What you NEED to know from the OCR Training Course!

A friend from another school has recently been to an OCR training course (My car was stuck in the snow doing wheel spins in sunny Scarborough!) and the major snippet of information is that on the content table of the spec, if it mentions a Bible passage or a text from the Pope for example, this could be used as part of a specific question.

Whilst I have covered these areas within the unit and students know to make reference to them in their answers, I was not expecting them to be part of the wording of questions. This was quite naïve of me! In my ten years of teaching OCR specs I know that anything mentioned on the spec could be used in the exam questions, I am just pleased I am now able to incorporate it into my exam practice with students.

A possible question for example might then be: Critically assess the view that official Christian teachings, with reference to Ephesians, should resist current secular views on gender. To me this sounds quite a clunky question but the powers-at-be at OCR have made it clear that this sort of question is possible. 

Foot note:

I finally made it to an R.S course, well it was more like an intimate get-together in Leeds with about 15 other teachers and author Hugh Campbell (who is always a pleasure and I highly recommend attending anything he is speaking on). Here are some of the highlights and tidbits from the morning – mostly aimed at students:

  • Avoid “Blue Peter answers” – here’s one I made earlier. It is obvious to an examinerheres-one-i-made-earlier-blue-peter when students have learnt essays and try to crow bar them into another question. The key tip: students have to answer the question in front of them. Anything mentioned (whether learnt in that topic or not) is accredited marks if it is relevant to the specific question asked.
  • Weave in evaluation – be critical of scholars immediately e.g Hume is right to say….because…
  • BUG technique – Box in question, Underline the key words, Glance at the question again
  • Always stick to the timings (40mins for A2) never just think ‘oh five more minutes to finish this essay off.’ No!! Why…because you will get more marks writing a second full answer than you would get for completing a conclusion for the 1st answer.
  • Never write in the margins, when exam papers are scanned into computers it cuts them off.
  • Don’t just stick a link to the question in the last sentence of the paragraph -integrate it throughout.
  • Avoid ‘I think’ assertions as this is not academic writing
  • If you don’t finish an answer leave half a page gap and start next question – this way an examiner doesn’t have to scroll through pages and pages on a computer to find the remaining piece of your answer at the back if you add more at a later time.
  • Introduction: define terms in the questions and if a broad/ general question mention your focus, so the reader knows how you have interpreted the question.
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How to Improve your Essay Technique: A-Level DCT Mock Exam

My A2 students have completed their first mock exam under timed conditions. Usually when I set essays for homework students can use their notes and do not complete under time restraints. This is because I want students to develop the right essay writing technique before making things more difficult. However a college wide mock exam meant my students had to finally bite the bullet and complete their first exam paper (questions written by me since there are no previous questions to go on).

  • Task: Answer two from four questions
  • Topics: A2 DCT Pluralism and Gender
  • Time: 40 minutes per question
  • Expectation: Focus on answering the specific question and evaluate everything
  • Help: Students were allowed to use their DCT revision pack notes to support them (Just click on Revision Pack if you would like your own copy of the 55 page pack for a small price)

So what where the questions:

  1. To what extent does an exclusivist view point represent the true Christian message?
  2. Evaluate the view that Christians should have a mission to those of no faith.
  3. To what extent has secular views on gender equality undermined Christian gender roles?
  4. Critically assess the view the Christianity is inherently sexist.

The marking process:

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Gender and Society: Student’s Work

The question was:

“Should official Christian teachings resist current secular views on gender” discuss

Students were given this question as homework. There were no time constraints and students were allowed to use their class notes to help. I believe that students need to first of all develop their technique before removing support (notes) and adding extra pressure of time conditions.

They are currently doing their first mock exam of the year (November 27th) under timed conditions, so have had three months of practicing their essay writing technique first. The students are allowed to use their revision packs for support. By March next year students will do a full exam with no notes and under timed conditions, so this is what we are working towards. If students don’t have the technique, removing notes and adding time pressure will not support them in  improving their writing only aggravate the writing process.

These are three introductions for the essay (my comments can be seen at the end as footnotes):

intro GS.JPG

Examples of main paragraphs:

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Avoid ‘name dumping’: Developing A02

Rounding off everything before half term always leads to a little self-reflection on how the term has gone. The conclusion for this half term was that my first years needed more:

  • Support structuring their evaluation,
  • Help to recognize what evaluation was,
  • Ways to actually get off the fence and start thinking critically.

The first area I wanted to tackle was ‘name dumping’ where students use names of thinkers but re-state their point and do not do anything with it. When using any names in the exam, each one needs to be used critically in reference to the question, just by stating their criticisms of another person’s argument is NOT evaluation. The examiner wants to know what you think about how successful their criticism is.

So I created a very quick writing frame that not only helped structure evaluation in a paragraph but showed the students how to engage critically with the views presented. Students could choose from F.R Tennants and Arthur Brown’s views and/or the Goldilocks Argument as supporters or Dawkins (digger wasp/ memes) and Stephen Fry (bone cancer argument) as critics.

para structure

Now I’m not a fan of writing frames as I find them too restrictive on the flow of arguments. So I asked the students at the end whether they found it useful or not. It was pretty much a unanimous ‘yes’. Even though their answers read a little disjointed, the activity achieved what it was meant to do – to avoid name dumping and for them to recognize how to structure their arguments using supporters, critics and defences.

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First Year Exam Paper Breakdown: Philosophy Soul Question

Here’s a breakdown of a student’s answer for the question on the Soul, Mind, Body unit from the new spec exams 2016 (first years).

‘There is no such thing as a soul’ Discuss (30)

OCR marks given for student’s answer:
A01 9/15
A02 8/15

I used this answer as part of my lesson on essay writing for this unit. I gave the students 3 highlighters: critical words (purple) , use of ‘no/ such thing’ (blue) and every time a new name is used (green). What was clear very quickly is that this student used multiple critical words, wide selection of scholarly names and linked points back to the question.

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First Year Exam Paper Breakdown: Ethics NL Question

Here’s a breakdown of a student’s answer for the question on Natural Law from the new spec exams 2016 (first years).

To what extent does natural law provide a helpful method of moral decision making? (30)

OCR marks given for student’s answer:
A01 14/15
A02 13/15

The structure of the answer is very clear and simple with an introduction, four main paragraphs and a conclusion.

Four paragraph themes:

  1. Links to Aristotle and telos
  2. Four tiers of Moral Law hierarchy
  3. Primary Precepts
  4. Synderesis and apparent and real goods

Each of these paragraphs follows the same structure: theme raised, briefly outlined, link to euthanasia (moral decision making), layered evaluation (helpful or not?). Each paragraph has roughly a 30/70 split between A01 and A02.

There are four reasons (in my view) this answer did well:

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