GCSE maths, final decisions

Those of you that have been following this blog will know that we have been undertaking a programme of research in order to evaluate the expected difficulty of the exam boards’ sample GCSE maths papers and their approach to the assessment of mathematical problem solving. We have today (21 May 2015) set out the actions that are being taken as a result of our research.

Let me begin by reminding you what we were setting out to do. Our research programme initially had three strands, which we subsequently extended to four. These were:

  • research to understand the expected difficulty of questions compared with those available internationally
  • the large-scale testing of sample exam papers on around 4,000 students to evaluate the actual difficulty of questions
  • the identification of questions judged by maths teachers to best elicit mathematical problem solving
  • analysis by maths teachers of the ways in which questions testing mathematical problem solving might vary across the boards’ sample exam papers

If you have been following these regular blog updates you will be aware that we have recently completed this research.

In summary, we found that the difficulty of the higher tier sample papers of all the exam boards compares well with that of a range of already high-performing countries.  However, we have concluded that OCR, Pearson and WJEC Eduqas need to refine their higher and foundation tier papers to sufficiently differentiate across student abilities, and AQA needs to lift, to some extent, the expected difficulty of their foundation tier papers.

Our research has provided further confidence that the new GCSE maths papers will be of greater challenge than the current papers. And as a result of the actions the exam boards have agreed to take following our research, we are additionally assured that the boards’ exam papers will be more comparable in difficulty in 2017 and equally suitable for students as now.

The exam boards are refining their sample exam papers now and we expect boards to publish new papers no later than 30 June 2015.

If you would like to know more our full research report (A comparison of expected difficulty and assessment of problem solving across GCSE maths and sample assessment materials) is available here, our Regulatory Summary of the actions exam boards will now take is available here, and a video explaining our findings can be viewed here. You can also explore our findings further using an interactive tool, that can be found here.

Glenys Stacey
Chief Regulator

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