For example – how to get higher marks in written questions

MORE-EXAMPLES

It’s great to be knowledgeable, but to pass an exam knowing the answer is often not enough. Questions set by examiners seek to do far more than identify people who “know stuff,” they want the student to prove understanding and that they can use the knowledge, not simply reproduce it.

The knowing doing gap

There is sometimes a disconnect between what you know and what you can explain. Have you ever said to yourself, “I know what I want to say but can’t find the words” or “what more can I say, I feel like I am just repeating the same point”. This may be the result of a lack of understanding and simply requires more study (see Eureka I understand understanding) or it might be that you just need a better way to think about what you’re trying to do.

Analyse, Explain – clarify – Example e.g.e.g.e.g.

Imagine you’re faced with a question, it asks that you, provide a possible  explanation as to why we have seen a fall in stock market prices in recent weeks and what impact this might have on  economic growth in the UK . Often the first problem is knowing where to start, below are a few ideas that might help.

You will need a few headings to help give structure, these can often be found in the question, here for example we could use, Why stock markets might fall and Impact on the UK. Then under each heading think about analysing, explaining, clarifying and giving examples. These are not headings; they are to help expand on what you have been asked to do and give a perspective from which to think.

  1. First you analyse – If you analyse something you break it up into smaller parts so as to gain a better understanding. For example going back to the question, perhaps we should identify exactly by how much the stock market has fallen, over what period, what other events were happening at the same time, do we have any theories that could help or theoretical models we could apply etc. By examining what you have found, something new and obvious may become clear.
  1. Then you explain – an explanation is an attempt to make clear what you mean. One way of doing this is by making a series of statements. So for example, if you noticed that during the period in which we had the fall in the stock market, China’s economy also slowed and oil prices fell to unprecedented levels. This might lead you to make the statement – one of the reasons for the fall in stock market prices would appear to be the slowdown in the Chinese economy and the fall in demand for oil.

A subset of explanation is clarification. Definitions are a great way to clarify exactly what something means and in what context it is being used. Here for example we might want to include a definition of economic growth.

  1. And finally the example itself, possibly one of the very best ways of explaining and a very powerful technique to demonstrate understanding.

Example “Metaphor’s forgotten sibling”. John Lyons

It may be a reference to a real world example. In the question we have to address the impact on the growth in the UK economy. If you gave an example of the last time oil prices were so low and what happened as a result you will not only be demonstrating breadth of knowledge but also moving the debate forward, suggesting perhaps that the same will happen again?

Real world examples demonstrate the complexity and unpredictability of real issues, and as such, can stimulate critical thinking.

Students learn by connecting new knowledge with their own prior knowledge and real-world experiences. Piaget et al

An example may also be a construct, something that you talk through to illustrate a point. For example, let us imagine the impact of falling oil prices on an engineering company in the West Midlands. A reduction in oil prices would result in lower transportation costs that could be passed onto customers in the form of lower prices, in turn this should increase demand.

“Examples are indispensable to the acquisition of knowledge and they appertain to the domain of intuition”. Kant

Although this blog has covered an approach to structuring written answers, it is the use of examples that for me is the most important. And if it was not obvious enough, look how many times I used examples to explain what I was trying to say …….

So you want to be an astronaut – assessment for astronauts

 

Astronaut-Tim-Peake-Dials-Wrong-Phone-Number-from-Space

Your there by yourself. There’s no doctor, there’s no computer engineer – so you have to learn all of these skills. Tim Peake

What is the purpose of assessment?

In order to gain a better understanding of the assessment process for astronauts, let’s ask a more basic question first, what is an assessment and what does it prove?

At one level it is simply a measurement of performance benchmarked against a given outcome or standard. The results can, help a teacher identify progress so they can adapt the next lesson, or give assurance an individual is capable of performing a particular task. This is probably the most important type of assessment for astronauts.   Modern high stakes “examinations however play another role; they offer the student a transferable badge of honour that can help open doors to better career prospects and increased salary. If you doubt the importance of this last point, click this link to read about the level of corruption in India and the lengths people will go in order to obtain a certificate saying they have passed an exam.

