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History exam - unfair article?

(56 Posts)
mumblecrumble Tue 23-Jun-09 16:20:32

IS it me.... or is this horrible?

One of my students who also studies history, has a good vocab and is very articulate [oxbridge to do policitcs next year] had the same complaint.

slug Tue 23-Jun-09 16:36:53

The link isn't working. However, if it's the story I'm thinking of, it beggars belief that an 18 year old history student couldn't decode the word 'despotic' or at least make a decent guess at what it means.

I don't think the exam was unfair at all. I think students are too used these days to having everything handed to them on a plate and, when presented with something out of their comfort zone, panic and blame the exam.

I taught A levels for 11 years and I expected students to read around the subject. Very few of them ever did. You can tell and tell them till you are blue in the face, but they always prefer to blame someone other than themselves when things don't go exactly as they want.

fembear Tue 23-Jun-09 16:38:58

I know how they feel. I have no idea what the word 'choatic' means.hmm

fembear Tue 23-Jun-09 16:42:37

link. Handed to you on a plate.grin

StewieGriffinsMom Tue 23-Jun-09 16:50:36

Message withdrawn

OldLadyKnowsNothing Tue 23-Jun-09 16:51:45

Teachers don't like it.

I'd be interested in what the full question was, that an "intelligent" student could assume that "despotic" = "chaotic" from the context.

LadyGlencoraPalliser Tue 23-Jun-09 16:53:53

Ridiculous. Of course an A-level history student should have come across the term despot. Although I have to admit that I myself have never come across the term choatic.

Kathyis6incheshigh Tue 23-Jun-09 16:54:05

Ah this reminds me of my mum invigilating an A level biology exam in the early 1980s - there was an essay question about the health disorders associated with the 'affluent society' and one candidate put up her hand and said 'I think there's a misprint - don't they mean 'effluent'?

Not much sympathy for students as according to the Edexcel spokesman quoted, it was explained in material at the end of the paper.

DaisymooSteiner Tue 23-Jun-09 16:54:41

Ah yes, someone at work was moaning about this and canvassing everyone to see if they knew what the word meant. Unfortunately for her argument I did (once I'd worked out which word it was because she couldn't even pronounce it properly!)

DaisymooSteiner Tue 23-Jun-09 16:56:06

And my 9 year old has just read this over my shoulder and informed me that Julius Caesar is another example of a despot!

Kathyis6incheshigh Tue 23-Jun-09 16:56:13

Alicia Luba, of Croydon High School, wrote: “My life is destroyed because of this exam. Seriously.”

aw bless their little melodramatic cotton socks!

slug Tue 23-Jun-09 16:58:33

On the TES however, they were less than impresses with the student's complaints.

slug Tue 23-Jun-09 16:59:38

That is impressed not impresses

RustyBear Tue 23-Jun-09 17:01:32


I remember in one of my university exams (30 years ago btw, when supposedly standards were higher) there was a question on the English civil war, asking whether it was due more to 'God or Mammon' It was really just asking whether the reasons for the war were more religious or economic & was actually a really easy question, but I was amazed how many people avoided it because they didn't know what Mammon meant.

pagwatch Tue 23-Jun-09 17:07:09

My 15 year old has just done his GCSE and he understood the question.

Bloody nora I did A level history and i would have liked that question.

I love the idea of a march though. I wonder ifthey will need a hand withtheir banners?

navyeyelasH Tue 23-Jun-09 17:07:13

Isn't it just another word for dictator? I did A Level history 6 years ago and you'd have to be pretty dense not to even be able to hazard a guess in the context of the question!

limonchik Tue 23-Jun-09 17:09:04

Is this whole thing just based on a Facebook group some kids started though? Storm in a teacup.

Kathyis6incheshigh Tue 23-Jun-09 17:11:18

They must be thrilled to be in the national press (unlike us MNers who are now very blase about it).

Lucia39 Tue 23-Jun-09 17:23:41

Yet we are constantly being told that young people today are apparently "brighter" than ever before! hmm

edam Tue 23-Jun-09 17:37:24

Good grief.

What's all this stuff about lower ability A-level students? Why are they doing A-levels in the first place if they aren't bright enough to either know what a despot is after years of studying history OR work it out from the sodding context!

Talk about dumbing down...

campion Wed 24-Jun-09 01:18:32

My thoughts exactly,edam but thinking is an optional extra these days and you're supposed not to frighten them.

A few years back a candidate in an A Level Economics exam I was invigilating put up her hand.
'What does dismayed mean?'
'Sorry, not allowed to tell you'

Looked at the paper and the question said 'Catherine was dismayed to find that she was £50 overdrawn on her current account'... blah, blah what could she do about it etc. For goodness' sake any half wit could've worked it out from the context, plus she was doing Economics not Serbo Croat.

I'm dismayed that the posters on the History Teachers' Forum are being a bit wet shock

margotfonteyn Wed 24-Jun-09 05:33:31

Some students shouldn't even be taking A levels. The whole system is so dumbed down, it is ridiculous.

The History Teachers' Forum is slightly depressing too....

elliepac Wed 24-Jun-09 07:01:34

Ok, I am prepared to be flamed a history teacher myself I think they are being overdramatic but I can see where they are coming from. It is undoubtedly true that we get some students on our courses who have scraped a C in their GCSE (normally with good coursework and rubbish exam) who really shouldn't be there but we have no choice but to take them if they got a C and we even have those students who haven't taken GCSE History. The purpose of an exam question is to allow a student to demonstrate their knowledge whatever their ability and complicated langauage within the question prevents some students from accessing that question which IMO is a little unfair.

BonsoirAnna Wed 24-Jun-09 07:20:07

I have sympathy with the A level examinees, actually. "Despot" and "tyrant" are basically synonyms; A level examinees quite rightly would assume that the examination paper would not contain such a glaring misuse of English and, nervous from the examination situation, might panic and attribute/desperately search for a nuance in meaning between "despotic" and "tyrant".

Wittering Wed 24-Jun-09 07:35:45

That was my thought too Anna. I would have spent the essay-time trying to find ways in which Hitler's regime was a despotic tyranny as distinct from a non-despotic one. It is a crap essay question just for that reason.

In fact tyrant is a more judgemental word than despot -- in its origin it implies wrongful aquisition and use of power; whereas despot just refers to the absulute-ness of the power. So an even more confusing question -- one that the examinees would totally be forgiven for trying to answer literally -- would be "How far do you agree that Hitler’s role in 1933-45 was one of tyrannical despotism?”

I'm guessing that the system's expectations of students is now so low that the setters didn't even think to take into account that examinees would look ( and should) for the distinctions between despotism and tyranny in that question.

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