Universities want ‘less teaching to the test’

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University academics want A Levels to: include more advanced content for more able students; cover core subject areas in greater depth; and encourage critical thinking, independent study, experimentation, exploration and more extensive reading. These are the initial findings from a Cambridge Assessment study being presented at UCAS’ Admissions Conference on 3 April in Birmingham.

Cambridge Assessment’s 18 month long Higher Education (HE) engagement research programme also discovered that universities want less ‘teaching to the test’ and for A Levels to be reformed they have to be:

  • Less predictable;
  • Have more essay/open-ended style questions;
  • Limit the number of resits.

The initial research findings support the programme of its UK exam board OCR, which is already working with nearly 150 academics from HE and learned societies in nine subject areas, to investigate how the exam board can help students succeed in a smoother transition from sixth form study to university education. 

Dr Irenka Suto, Senior Research Officer at Cambridge Assessment, said: “We hope that our systematic approach to data collection and analysis will give credibility to the evidence used to develop the next generation of A Levels”. 

Mark Dawe, Chief Executive of OCR, said: “Our parent organisation’s research, together with our own subject-based consultative forums, has provided us with a firm evidence base to design the next generation of A Levels to the standards expected by HE. 

“Over the past two decades, the design and content of qualifications has increasingly become the domain of government-funded bodies. One effect of this has been to disenfranchise university lecturers, tutors, and admissions staff. Recognising the need to strengthen links with universities and other HE institutions, the research programme is one of the ways we are increasing HE’s role in the design, development and evaluation of A Levels and other qualifications.” 

Research conducted included a survey of lecturers’ views on the preparedness of new undergraduates for degree level study; focus groups on the design of A Levels; and a literature review of the pedagogical differences between Levels 3 and 4. 

Cambridge Assessment’s forthcoming research projects include a structural comparison of the questions used in examinations for 16 to 19 year olds and in university examinations; and a review of conceptualisations of generic research skills. An empirical study of whether context can be ignored when assessing skills is also planned. In line with Cambridge Assessment’s wider research programme, the HE engagement research programme is a ‘rolling’ one, and will continue over several years. 

The first full report will be published at the end of April.

Related links: Cambridge Assessment

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