To Pass or not To Pass

The release of this year’s exam results brings predictable reponses from the usual quarters. Examination bodies are now obliged to release “grade boundaries”, or pass marks in simple language, since noone knows how difficult an exam is until it has been done. The pass mark is adjusted up or down until the required number of candidates is within the boundaries, allowing for a slight increase year on year. The purpose is to rank candidates in order of performance, although the examination bodies themselves will deny this. Reacting to the news that the “pass mark” in several subjects was less than 50 per cent, Murdo Fraser MSP raged, “There’s a general understanding amongst the public and employers that somebody who gets an exam pass scores at least 50 per cent….we have a specific problem with the Standard Grades where there’s almost an assumption that they are there to be passed.” Oh dear, less than pass marks for the Conservative education spokesman for his understanding of the Scottish system. Nick Seaton of the Campaign for Real Education (a bit like real ale ie flat, dull and wholesomely good for you) weighed in with, “common sense suggests that it is completely wrong to have such low pass marks……..if things go on like this qualifications will become meaningless and neither employers nor universities will be able to rely on the results. They will have to do their own testing…..” I know he didn’t mean it but I think his idea has real potential. The notion of a single, all-purpose qualification has surely had its day. Incidentally, who was it who decided that remembering 50 per cent of what you were told was a sign of success while remembering 45 per cent of it represented failure?

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