Employability gap – so what’s the problem?

However examinations on their own do not provide a guarantee that the individual who passes will be able to do the job.  And it is here where the disconnect becomes clear. Often the method of assessment is not based on what the student will be doing in the work place, and even if it is, it is not set in the same context. Many believe this gap has become ever wider as more and more students come out of school/university lacking the skills required by the employer.

But should the exam/assessment be changed to narrow the gap or is it the role of the employer to provide the necessary “on the job” education in the work place? However the problem with the employer being given the responsibility, it implies that what you study doesn’t matter, only that you do. This just seems wasteful, wasteful of time, money and effort. Assessment must get closer to measuring the skills required for one simple reason, what gets measured gets achieved, a cliché for sure but a true one.

Assessment for astronauts

Costs – The costs involved in training astronauts is a bit unclear, NASA will pay Russia $70m for a seat on Russian space craft in 2017 that includes training, figures of around $25m are also cited, Tim Peaks training was quoted as £16m so very similar.

Basic requirements – Mission Specialist (non pilots – most are pilots with a military background) include the following:

  1. Bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution in engineering, biological science, physical science, or mathematics. The degree must be followed by at least three years of related, progressively responsible, professional experience.
  2. Ability to pass a NASA space physical, which is similar to a military or civilian flight physical.
  3. Height between 58.5 and 76 inches.

Training – Tim Peak’s education started in 2008 when he was selected by ESA (European space agency) from 8,413 applicants. Tests at this stage included, intelligence, spatial awareness and concentration. Then for the 10 selected another 18 months of intense training followed, this time on topics as wide ranging as space law, rocket propulsion, spaceflight engineering and the hardest for Tim, learning to speak Russian. He was also subject to one week’s caving in Sardinia, Italy, with five other astronauts to simulate what it would be like in space, this was to build teamwork, problem solving and cope with poor hygiene facilities. Then it was one year of advanced training, including working underwater to simulate the lack of gravity. In 2013 it was time to go into space for the first time, this was the last test before being selected and then finally in 2015 Tim was allowed to do the job for real. In all it had taken 6/7 years.

What have we learned?

Clearly you need some underpinning academic skills i.e. a degree but a relevant one. The training is provided by the state, the argument being that it is for the greater good of society so the costs should be met by the tax payer. An interesting point for those that believe this should be the case for all education. But most importantly the assessments were all built around making sure that when Tim got into the space he could do the job. Very few of the tests required a piece of paper and a desk, and many were simulations of what he would meet in the real world.

Given the advances in technology the time is now right to introduce more simulations into the exam room, not so we can all become astronauts but to help prepare the next generation for the work place.

And just imagine your badge of honour when going for that next job – “what exams have you passed” “oh a few, but did I mention I was an astronaut…..”

 

27 Million People per day can’t be wrong – Gamification

League of LegendsThe statistics are astonishing, as of January 2014, over 67 million people play League of Legends per month, 27 million per day, and over 7.5 million concurrently during peak hours. And if your good at it the prize money for winning the world championship might get you to question your chosen profession, it was $2.3m in 2014 and 2015. Playing an on-line game is part of daily life for many people.

This blog is “of course” not about League of Legends. In fact I have to admit I had never heard of it, just shows how far out of touch you can become with popular culture. It’s not even about the gaming industry which is said to be worth £3.9 bn to the UK economy, it’s about a growing and fascinating area of learning called gamification.

Gamification is the use of game mechanics (rules, design and tools) in a non game context to better engage and motivate learners to achieve a desired objective. There are two types, structured, where you are looking to propel a learner through content and reward them for the desired behaviours and content driven where the game is the content i.e. the learner is a character in the game and is required to undertake tasks that are in turn rewarded.

Gamification techniques – Game mechanics

Games are not of course all the same but they do have similar characteristics, these “techniques” can then be used in a non game context i.e. a learning context. The idea being that if they engage and motivate the gamer, they will do the same for the student.  Games need some form of measurement to assess performance and a reward to act as an incentive.  Below is a note of some of the measurements and rewards used in gaming but could be adapted for learning.

