Brian Cox, exams and what Level 8 means

In a recent interview, Brian Cox, physicist and science communicator, said this: “I think it is the wrong message that their job as students is to pass an exam. It really is not; it is to understand their subject.”

I think we’ve all encountered the student who seems to be a good exam performer but when you chat to them in a lab or work with them on a project, you are puzzled as to how they are doing so well. But, in my experience, this sort of student is rare.

Likewise it’s rare that students who do badly in exams perform exceptionally well in project work. They might do better than expected but rarely are they brilliant. Aagin, in my experience.

So, by my reckoning, exams seem to be a good marker of all round ability and a good marker of how well students, on average, understand their subject.

Let’s look at some CAO data from 2018. In the graphs below, the bars represent the median entry points (that’s the median of the minimum points required for each course). The “error bars” represent the range of points required for courses in the institution in question.

iotpoints

unipoints

We know that within a typical first year university/IoT class, the correlation between CAO points and final grade is weak. But does that mean that points don’t matter? Can we say with  confidence that courses where the minimum entry points are 300 are taught at the same level as courses where students enter at 475 points?  This question is a sensitive one but it’s one we need to ask.

2 thoughts on “Brian Cox, exams and what Level 8 means

  1. “Can we say with confidence that courses where the minimum entry points are 300 are taught at the same level as courses where students enter at 475 points? This question is a sensitive one but it’s one we need to ask.”

    If one was to probe further into this area one could ask further questions surrounding teaching:

    Will all content be delivered by the lecturer?
    If not, and there is post grad input then how familiar would the post grads be with the content?

    Who corrects the assessment load?
    Is it lecturer delivering the content or is shipped out to someone with little to no involvement with the module?

    One might have to ask a lecturer delivering the same module subject to different classes with the stated entry points?

    A further important aspect would be class contact time in terms of hours per week on module?

    What distinctions are you seeking to make (sensitively) between points and or IOT/Uni?

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    1. IoTs v Unis would be the obvious (and sensitive) one given the points disparity in many cases. But basically anywhere there is a significant difference in entry standards. For example, the course I teach on is currently around the 480 mark but there was a time when it dropped to around 360. Thinking back I found it a frustrating time but I don’t recall our grade distributions being any different from what they are now. I think the standard tends to adjust to the ‘quality’ of the intake.

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