Writing an assessment is harder than you think!

I am now 2 weeks into my time at Team Up! I am into the full swing of tube commutes and office work. But for the more interesting part of my experience: I have almost completed the first section of my project, in which I am creating a new set of mathematics assessment materials. I will soon be moving onto the second half of the project, which will be based on updating and amending the current lesson plans. For this period, I will have more free range and control over how things develop, mostly because my supervisor is away on holiday!

So far, I have been working alongside said supervisor and, for two days a week, another volunteer. Firstly, I researched the current GCSE specifications and determined the knowledge required for each grade (or ‘level’ as they are now referred to, just to make things that little bit more confusing). I then cross referenced this with GCSE exam paper questions to produce a bank of example questions. This was all very time-consuming and took up the most part of my first week.

One of the main problems we faced when producing Team Up’s assessment was that we only had a maximum of 1.5 hours to test the students. The actual GCSE examinations consist of 3 hour-long papers, meaning that we only had half the assessment time. Because of this we had to be selective with the topics we chose to assess in order to try to test as much of the syllabus as possible.

We also had to consider the grades that the students were hoping to achieve. The students that Team Up works with are generally pushing towards achieving a grade 5 at GCSE (a high C/low B). A foundation tier paper allows students to achieve a maximum grade 5. To avoid restricting the students’ achievements, Team Up had proposed an assessment allowing students to achieve up to a grade 6 (high B). To achieve this without having to introduce higher tier content we looked at the breakdown of the different assessment objectives (put simply, how many easy/hard questions there are on the paper) in both the higher and lower tier papers and chose an intermediate weighting to allow higher ability students to show off their skills.

So far, the main learning point for me is the amount of work that goes into setting assessments. There are so many different restrictions and objectives to meet, let alone coming up with suitable questions! Throughout all of this you need to be guessing what the students of different abilities will/will not understand. There is no set formula for a grade 6 on a paper, when an exam board sets this they already have all the marks for the paper and use these to inform their decision. Trying to do this backwards as we are is very difficult!

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