  • Points – Used to keep score
  • Badges – visual stamps that are awarded to users on certain achievements and are normally displayed in their header and profile page
  • Levels – shows ranking and progress
  • Leader boards – a high score that is displayed for all to see
  • Rewards – not a badge but something tangible e.g. money….

Personal gamification

You don’t need to spend millions developing a game to get the benefits from gamification, and its not all about beating others, here are a few tips.

  • Set up a points system – identify the activities that will help you achieve your goal e.g. spend 2 hours each evening studying, 10 points. Answer 2 questions each evening, 20 points. Attempt the mock exam, 40 points. Score 50%, 80 points etc. Keep a running total of your points in a place that you can see when you study
  • Levels – Only move onto the next chapter or session when you have the desired points
  • Leader board – Keep a note of your highest score from the other subjects
  • Rewards – The best part. Set up a series of rewards e.g. a night off, go for a run, have a glass of wine, bar of chocolate etc. Increase the rewards as gaining the points becomes more difficult. If you beat your leader board score, then your rewards can be even greater, maybe a day out shopping/at the football etc. Why not ask others to contribute to the reward, if I get to the top of my leader board how about you buy me dinner. You will be surprised how many people, friends and family will effectively sponsor you.Other brands are available....

And finally tell your friends what you have done, “just eating a massive bar of chocolate which was my reward for scoring 80 points on my study game.”

Of course you might get fat doing this, but don’t worry there is another game that can help – it’s called weight watchers…..

Technology can help

As ever technology can help, check out this app HabitRPG – Click 

The mystery of scaled scoring

A mystery is defined as something that is difficult to understand and or explain. This describes exactly the situation we have at the moment as many examining bodies move their assessment towards scaled scoring and away from the more traditional percentage pass mark.  Some argue that scaled scoring is clearer in that it allows direct comparison of one examination to another but from my experience in the short run at least clarity is not the term many would use.

The raw score

How did I get on?For most students the way to find out how well they are doing is to have a piece of work marked. If the total marks available are 50 and the student scores 35 then as a percentage they have obtained 70% of the available marks. This is called the raw score. Interestingly it tells you very little, for example is 70% good or bad? For a raw score to have any meaning it needs to be compared with a standard. This could be with another student or group of students, and is an example of what is called norm referencing, now this clearly has meaning as you can tell if you are performing better or worse than your peer group. But the most common way in which exam results have historically been published is as a pass/fail against a pass mark or as it is sometimes called a cut score. If the pass mark is 60% and the student has scored 70% then they have passed.

The scaled score

However raw scores are only fair if the exam sat is the same for every student. It would be unfair to give each student a different exam and set the same pass mark, unless of course you believed the exam was of an equal standard.  This has been the argument in the past, yet producing an exam of equal standard is almost impossible, and this is why scaled scores are being used more often.

To use scaled scoring you need a range of marks, for our purposes let us assume the range or scale goes from 0 to 150. We then have to set a common passing score, say 100, this is the score on the scale that the student needs to achieve to pass the exam or test, and it will never change. What happens next is what makes a scaled score so useful.

ExpertsA group of experts including the examiner review the exam that has just been sat, they will probably mark a number of scripts themselves and will have access to the results from all other students. Then taking into account the performance of all students and their knowledge of this particular exam they will set the pass mark for this paper. Let’s assume that the pass mark is 32, if a student is awarded a raw score of 32 on this particular paper it will be equated to a scaled score of 100. All other scores above and below 32 will also be given a scaled score equivalent.

So on some levels using a scaled score is no different to the examiner setting a different pass mark for each exam, acknowledging that the level of difficulty will never be the same for any one examination. The reason the scaling is used however is because it can be stated that the passing score for the exam is always 100, this means the standard stays the same even though the marks may change.

So there you have it, no longer a mystery….I hope?

