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“Exams are easier today than they were when I was younger”, we have all heard it. If enough people say it, that makes it true – right?

As a father of a teenage boy mid-way through his GCSE’s I can tell you that he is working much harder than I did when I was at school, and the syllabus is certainly more advanced than I covered for my O levels. So in my opinion, it’s not true. Expectations and standards are higher though – we are a knowledge economy, and what we know is important.

People tend focus on the very top grades, because they are used to select candidates for University. But an improvement in all grades mean that Universities find it increasingly difficult to select students.

Why is this? Is it due to grade drift? Well I think it depends on how you look at it. If a student demonstrates “mastery” of a subject in exams and through coursework, then why shouldn’t they get the top grade? With taxpayers resources focused on education, we should expect higher levels of performance. The alternative is to put students results into a pre-determined grade distribution, e.g. 30% get a C, but how is that fair? Surely exam results should be about showing competence, rather than some notional allocation of grades.

Who are the other group of people with a vested interest in newly educated school kids and university students – business of course. As an employer, I want motivated and ambitious people to work for me. Exam results demonstrate a level of analytical thinking and the ability to understand problems and issues. But they are not the be all and end all, if they were the likes of Sir Richard Branson would be amongst the long-term unemployed.

Frankly, it matters not to me whether someone achieves an A* or A* with distinction. It’s the person underneath that’s important. I don’t think that there is an exam for that however.

I am also left wondering whether new grades will prove that important, as the uplift in University tuition fees will inevitably reduce the numbers of students following higher education. That is a blog post for another day 🙂


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