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Was the recent C1 paper too hard?

19 May 2016

 London A2

There have been many reports in the national press regarding the difficulty of the A level Edexcel Mathematics C1 paper which thousands of year 12 students sat yesterday (18th May 2016).

Students took to Twitter in their hundreds to complain about the lack of whole numbers in the paper and also comment on how difficult they found it. This is nothing new: an AQA Biology paper experienced a similar storm a few days earlier. The rise of social media means that students’ opinions are increasingly visible and, once one opinion has been aired, it does not take long for agreements to chime in.

Some students will inevitably feel deflated following an examination. If they have prepared properly then they will have spent months revising, practising questions and, the night before, probably lost some sleep through nerves. Little surprise then, that they might exit the exam hall worrying about whether all the hard work will have paid off and starting to dissect the contents of the paper in minute detail. In the past, such students would have discussed the paper between themselves immediately afterwards, probably worrying over a few questions and then returning home to prepare for the rest of their examinations. Twitter has changed this and now, where the examination would have been forgotten, it now becomes a ‘trending’ topic. Those students who probably did not notice any rogue questions suddenly panic about the contents and support their peers, worrying about the difficulty level of the paper and whether or not the questions were ‘fair’.

Regarding the C1 paper Michael Danzelman, Head of Mathematics at MPW London, comments:

Edexcel’s C1 paper has provoked some strong reactions from students across the UK. However, the content and style of questions was no different to any other year and almost all question types have appeared in previous papers at some point over the last decade. The specification makes it clear that in C1 students should be proficient in the use of fractions, indices and surd manipulation without use of a calculator and this year is no different in that respect. The Uniform Mark Score (UMS) is designed to ensure that raw mark thresholds at the grade boundaries reflect performance nationally and therefore students will not be unfairly disadvantaged by a “difficult” paper.

In short, students have no need to worry. Firstly, the paper was in line with previous years. Secondly, and a very important point to remember, is that UMS scores change annually. A similar number of students each year receive A*-C grades and the grade boundaries differ according to cohort performance. On a paper considered ‘easy’ the pass mark for an A will be higher than one that students nationally have been found to struggle on.

Considering questions repeatedly and worrying over answers can be torturous and it also achieves nothing. The best advice we have for students taking exams at the moment is to focus on revision and preparation. Do not allow yourselves to become distracted at such a crucial time and, once an exam is over, exit the hall and try to forget about it until Results Day.