Any other AS DC struggling with GCSE science mark scheme because of pragmatics? Is it discriminatory?

(134 Posts)
HisMum4now Wed 24-Jul-13 14:01:28

DS has a statement because of his AS, specific language impairment and pragmatic difficulties. He is going into Y11 and doing relatively well in his mock GCSEs. He is really good at maths and sciences. He understands the science, but struggles to score marks because of theory of mind and pragmatics.

If you ask him explicit specific questions he would explain everything giving specialist terminology. But the questions in the exam papers are wage, indirect and convoluted. The marking scheme looks completely illogical, arbitrary to DS. From his point of view he answered correctly the question asked, but within the explicit question there were two other hidden questions and he really couldn't see them - how is he supposed to guess which other questions he is supposed to answer? There are too many other questions he could comment on, but these don't logically follow from the question asked on paper. He feels it is unfair.

For example:
Question: "Why radiator is painted black?"
DS answer: "Because black surfaces are better emitters of infrared radiation then light surfaces"
Marks: 1 out of 3. He needed to add "so higher rate of energy transfer" For DS this is self evident and contained within his answer "better emitters". He would never guess to add this. So he scores about a third of the marks!

Another example:
Question: "How would gas and nuclear power stations be used to meet the demand for electricity within 24 hours?"
DS answer: "The nuclear power station is used for baseline demand. The gas station is used to generate extra power when demand increases"
Mark: 2 out of 3. He needed to add "because of short start up time". But the question was How, not Why!

Often out of many possible valid answers the examiner only gives marks for one narrow specific answer that looks arbitrary, random to DS (even to me) in relation to the question asked. For example:

Question: "Vaccination against measles virus will not protect the child against rubella virus. Why?"
DS?s answer: "Because measles and rubella are different pathogens"
Marks: zero... not correct ???
I don't even know what the "correct" answer is but nothing in the way the question is articulated suggests that other answer. I can see what DS means by arbitrary and random mark scheme.

DS's problem is not with knowledge and understanding, but with guessing what the examiner wants. Theory of mind.

DS works very hard - 5 hours of homework and revision every day. Most of this time is dedicated to getting sense of pragmatics and mark schemes. However it doesn?t pay off. It looks to me that with exam papers like these higher marks are just unattainable for ASD DS because of pragmatic bias built in the questions.

Is DS the only one having this problem?
What can be done?

Whathaveiforgottentoday Wed 24-Jul-13 14:31:43

He's not alone and despite teaching science for years I am still surprised by some of the answers on the mark scheme. The grade boundaries are ludicrously low in gsce science largely because the questions are so odd at times. I'd like to see a paper that gives students a chance to show what they know rather than questions that trip them up.
On a practical level, the best way to prepare is what you are already doing and complete lots and lots of past papers and get your son to mark them himself using the mark scheme, as this is the only way to get into the examiners mind set.

creamteas Wed 24-Jul-13 14:39:13

My DC with ASD also struggle with this, their performance in exams is quite random because of this.

My DD has just taken her GCSEs this year, and the school spent a lot of time on exam technique. To be fair, many non AS DC also struggle with similar issues. Because marking schemes are so prescriptive, it is increasingly possible to give a right but not correct answer IYKWIM.

My DC's school recognizes these issues, and DD will be allowed to progress to science A levels regardless of her GCSE results, based on her teacher's assessment of her ability in science. Whilst this won't help with her CV, it will not hold her back, and so she is in a relatively good position I think.

crazymum53 Wed 24-Jul-13 15:48:22

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

xylem8 Wed 24-Jul-13 16:42:48

Honestly it is the same for all children trying to second guess what science examiners want in their answer.It is is nothing to do with his SN.My DB is a science teacher and 2 my DSs have done the 3 science s at GCSE and it is the bane of science teacher and science students lives!

