Are exams getting easier?

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So yesterday saw another year in which record results were achieved for 16 year olds in the UK for GSCEs.

My poor daughter Anna, has elected to wait until we get home from holiday to open her results rather than have someone read them to her over the phone.  I watched her yesterday as she traded her friends results over Facebook and SMS/Text.

I vividly remember opening my GCE results, as they were called, in 1985.  I still have the results papers filed away. And I remember calling my friend by telephone, with no Facebook or SMS to telegraph to friends.

And it's 20 years since I qualified as a high school Religious Education teacher, and my knowledge of how much high school education has changed is rather out of date.  Certainly the news is full of the usual stories of how things are easier than in 'our day'.

Anecdotally my daughters education does seem full of things mine wasn't, study skills courses, mentors, specimens and examples, revision classes etc. All of which must have led to a rise in results, and for good reason.

Post-graduate education is where I have the most current and developing experience, and can compare that to my undergraduate experience of studying theology.  I would receive a question such as 'Is the Holy Spirit the Perfecter of Creation' with no guidance, no examples, no grading rubrics, no bibliographies.  Off to the library with pen and paper, not even a computer and google to help.  Writing essays was like a magical dark art that only the 'bright' students knew how to do.

Yet as I write syllabuses for post graduate students, they now receive book lists, grading rubrics, examples of previous papers, and related study skills materials.  All of which is better for them and rightly.

But sometimes when students complain, as students at all times in history will do, about a lack of help, I bite my tongue and resist the urge to say 'count yourself lucky, in my day...'.  Truth be told I lament the paucity of educational support that my learning was located in, that was too much 'sink' or 'swim'.

So on the one hand I'd like to think that education is working better at, well...education.  But on the other as I hear my kids discuss grades, and occasionally as I have students enquire about their grades, it seems that an A- is standard good grade in the minds of many, with a B a bog standard pass, and anything less is somehow a failure.

With the negative feedback loop of good university places requiring higher grades, those places costing more, and the appeal of an education institution depending on producing high grades, no wonder there is pressure on students to be awarded higher grades.  And after all haven't they have 'paid for' them.

Now I am feeling old(er).