November 2011
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A2 and AS history assessment objectives; tail wagging the dog or strangling the subject?

I seem to have spent much of my recent professional life railing against the foreshadowing effect of meeting spuriously precise assessment objectives, rather than deepening understanding for its own sake. Don’t just take my word for it. Ella Raff a student from a school in Oxford brilliantly articulates the futility of much that HAS to go in in GCSE and A level history

I currently study A-Level history, and the course is far from scintillating. Answers must be formulaic, and often the coursework is based on wild assumptions that can’t be challenged because of the ever-present ‘assessment objective’ – to stray from the expected response is to risk your grades. This is rarely admitted by teachers, who presumably don’t like to face up to the futility of their lessons, but every student knows that although the assessment objectives may be dull, and are often absurd, meeting them is the key to getting a good grade.

It’s no wonder that Ofsted failed to get the truth from pupils: after several years of taking inane exams, I have become so jaded that rather than challenge what’s expected, I try desperately to conform to it. Evans should maybe enter for a GCSE or A-Level history paper and see the truth for himself. Unless students have a full understanding not of the topic but of the bizarre machinations of the exam board, an A* is impossible. We don’t spend our history lessons doing anything very much beyond trying to understand the marking scheme. Complaining about it is of no use, because although its futility does incite a rebellious spirit, to fight it would be to sacrifice one’s place at university.

When will this insanity end??

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