For more information and guidance watch the video on Pearson’s web site. Click on this link and scroll down.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Confused about University, I am – Training V Education

Birmingham Uni

Birmingham University

Last month students across the UK would have received those all important exam results informing them if they have been awarded the grades necessary to get into the university of their choice. It’s easy to get caught up in this process seeing it as the end goal rather than part of a journey, I speak with some degree of experience. But how will the lucky ones judge if the next three years will be worth it. What does a university education give you……surely it’s more than a ticket to the next stage in the game i.e. Go to university-get a good job.

Training or education

We may find some of the answers by taking a closer look at the distinction between education and training. I thought finding a definition of education would be easy, yet many referred to it as being something obtained from going to School, College or University and I was looking for a more insightful observation. The business dictionary of all places seemed to offer a little more along these lines – The wealth of knowledge acquired by an individual after studying particular subject matters or experiencing life lessons that provide an understanding of something.

Education makes a people easy to lead, but difficult to drive; easy to govern, but impossible to enslave”
Lord Henry Brougham

Training proved a little easier to pin down. Here a couple of definitions – The action of teaching a person or animal a particular skill or type of behaviour (Oxford dictionary) and The process of bringing a person to an agreed standard of proficiency by practice and instruction. (Collins)

Still not clear, this might help – “If your sixteen year old daughter told you that she was going to take a sex education course at college, you might be pleased. But if she said she was going to take part in some sex training you might have something to say?”

Training and employability

BCU formerly Birmingham Polytechnic

Training is relatively narrow and largely relates to developing skills and ending up with the ability to do something. This is most closely linked to employability. Employers don’t want students who know things, they want students who can do things. But is this what a university education should be about , is it the place that simply prepares students for work?

This was much easier to answer when Polytechnics existed. These were “educational” institutions that focused on STEM subjects and had close ties with industry. They however lacked degree awarding powers and invested little in research so were seen a poor relatives of the then university. But there was little doubt as to what their objectives were.

Confusion

This is not a plea to bring back Polytechnics, although it doesn’t seem such a bad idea does it? No its more about the confusion that exits’ as to what employers want, what students expect and who universities think they are. Are they educational establishments or training grounds for the next generation of employees?

Maybe they can be both but if identities are not made clear soon, those students who have worked so hard to get into the university of their choice may find themselves disappointed with what they end up with.

More quotes about education 

For the pragmatist – A man who has never gone to school may steal from a freight car; but if he has a university education, he may steal the whole rail road.Theodore Roosevelt

Its about learning how to think – The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education. Martin Luther King, Jr.

And you cant go wrong with MT – Education: the path from cocky ignorance to miserable uncertainty. Mark Twain

Staying the course – commitment

Mo-Farah-EthiopiaYesterday Brendan Foster described Mo Farah as the greatest sportsman Britain has ever had. You may of course disagree, it’s probably one of those conversations best left to have in the pub, I am sure there are many worthy contenders. Farah responded modestly by saying that because we have so many great sportsman simply being put in the “great” category was amazing. He nominated his greats, David Beckham, Sir Alex Fergusson and Sir Steve Redgrave.

Watch Mo win the 5,000 meter gold at the world athletics championship 2015.

I have to confess to knowing little about sport or in fact having much interest, but what has always impressed and inspired me is the level of commitment successful sportsmen and women have. I have written in the past about Sir Steve Redgrave who won gold medals in five consecutive Olympics. How do you do that, how do you get up every morning and work towards a goal that is four years away, every day for 25 years?

Mandy Monday – procrastination

Start MondayMandy is a weight watcher character who promises to start her diet on Monday, in the interest of gender equality I am sure there is a male equivalent let’s call him Marty. Of course Monday never comes and so although Mandy sort of commits to Monday she constantly puts it off, choosing to do “other things” in preference. Initially this seems like you are delaying the pain in favour of the pleasure but I am not sure delaying something that is in your best interest is pleasurable? Pleasure implies satisfaction and I don’t think you feel satisfaction, probably more like relief.

Exams – you need to commit

It can be like this with studying and exams. Very few students want to sit an exam, its hard work, stressful and you might fail. So if you were given a choice when to sit the exam when would it be, Monday?

