OCR admits controversial GCSE computer science paper was ‘more difficult’

But top results remained higher than pre-Covid levels after grade boundaries were lowered

But top results remained higher than pre-Covid levels after grade boundaries were lowered

29 Aug 2023, 12:18

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An exam board has admitted a controversial computing paper was “more difficult” this year, but top grades remained higher than pre-Covid levels after boundaries were lowered.

OCR said in May that it would review its GCSE computer science paper 2 after complaints from school leaders it left high-achieving pupils “traumatised” and “completely disheartened”.

Following last week’s GCSE results day, a spokesperson said it had “looked carefully” at the paper, including listening to feedback and carrying out “detailed analysis during the marking process”.

They added that marking had showed it was “slightly more difficult and we set grade boundaries accordingly”.

Computing saw one of the largest drops in grades 7 and above this year compared with 2022.

But this was expected as the subject had among the largest rises in top results when teacher grades were issued during Covid.

But despite the fall, computing had 13 per cent more top grades this year than in 2019 – one of the highest of all popular subjects.

Grade boundaries published by OCR show that to get a grade 7 in computer science 2 this year, students needed 49 out of an overall 80 marks.

For computer science paper 1, they needed 57 out of 80 marks.

To get a coveted grade 7 in 2019, pupils needed 56 out of 80 in paper 2, or 57 out of 80 in paper 1.

However, OCR said the two years were not comparable because of a new GCSE specification, with this year’s paper not existing in 2019.

OCR reviewed paper following concerns from teachers

Teachers and students took to social media to complain about the J277 GCSE (9-1) paper 2 after students sat the exam in May.

Specific concerns raised by teachers were that the exam contained “too many wordy questions”, while the paper was “a huge step up” from previous ones.

At the time, OCR said it was aware “some students found this to be a challenging paper” and would “look at” its difficulty during the marking and awarding process.

GCSE entries in computing have increased by 13.2 per cent across the UK over the last five years.

This compares with a 6.4 per cent increase in all GCSE entries across the same period, a Datalab analysis shows.

But the level of difficulty of the subject has often come under scrutiny. The same Datalab research shows 64.8 per cent of computing pupils achieved grade 4 or higher in 2023, compared to 68.2 per cent for all subjects.

Previous analysis by BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, has also suggested that pupils typically achieve a grade lower in computing compared to other comparable GCSEs.

Meanwhile, exam regulator Ofqual is reviewing standards in GCSE computer science.

Data shows other subjects harder

But data from the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) shows computing has not been in the five most popular subjects with the lowest proportion of top grades across the previous three years.

An OCR spokesperson added: “Every year after marking, senior examiners set grade boundaries that take into account the difficulty of the papers sat that year.

“We always work to ensure students get the results they deserve…We will continue to support teachers and students to build confidence in programming skills.”

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  1. This is a very bad approach, it’s too late to complain on exam day… Students have only 1 job to do, they need to learn and need to pass the exams. The papers were actually extremely easy and any student that spent any amount of serious time on their studies should have passed without an issue. We shouldn’t make the exams easier, we should focus on providing a better education for the students and make sure that they actually learn stuff in schools.
    Making exams easier means teaching for the grade and not for knowledge.
    Also, can we stop it with “pseudocode”? It’s completely useless and a complete waste of anyone’s time.

    • mike coxlong

      unfortunatly dragos students can only prepare for what was/is in front of them.there can be no contestion in the fact that the ocr paper 2 was completely focusing on minute and insignificant parts of the spec.furthermore the complaints regarding the wordings of the questions must be undoubtedly justified as clear wording for questions should not be a luxury in an exam paper but a requirement

    • crazyspider

      sorry dragos but as a person who’s currently studying CS i have to say that pseudocode is mighty helpful in the sense that learning it can give you actual skills when it comes to problem solving??? plus there are people in my class who are terrible at consistent syntax etc. (you’d be surprised how many students were forced into CS by their parents!) so it’s like a godsend for them bc then they can get a grip on the basics

      also yea i absolutely agree with mike here bc honestly if the wording of a CS Q costs me marks because it’s ambiguous i wouldn’t be anything less than furious (and to my knowledge they can be quite lenient with mark schemes at times)

      it’s about keeping the papers consistent in difficulty where possible to level the playing field, but suggesting better education isn’t ever a problem.