There isn’t a lot to go by as far as guidance on the new spec exam technique, so last night I read through the Exam Report (accessible here: OCR Exam Report) in hopes of some clarity.
What can we learn?
- Link everything back to the question – this comment is throughout the report. In many cases students use other names or ideas and go off topic. Everything must be linked back to the question to make it clear why it is relevant. My tip for developing this: One technique I absolutely swear by is highlighting key words in an essay answer. Whenever students complete an essay for homework (or in timed conditions for mock exams) before I collect them in, I pick some random words in the question (often words I think they will have ignored such as ‘no such thing’ ‘transcendent creator’) which they then have to highlight in their answer. Result: students notice very quickly if they have answered the question or not. Usually students say ‘oh I used different words does that count?’ – answer ‘no’.
- A02 needs to be supported by philosophical arguments, names or examples – it is not surprising that A02 is where students lost the most marks as this is the hardest technique to master. My tip for developing this: students learn lots of names and arguments as part of the course but do they use them to there full advantage? Just like above I get students to highlight their critical words (‘interesting’ ‘credible’ ‘vague’), use of names, use of examples to see which colour is missing – self assessment for improved writing.
- Students’ recall of names/ arguments was sometimes incorrect. This is understandable when students are under exam duress and tight time conditions so the report does say that “content was still credited” but students need to recognise that correct content is still key to a top mark essay. My tip for developing this: focus on testing content as well as evaluation. Every week I set a short test (Key Knowledge Test) based on the previous topic. This test is out of 15 (25 for A2) and focuses on key words and arguments not evaluation. Students must revise for these tests as part of on-going revision and then peer mark in class to save adding to workload (I then collect in and make a note of scores) Note: there are also many electronic quiz apps that can be used for this – I’m just old fashion and like paper in their folders to revise from.
- Don’t overuse rhetorical questions – these are not good enough A02 on their own. Students need to raise points using rhQ but then explore what the question implies in regards to the question.
- Avoid listing names – I call this ‘name dumping’. It is not enough that students have learnt the philosophers names and arguments they must do something with the information – evaluate it, link to question etc.
- Running out of time – this is also not surprising. The report emphasizes that it is “depth as much as breadth” but we all know students still have to cover the basics of an argument to be credited the marks. My tip for developing this: give students 35 minutes rather than 37, only a tiny difference but this means that in the exam that extra 4 minutes, with adrenaline and lots of revision – they are less likely to run out of time.
- Interwoven evaluation – “these tended to be the stronger candidates” – the report goes through two ways that students evaluated: evaluation was interwoven into answers or followed the part a) part b) structure of the old spec. Whilst the report said that the part a) part b) structure was credited the marks for evidence of A01 an A02 the higher marks often went to students who integrated the evaluation. My tip for developing this: do not leave A02 until the end of a topic otherwise students will associate A02 coming after A01 not as part of it. I integrate A02 throughout a unit. Students always prepare and answer essays at the end of a unit to integrate all information but A02 can be taught throughout (see The Four Steps to Teaching A01 & A02 Effectively).
- Little mention of other thinkers in Ethics – now this one stopped me. On the one hand the report comments on how students seemed to misuse names and go down tangents in Philosophy (e.g. talking about Irenaeus more than Hick) but then not enough reference to other scholars in Ethics. I know from looking at a few papers recalled from the exam my students often used names linking with euthanasia (in the NL Q) but few scholarly names in relation to NL and Kant. What I have learnt: This is definitely an area I will be adding into my lesson plans this year – Student research task: find scholars who have commented or follow NL, SE, Kant and Util and also point them towards books such as Vardy and Mackie.
- Linking in other topics was often done successfully e.g. life after death (DCT) in with the Soul (Philosophy) or Situation Ethics to Bonhoeffer (DCT) – this is one possibility to help solve the above problem. What I have learnt: this year as part of student’s revision (both in AS and A2) I am going to get them to create a spider diagram in A3 to link topics together.
- Comparing ethical theories to one or two other ethical theories e.g. linking SE or Util into NL essay – I think this is risky territory. In 37 minutes students have to explain a theory and evaluate fully (to answer the question asked), this leaves very little time to compare to another theory, which has to be briefly outlined and used for evaluation in relation to the theory in question. It is do-able by all means but very tricky. So for example students can compare the ethics of SE to NL to say which is better or worse but I would only recommend this for my highest ability students, who have control over their writing. Otherwise students have a tendency to go off on a tangent and forget the point they are trying to make. The idea of students comparing to two other ethical theories is a total no go!