Pupils in England will today be given advance information about the topics they will be tested on in their GCSE and A level exams this summer.
The release of information on topics ahead of the summer exams is intended to help pupils prepare and focus their revision.
Why are exam topics being published ahead in advance?
Exam boards have published details of the topics that will appear in this year’s GCSE and A level exams, as part of changes to help mitigate the pandemic’s impact on grades.
The advance information is designed to aid pupil’s preparation and help focus their revision ahead, but is not intended to reduce the amount of content they will be taught or tested on.
In all subjects – with the exception of English literature, history, ancient history, geography and art and design – pupils will be given notice about the topics to be covered in this summer’s exams.
Exam boards have said that materials will not give away so much detail about the likely questions that the answers can be pre-prepared or learned by rote. Question papers have been designed as they normally would.
The information given will not list every topic covered as boards are concerned it could lead to excessive revision of one topic.
However, boards have said that, in some subjects, all topics covered will be listed to help pupils prepare.
This is intended to help pupils prioritise those subjects during revision, particularly if they are using past paper questions.
What kind of advance information will pupils get?
For some text-based subjects, such as English language, the advance information may include the genre or period that unseen texts used during exams will be drawn from, while subjects such as art and design, which are only assessed through coursework, will not feature any pre-exam information.
For “synoptic” questions, which are designed to cover the entire range of a syllabus, there will be no advance information as pupils could otherwise be disadvantaged by limiting their revision focus to a few select areas, exam boards said.
Such questions are designed to test pupils’ broader knowledge so it is feared that providing information ahead of the exam would be restrictive.
In GCSE maths, combined science and physics, pupils will be given equation sheets to reduce the number of equations they need to memorise, and in GCSE English literature, history, ancient history and geography – subjects where advance information will not be released – pupils will study and be examined on fewer topics.
The materials will only be available on the exam board websites, with pupils warned not to look elsewhere to avoid finding inaccurate or misleading information.
When will the exam information be released?
The advance exam information will be released on Monday (7 February), exam boards have said.
Headteachers had originally called for the information to be given earlier in the academic year, but boards have waited until February so that pupils were not covering a narrow curriculum.
What’s been said about the changes?
Sarah Hannafin, senior policy advisor for school leaders’ union NAHT, said the advance material should provide both teachers and students some help on “where to focus their teaching, revision and exam preparations”.
She said: ““Advance information is not a simple list of what is assessed in the exam; the information is more complex, covers only high tariff questions and might relate to only a particular exam paper or section of it, with different approaches between specifications and subjects.
“We need to remember this is new to teachers so it will only be over the coming days that we learn whether they believe it will be sufficient to counter the levels of disruption which students have faced due to Covid.
“We would urge everyone to recognise that students have endured during one of the most pivotal periods of their lives which can be pressurised even in ‘normal’ years.
“They simply want a fair shot at success in their exams this summer.”
Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi added: “We know students have faced challenges during the pandemic, which is why we’ve put fairness for them at the forefront of our plans.
“The information to help with their revision published today, as well as the range of other adaptations, will make sure they can do themselves justice in their exams this summer.”
Examiners asked to ‘be more generous’ with grading
GCSE and A level examiners will be asked to be more generous with grades than in previous years to account for the disruption to education caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Exam boards have said grade boundaries could be less strict in some cases, with pupils able to secure a particular grade with a lower score than before, but examiners’ generosity may be more wide-ranging.
Exams regulator Ofqual previously announced that grade boundaries will be set roughly between 2019 pre-pandemic levels and boundaries in 2021, when teacher assessments were used to set grades.
Ofqual’s chief regulator Jo Saxton said the more generous grade boundaries will provide a safety net for students who could otherwise just miss out on their grades.
An Ofqual spokesperson said: “As well as the other adaptations discussed in the Joint Council for Qualifications technical briefing today, there will be generous grading.
“This will be delivered after marking is complete and when senior examiners set grade boundaries.
“It is likely to mean grade boundaries will be a little lower than they might have been in a normal year, but grade boundaries are never set in advance, and so we cannot be precise at this point in the year.”
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