NoComet Wed 24-Jul-13 17:10:07

I have a dyslexic DD and she seems to manage science most of the time, but is having similar trouble with the very prescriptive answers need for Geography. It doesn't matter if you understand something, you just have to remeber the type example word for word, marks deducted for poor spelling and grammar angry

She has a very very bright DF who's science teacher has to keep repeating "that's right, but for the purpose of GCSE, the answer is ......". Insert dumbed down exact phrase the mark scheme will allow.

I think it's due to a move to dumb down marking, make it defensible and marks close to 100% for an A* possible.

Non of this rubbish happened in our old style long essay questions, the examiners could give credit for understanding as well as dry facts.

HisMum4now Wed 24-Jul-13 19:32:04

Non of this rubbish happened in our old style long essay questions, the examiners could give credit for understanding as well as dry facts.

This resonates

HisMum4now Wed 24-Jul-13 19:35:57

Any examiners, exam board people here?

timidviper Wed 24-Jul-13 19:36:07

I agree this is not to do with SN. My DS has no special needs yet had exactly the same problem, one of his teachers taught him the strategy crazymum suggests of 1 sentence per mark, think of key words, etc. He did brilliantly once he learned to do this

HisMum4now Wed 24-Jul-13 19:41:33

Well, this is exactly the difference between SN and no n SN.

Non AS dc will just learn the exam technique, get "what examiner wants" and score marks.

AS dc don't. DS doesn't understand why the answer in the MS is there given how the question is phrased. AS DS doesn't get the examiner mindset and wouldn't include any sentences that are not part of his own logic and thinking process. The question should be less broad and trivial, more targeted.

DS1 has this exact problem with KS3 Science and he is neurotypical. DS2 has AS but is still only 11; he has a tricky time with this style of question already, especially in English.

I have found some Science past papers with their mark schemes, to help DS1 spot key words and patterns in what the marker is looking for.

DH and I were both in the second year to do GCSE, so you can imagine how arbitrary the questions and mark schemes appeared to us when they were first introduced. DH refers to it as "Where would you put the power station?" questions, which is our family shorthand for this type of testing.

I'm v.glad that the secondary school has changed over to doing iGCSE for Science subjects.

HisMum4now Wed 24-Jul-13 23:01:36

Please tell me about iGCSE, how are exam papers different?

NoComet Thu 25-Jul-13 02:20:25

"AS dc don't. DS doesn't understand why the answer in the MS is there given how the question is phrased. AS DS doesn't get the examiner mindset and wouldn't include any sentences that are not part of his own logic and thinking process."

I think this applies to all good scientists. Any pupil who actually understands the work and is not just learning it parrot fashion has exactly the same problem.

To truly understand something you put it your own words and in the context of you own experience. Trying to unravel this process and put it in someone else's words is very difficult even if you are NT.

Also many good scientists are not totally NT, DD1 and I are dyslexic and I suspect many scientists have shades of AS. Understanding people is not something most scientists do well. Subtle social niceties pass us by, but obscure facts don't.

circular Thu 25-Jul-13 05:57:56

Can relate to this too with DD1 (yr11), but more in Geography than science. Half marks or less for getting 'correct' answer, but then have to give what the teacher refers to as a 'so what' for everything. Took her about a year toget the hang of it, but still slips up.

Also completely thrown this year by change in style of OCR gateway Physics paper, included a crossword.

No SN, or diagnosed dyslexia (DH slightly dyslexic), but an immature writer.

Yes, Geography is even worse! On several questions in the end of Y8 exam, DS1 had answered the question correctly, but hadn't used the phrasing or keywords expected by the mark scheme, so got few or no marks. He ended up getting less than 50% in an exam that he had revised for and knew and understood the syllabus. It has completely put him off Geography and he can't wait to give it up.

In answer to the question about iGCSEs, he doesn't start the courses until January, but from the information I have been given, there is no coursework, no assessments apart from at the end of Y11, and the questions are supposed to be more like O-level in style. Hopefully less of the "Where would you put the power station?" and more of the "Define a redox reaction and give an example."

