Paper Exams: It’s a Numbers Game

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Research conducted on behalf of TES has revealed shocking results. The research predicts with great accuracy how many words students must write to get a good grade in English exams.

English teachers up and down the country will now be able to accurately answer the age old exam question;

‘How much do I need to write?!’

Extremely long answers don’t seem to deliver the best results and students have been able to attain good results with relatively short answers. It has emerged for GCSE English essays that there is a base of around 700 words to be in the top percentiles. However after 700 words grades either remain the same or begin to diminish. The study cites an example of two students who wrote in excess of 1200 words but only achieved a grade C in the essay. This is contrasted by a considerable group of pupils who were awarded an A* having only written around 400 words. You don’t need to strain your wrist to get the bests grades. It really is quality rather than quantity.

Source: TES.com

The research also revealed an absolute minimum to grade at all with papers of less than 200 words all being graded U. There is also a grade B threshold of 300 words; no papers under 300 words managed to get higher than B. On average the group of student who do achieve A*- B  write slightly longer answers. High quality condensed answers seem to be favoured by examiners.

Even for the longest essays, the average mark achieved by candidates never reached the top A* grade boundary. The research concluded that the best strategy is to write two pages of A4, with clear and accurate paragraphs. This statistically gives the pupil the best chance of being in the top percentiles.

However beyond the 700 word threshold there is no real correlation between grades and words written.

It is only now that we are able to gain insights like this, perhaps because of the techno-phobia of schools and examining bodies. The reality is that many children can type faster than they can write. We inhibit the child’s ability to achieve the best possible grade because of the medium we force them to do it in. English teachers always say;

“Your hand writing doesn’t matter that much as long as the examiner can read it.”

Researcher argue that hand writing bares little representation of academic ability. You may have been shocked by your GP’s or even solicitors hand writing, but you wouldn’t think them incompetent or incapable. This is not the case however for examiners. Whilst the examiner will try to extract what the child has written, they can be forgiven for not trying as hard once they have marked 300 identical papers. The vast majority of professional writing is typed, every  position now requires a high level of computer literacy. Like it or not, handwriting will become more of a novelty, as we swap pen and paper for smart phones and laptops. We should all work hard to make paper a thing of the past, there is a certain irony to cutting down trees to write biology questions about trees.

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