A-level essays

I wrote my first 25-mark essay this evening, all about mission statements. I’ve made my pupils do it; it only seemed fair that I could provide them with my attempt as a model.

I worked on 1 minute per mark, and it was really, really tough to get through the points I’d wanted in the depth I thought was necessary. The essays appear in Paper 1, alongside 15 multi-choice questions and 35 marks of short-answer questions – it’s 100 marks in 120 minutes. Given that they will need time for choosing and planning their essays, 25 minutes writing struck me as being about the right allocation of time. I’m now reassessing this in the light of this evening’s efforts. The only solution is that they’re going to have to whizz through the multi-choice really quickly to free up time for the essays; this is going to make deep learning all the more important, so that recall is instantaneous.

I’m also struggling with knowing the depth that the examiners will expect – there’s a big difference between the existing BUSS4 40 marks and the new Paper 1 25 marks, but will this be reflected in the marking? Without exemplar material, I’m finding it really hard to know what standard is an A, and what is a B. This uncertainty makes me worried about predicting grades for school purposes, let alone for UCAS – I know we’re still a long way off that point, but there will be a time when we have to allocate a letter to each of our pupils. We’re hoping to get an examiner in to run departmental INSET focused on marking (I’m really happy to open this out for other local centres, if people would find this useful), and I’m sure there will be courses over the next few months, but until them I’m stabbing in the dark.

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