Oblomov Thu 25-Jul-13 08:54:43

Very interesting.
Ds1 is AS and although young, already struggles. Reading with interest.

gobbin Thu 25-Jul-13 09:11:37

Found the same last year preparing for GCSEs in Yr 10. It's just exam technique for these particular exams. Science, Geog, English and History are the same.

This year DS found this last lot of exams a bit easier because he'd got into the habit of making his point, explaining it further, then adding in anything else that seemed logical or obvious that he might have missed. He also got into the flow of 'What - How - Why' to develop longer answers.

In History, with questions like 'What do you understand about Nazi churches from Source A' he would miss out the obvious stuff like 'it has an altar draped in a Nazi flag with a picture of Adolf Hitler on top' which was worth easy marks and go straight into why/how explanation (which was also needed, but he'd lose marks for not stating what he could see first). Nuts!

Crumbledwalnuts Thu 25-Jul-13 09:16:25

Isn't this so that marking can be done by people without understanding of the science?

Is there any chance that IGCSE is different, can you investigate this option? It's supposed to be more like old o levels. It might cost about 100 per exam to enter him separately.

Crumbledwalnuts Thu 25-Jul-13 09:16:47

Oh I'm so sorry I will read the thread more closely.

SprinkleLiberally Thu 25-Jul-13 09:27:05

Agree this is a problem for many children, with and without sen. It occurs in subjects mentioned already. Science, geog and history especially. Many pupils don't understand why they can get higher grades with much more ease in subjects where the questions contain less "hidden" content.
It also foxes smt in schools who observe lessons and note the excellent teaching and learning but it not always translating into automatic high grades. Exam practice is the only way. I feel your pain though.

HisMum4now Thu 25-Jul-13 11:57:59

I would really like to look closely ti iGCSEs as from the first sight question look more accessible to AS DS.

We had a discussion at school and the teacher argue that if DS struggles with GCSE questions, he wouldn't cope with A levels. I tell them in is the contrary, questions in A level paper are logical, better defined, not distorted by pragmatics to the same extent as GCSEs. I gave A level Physics paper to DS and he coped very well. He didn't know all the facts but he didn't stumble on "where do you put the power station". The teachers don't understand.

HisMum4now Thu 25-Jul-13 12:26:29

Could anyone comment on the point made by Whathaveiforgotten - that ill defined questions like this bring down grade boundaries.

So to raise standards, i.e. to raise the grade boundaries, Gove should ask to remove distorted questions like this instead of making exam boards adding more of ill thought through questions in the hurry.

Anyone from exam boards?

Crumbledwalnuts Thu 25-Jul-13 12:34:39

I think he'd be met by a storm of protest. Woolliness is considered inclusive and extending thinking and such.

HisMum4now Thu 25-Jul-13 13:05:57

What are the assumptions for the thinking that it is inclusive and expanding minds? These assumptions are flawed and not working if these question bring down grade boundaries.

Why is it inclusive? It certainly excludes very bright and hard working AS and non-SN dc who know and can apply science, but struggle with pragmatics because it goes against the scientific logic, the thinking process that is integral to good science. Many people commented here that many DC with good scientific mind stumble over those woolly questions. To be inclusive they could formulate easier questions.

Science exams should select those who are good at science, who are likely to choose STEM subjects as a career and go to innovate and discover. Music exams should favour good musicians, dance exam should favour good dancers. How is it inclusive and extending mind if the exam penalizes the very people it is supposed to encourage.

How wooliness extends thinking? Thinking about what? These are science exams, not RE. Does it extend anything else than the ability to memorize past papers and mark scheme? Because this is what the woolly questions are testing - the ability to memorize and to guess what -examiners twisted- mind wants, not the knowledge and ability to apply science. These are two different skills and I would argue they are incompatible in one person. For the sake of argument, either you are Einstein type or you are Tony Blair type, but not both in one person.

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