The great Alex Quigley published this post last year: the problem with practice papers
It is a great read and I recommend it.
This year we are delivering the new Edexcel IGCSE course for Language and Literature and the issue has arisen simply because there are no past papers with which to work. Whilst this is slightly daunting – there is no track record of question types and no evidence of ‘real marking’ to consider. The ‘student style responses’ are detailed (some written by boys in my current Upper 6th), but again as a point of reference they are only useful once we have seen a cohort marked and been able to undertake some discussion of the actual marking on the ground.
The result has been far less resort to ‘past papers’ and ‘practice papers’ than in previous years and I am rather pleased. At last night’s Year 11 Parents’ Evening, many asked for past papers to practice and we explained to them that there were none. Many seemed a little put out, but they need not be.
One of the real benefits has been to stop the rote practice of exam questions which have already been asked, and which by definition therefore, are unlikely to return. Students seem to become adept and responding to specific questions which we assess to specific guidelines – on this assessment, read Alex’s blog post…
What I want is to produce flexible students. Students who can answer any exam question -especially those which we are not expecting – because their knowledge is such that they are not hide bound by specific lines of questioning. They can respond to the unexpected because they have not trained themselves only to answer one question about the character, or have worked up 4 theme questions, only to be caught out by an unexpected 5th…. For me, the greater use this year of knowledge testing without exam questions, the ‘you are the examiner’ style of peer question production and the more careful thought which i have been forced into to devise my own questions without simply returning to past papers has been a joy.
Reliance on past papers too often brings a rather closed eye to the possible lines of questioning and desired responses which the students might face.
I am rather pleased we have no past papers yet. They are not always a great help.