Schools spend thousands of pounds on ‘question banks’ to improve GCSEs and SATs scores

Schools spend thousands of pounds on 'question banks' to improve GCSEs and SATs scores

Schools are spending thousands of pounds on “question banks” to prepare pupils for exams and to improve assessment outcomes.

The banks, which allow teachers to access different types of questions on a single topic, have grown at a “crazy” rate, say exam boards.

AQA offers a question bank for primary schools called Testbase, which costs £240 for the complete package. Exampro for secondary schools costs up to £100 for separate subjects.

Each includes past exam questions, mark schemes and examiner commentary.

Laura Lassman, managing director of Doublestruck, the assessment technology organisation within AQA that runs Testbase and Exampro, said “growth has gone crazy year-on-year”.

On a single day last week, teachers used Exampro 18,000 times, a rise of 5,000 from the highest point last year. Meanwhile, Testbase was used 13,500 times last week, a similar total to the rest of the year.

Each annual licence allows three users per subject, which would equate to schools spending thousands of pounds on Exampro.

However, teachers tend to use the banks more than once, peaking towards exams, said an AQA spokesperson.

Questions are indexed by topic, type and curriculum objectives, and can be used ahead of teaching.

Growth has gone crazy year-on-year

Whereas teachers “used to go through old past papers, cut and paste them on paper and photocopy them”, now they could quickly produce topic-based compilations, Lassman said.

Daisy Christodoulou, head of assessment at the multi-academy trust Ark, said the use of question banks was one of a fleet of exciting technology changes in assessment.

Not only could teachers access past questions, but pupils could also help to refine future questions, she told delegates at a May 9 event about assessment held by the Chartered College of Teaching.

Crowdsourcing – teachers sending in questions – could also revolutionise assessments.

Cambridge Assessment is crowdsourcing computer science questions in a joint project with Microsoft. Tim Oates, head of assessment research and development, said the subject, which was added to the EBacc three years ago, “desperately” needed a question bank.

More than 4,000 computing questions have been submitted, and are now available free on the Cambridge Assessment website.

Oates has advised the government to create national question banks “for all subjects across all years” to help to cut back on workload and cost.