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What will the 2022 exams look like for students?

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The approach to assessing students in Scotland next year will be a national one with no local variation says SQA.

Next year, the Scottish government is planning for students to once again sit external national exams after the coronavirus pandemic forced their cancellation for two years in a row.

Over these last two years, students across the UK, at various levels of study, have had virtually all of their examinations presented to them and sat in an online setting due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Accompanying these logistical difficulties to examinations was the question of grading. The notorious algorithmic decisions of 2020’s high school exams resulted in mass outrage and an apology from ex-Education Secretary of Scotland, John Swinney. Swinney refused to resign despite two votes of no confidence motioned against him in parliament, after Scottish student results dropped in maths and science in the international PISA rankings for education in 2020.

The Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats all accusing Swinney of creating an exam results system which “unfairly penalised pupils at schools which had historically not performed so well” as a result of grading being awarded partly based on the average attainment levels of the school collectively.

Former Education Secretary John Swinney. Credit: Holyrood.com

It was clear that there was no perfect way to allocate grades, with worries teachers may estimate grades too highly, and aforementioned concerns that some students would be graded too low per the algorithm. The lack of sterile test conditions has led to two roads for students: some doing better than expected, and some doing much worse. The concept and practise of fairness is of paramount importance yet difficult to achieve under these circumstances.

In 2021, exam results were awarded with more emphasis placed on coursework, and teacher predictions informed by said coursework, with some subjects and courses attempting formal examination in small groups on camera. While standardisation has been aimed for, this has demonstrably not always been the case, with various factors such as subject choice, class sizes, size of institution, and year of study altering the decision on how to approach teaching across not just Scotland, but the world.

The changes to education delivery and examination as a result of COVID-19 have highlighted the problems already present in this sector, and that simply one approach does not suit every student and allow them to achieve to their maximum potential. Yet standardisation must be aimed for in the nature of equality. This duality is a problem that has led to criticism of how intelligence and examinations in general should be measured and graded globally for decades.

So, what can we expect from 2022 with regards to exams?

The Scottish Government’s plan is to run with in person examination for all High School students, with no variation across districts, even those that may still be hit badly by COVID-19.

There will be a decision to simply run the exams nationally or cancel them for everyone. This decision will have to be evaluated closer to the time, assessing the current state of the pandemic’s effects.

Fiona Robertson, chief executive of the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA), said that if nationally the decision is taken to run exams in 2022, there will be no flexibility to cancel them in a school or authority hit hard by Covid.

With University and college exams, the situation is a little more unclear for long-term.

‘Blended learning’ is often as detailed a description as higher education students will get if they are not told they are explicitly back in the classroom.

The decision is very much with the institution, so keep your eyes firmly peeled on all your emails and check your Canvas portal for any updates. Realistically most students in higher education will be informed of the nature of their examinations, but don’t get complacent that all your exams will definitely be online!

The SQA has committed to making provisions for students, especially in high school settings who are going in blind to exams for the first time. Ms Robertson said that modifications to assessments and courses had been made “up front” and that these were “not trivial” and they “are helping, and will help, learners”.

Featured image credit: Westmoreland Gazette/StockImages

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