In fact delaying an exam can feel perfectly logical and rational. This is how the internal conversation might sound. “I have to sit this exam and it’s not going to be easy, to pass you need to know everything. There is no point sitting the exam if I am not 100% ready, an athlete wouldn’t enter a race if they weren’t 100% fit, it’s like that for me. The best thing to do is sit the exam in another month, another month is all I need, then I will be ready.

The million dollar question is do you ever feel ready?

On demand exams – Set the date and stick to it

If the exam was once every four years my guess would be that most students would not put the exam off, can you imagine waiting another four years? But when an exam is on demand and its left to the individual when you have to take the exam, you never have to commit. At the back of your mind you know that you can always delay. This means you never made the commitment in the first place.

But how to commit – Take a calendar and pick the date you want to finish all of your exams, when you want to qualify, write it down. Then list out all the exams you have to pass to get there, set dates for these and write them down as well. Put them on a wall chart, electronic calendar, even post them on Facebook, they cannot change. These dates are no longer in your control; you have passed that to someone else and in so doing have made the commitment to yourself. Go on do it now!

And finally an antidote to exams

Not anti school, but pro education – If you have not seen any of these spoken word videos – watch this one. Why I hate school but love education, you will not be disappointed.

Ps if you like the no add video check out quite tube.

“You never fail until you stop trying.” – Toms story

The young Tom - inspiring us even then

The young Tom – inspiring us even then

I am not sure when I first met Tom but it was certainly early on in his studies. Tom was not your typical accountancy student, he was slightly older and perhaps more reflective, the two points may be related. Students studying for professional accountancy exams are probably around 25 and focused very much on looking forward, not back.

Tom started his exam journey in November 2009, his first 2 papers went well and he passed them first time. You need to pass 10 exams broken down over three levels if you want to become a member of the Chartered Institute of management accountants (CIMA).  Boosted by this Tom decided to sit the next 4 papers all at once, something he now thinks was a mistake, he passed just the one. By the end of 2011 however he had passed the other 3. That was 6 papers and two levels complete, Tom was back on track.

“Even though the ship may go down, the journey goes on.” – Margaret Mead

2012 was not a great year for Tom on a personal level which almost certainly had an impact on his performance in the exam room. As a result the whole of that year went by with only one exam success. Between 2012 and 2013 Tom sat one of the remaining papers three times and the other one six times, to quote Tom, that’s six, count them 1…..2….3…..4…..5…..6….. He finally passed that paper in November 2013.

It’s probably worth pausing at this point, how would you feel if you sat an exam twice and failed, let alone 6 times. At this stage your biggest enemy is your own mental attitude. You begin to question your ability, your intelligence and even your choice of career. On top of this is the boredom and stress of having to study the same exam over and over again, trying to do something different, fearing if you don’t you will get the same result. And of course as many of you will know when you are studying your life is on hold, making decisions about work, family/friends is difficult as you need to put your studies first.

In fact Tom did consider giving up, but there were two reasons he didn’t. One the support of his teacher, Maryla who remained positive throughout whilst working with Tom on what he needed to do to improve, and two Toms stubborn attitude, his determination and desire to get something good from all the hard work he had put in so far. To quote Tom, “all I kept thinking was I have lost so much because of this bloody course I have to get something positive from it.” When Tom finally passed that paper he felt excited, and as if he had slain a personal demon.

“Adversity causes some men to break; others to break records.” – William Ward

With only one paper to go Tom was still to face a number of challenges, and it was far from plain sailing.  Knowing a large amount of detail was essential for the earlier papers, now it was all about the big picture, prioritisation and time management.

He was told that gaining the qualification would open doors … So he imagined an open door, on the other side were green fields, money, cars, holidays, being the boss. This focus really helped motivate him to see it through. He passed his last exam on the 29th of May 2015.

It had taken Tom 6 years, in which he had sat in the exam room approximately 22 times. This is not the story of someone who always knew he would pass, destined for success nor of a naturally gifted student who simply needed the right motivation to bring out his talent. This is about what you can achieve if you are willing to make sacrifices, give everything you have and learn from failure.

Congratulations Tom you deserve your success.