FA Cup Final? As it’s a Saturday, we won’t be getting an additional bank holiday, so whatever you decide, make the most of the weekend.
  7. There are plenty of key dates, holidays and festivals during the Summer term. These include Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) on 11th April, St. George’s Day on 23rd April, the Early May bank holiday (7th May), and Spring Bank Holiday (28th May). 20th May is both the Christian Pentecost and Jewish Shavuot. The Muslim festival of Eid al-Fitr, marking the end of Ramadan is on 15th June. In the UK, Fathers’ Day is on 17th June, and the Summer Solstice is on 21 June.
  8. You may have pupils taking exams this term, but at least you don’t have to sit them! I always hated exams and while I’m proud of my qualifications I’m also very pleased that the ticking clock and wobbly exam desk are well behind me. We all survived the process, so now we get to use our experience to help our students to succeed as well. I’ve written about tackling exam stress here. The article also contains links to useful websites.
  9. Some of the best bits of school happen in the Summer term: school trips, outdoor education, Summer concerts, PTA barbecues, sports days, proms, end of year awards. Some schools have activities weeks, others move to their new timetables before the holiday. These and more enrich the curriculum and help build communities.
  10. At the end of this term… Summer holiday!

So, what are you looking forward to this Summer term? Are there any dates I’ve missed out? Why not share with a comment?

Festival dates from timeanddate.com

Image: Rodger Caseby

New Specification A Levels – Waiting for the First Results

This post was originally written the week before the 2017 A Level exam results were released (hence the reference to 17th August on the image). I then updated it with the postscript once the results were published. I also re-posted my post on UCAS clearing.

I teach psychology (among other things) and last year I wrote about the Summer 2016 AS exams which were then the first test of the new specification, my teaching of it and interpretation of the assessment criteria. You can read that post here.
  

This year we’re waiting for the first results for the full two-year Advanced Level exams. While we had a good experience with AS, all those concerns about the first run-through of a Specification are still in my mind as I wait for the Advanced psychology results: 

  1. How will my students perform in the actual exams as opposed to our own assessments based on specimen materials?
  2. Will performance nationally vary widely from the usual norm, with a large consequent adjustment of grade boundaries (either up or down)?

  

1. Performance in the actual exams

One of the reasons I opted for the AQA specification was the support this board offered for the new specification including sample assessments, Mark schemes and commentaries. The last time the specification changed the actual exam papers had contained some questions very different in style from the somewhat sparse sample papers. Support from AQA in advance was much better this time, there hadn’t been the same differences in the AS papers, nor were they in the A Level exams this Summer.

There were quite a few widely-reported errors in exams this season, and more recent reporting of the possible impact on students, for example this article from The Guardian on ‘the stress of sitting new untested exams’. Whether or not there were more mistakes than usual, this publicity does seem to have shaken the confidence of many students in the exams process itself.  

Although there were no errors in AQA psychology papers, one thing my students did have to contend with was errors in their brand new text books, particularly first print runs of first editions. I’ve seen this before when publishers rush to get texts out for new specifications. There are often mislabelled images, errors in tables, or inaccuracies in the indexing (i.e. mistakes arising in the production of pages, rather than the authors’ text) but this time there seemed to be several factual errors. Much as it gives my ego a boost to be able to show through reference to primary sources that I was right and the textbook was in error, it doesn’t help students (except perhaps to question everything) and shakes their confidence in their reference materials.

  

2. Will performance vary nationally with unpredicable consequences?

This is a question we will only be able to answer when the results are out. As I wrote in by post about the AS results, such probes have occurred in the past when new specifications have changed, most notably in 2011 (DFE, 2012). This did not seem to be the case for the 2016 AS exams, although more A grades were awarded in psychology. Hopefully this is an indication that Ofqual are on the ball and ensuring a smooth transition between specifications so that students sitting the first year of a new exam will not be penalised.

Nevertheless, whatever the speculation, it’s the actual results that matter. So, like my year 13 students, I’ll be awaiting the A level results a little more nervously than usual this year. I’ll also be hoping that their results, and everyone else’s, will be a true indication of each student’s performance.

  
Postscript – 18th August 2017

It’s seems that now the results are available that there was not wide variation nationally compared with the 2016 results (see this Ofqual infographic), although the media made much of the fact that more boys than girls received top grades.  A* and A grades for the new A levels were slightly down on 2016, with Ofqual stating the changes reflected differences in prior attainment. The proportion of top grades in (unreformed) languages increased as had been previously agreed to counter skewing of results by native speakers. I find it interesting that Ofquals analysis focussed on the top grades.

As for psychology, the proportion of A*/A grades fell 0.3% to 18.8%. There weren’t any shocks as far as the results of my own students went, although a couple did a bit better than I predicted and a couple missed out on a grade. It’s a small number to draw valid conclusions from, but if there was a theme, I think it was that those who worked hard did well, irrespective of their starting point, which must be a good thing.