Are Exams Really Being 'Dumbed Down'?

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EXAMS DUMBED DOWN
Are exams really getting easier? | Getty Images

The issue over whether exams are being "dumbed down" seems to resurface every year come exam time.

But now there are serious questions over grade inflation. MPs have called for an exam board overhaul to combat the "perverse incentives". So, is it a worrying reality, a tale spun by politicians eager to drive through policies or merely a myth perpetuated by the media?

Alex Cunningham, Labour MP for Stockton North, sits on the education select committee and was involved in producing the report released on Tuesday which called for exam board reforms.

Despite the committee concluding grade inflation and easier exams were rife, Cunningham says the excuses are fast becoming a cliche.

He told The Huffington Post: "I think we have to guard against devaluing examinations. We mustn't do anything that undervalues them. I am not convinced exam's getting easier is a credible excuse; we have better motivated young people, better teachers. I don't subscribe to that.

"I wouldn't like to sit any of their exams, not even after two years' worth of study.

"Grade inflation is a cliche, it is exaggerated out of all proportion. Employers have always complained about the standard of young people applying for jobs but they don't have any engagement with the education system to facilitate change."


Janet Fyle
Have not lost faith in UK exam system. Student efforts are undermined by negative comments and frequent changes

Glenys Stacey, chief executive of exam regulator Ofqual rubbished the idea of grade inflation when she first joined the body. But, a year later, she had turned on her heel and joined the ranks of critics blaming easier exams for the year-on-year improvement in results.

Stacey "welcomed" the publication of the committee's report, saying Ofqual would "continue to act as necessary to secure standards and public confidence".

But for the students who have just completed the long, hard exam slog, confidence is at an all-time low.

It seems amid the exam board bickering, we have forgotten it is actually about the children - who, by now, are becoming increasingly concerned at the sorry state of affairs.

On The Student Room forum, pupils are airing their worries in the run up to the impending results days.

One member, "JaguarCello", writes:

"I'm just finishing the last of my GCSEs. I'm predicted As and should get at least seven or eight A*s.
However, I'm worried that I'm only getting good grades because the exams are getting easier, if Gove is to be believed. I've always been at the top of the tier (that sounds arrogant, and I apologise) but I'm now not sure if it's just that I'm quite thick really but nothing is required to pass.
Anyone else have the same worries?"

Others had similar concerns, asking: "Are my A*s worth very little? Do they represent in any way my ability or intelligence?"

Another student put it simply: "If you don't do any work or aren't that intelligent you wont get the grades. Also the fact people are getting better grades in often down to the fact they work harder, my sister (10 years older than me) has commented on how much work I and others my age seem to do in comparison to people her age. We're under more pressure to achieve as the world is getting more competitive and this motivates people to study harder."

Chris Keates, the NASUWT's general secretary, described the claims exams are dumbing down as "highly dubious".

“If public confidence in the examination system has been undermined, this is as a result of ill-informed, ideologically-driven public debate, seemingly deliberately fuelled by misleading and inaccurate ministerial comments about a lack of rigour and stretch in the qualification system. Such comments are noteworthy only for their lack of substantiating evidence.

“The government’s own evidence has shown such claims to be mythical.

“This report must not be misused to create a crisis where none exists, simply to justify the government’s own predetermined political agenda.”


Andrew Frayn
exams still work in theory but students badly served by league tables and focus on teaching to exam as a result.

Safiya122 added on The Student Room's forum: "My friends had to retake and it's definitely become a lot more worded to make it seem more complicated. I'm not really sure if GCSEs have got easier, I personally believe those who find it easy are the ones who do the revision."

Andrew Hall, chief executive of exam board AQA said: "AQA has never competed by lowering exam standards, although I accept this may have been the case elsewhere in the market in the past."

An Ofqual spokeswoman repeatedly insisted: "It is not for us to set policy. We regulate and provide advice."

And, according to the body, they will be providing such advice in the upcoming months. Unfortunately for this year's exam students, it may be a case of too little too late.