Exams regulator Ofqual will evaluate the impact of giving advance information on topics to students this year to “inform thinking for future years”.
Dr Jo Saxton, chief regulator, said she saw the measure as a “really exciting” adaptation, brought in to help exam year students focus their revision in the light of continuing Covid disruption.
She added they would be “monitoring its effect closely” by speaking to teachers and students about how it helped after its been published and after the exams.
Speaking at the Sixth Form Colleges Association conference, Saxton said: “There is much to learn from what will happen in the coming months and so we will expand a wide-ranging research programme to evaluate the impact of advance information to inform thinking for future years.”
Advanced information is to be published by exam boards by February 7.
Ofqual has teamed up with subject specialists and its assessment design team to agree how the measure will work for “over 300 specifications”.
Saxton said the boards had worked “at pace” to develop “focused aids, without revealing the questions, and you can imagine that’s definitely an art rather than a science”.
“If they’d gone too close in revealing the questions it would have undermined exams and turned them into short-term memory tests rather than true measures of what students have learned, know, understand and can do.”
‘Advanced notice on low scoring questions nonsensical’
She added that supporting students to review for higher tariff questions does not mean that advance information will “only support the most able students”, after concerns were raised this month that struggling teens could be “doubly disadvantaged”.
Saxton added: “Bluntly, to focus advance information on low tariff questions would be nonsensical.
“It would be silly to publish a document that says something like; you will be asked to identify the year in which the Versailles Treaty was signed, or the year in which Magna Carta was signed. Clearly, at that point, the exam would stop being an exam.”
Saxton said the information will provide support while “enabling the re-instatement of the tried, tested – and trusted – approaches to the awarding of qualifications”.
‘Can’t turn off plan B arrangements’
The government has asked schools to assess students throughout the year, as a plan B in case exams need to be cancelled again, prompting workload worries.
Saxton said she was “really aware” that some teachers and students “would dearly like us to switch off contingencies given the government’s confidence and commitment to exams going ahead”.
She added: “But I’m afraid that the need to collect evidence of student performance in case exams don’t take place is important. It won’t surprise you that I can’t agree to turn off those arrangements. Not, of course, that it’s entirely in my gift.”
The government came under fire last year for not having an “off-the-shelf” plan B ready to go when exams were cancelled in January 2021.