Leading exam boards have been criticised by parents and the head of England’s exam regulator after thousands of pupils were tested on topics they had been told were ruled out of papers.
AQA apologised to A-Level law students on Friday for the “confusion and stress” they had been caused after a 30-mark question on nuisance was included in the paper despite not appearing in the list of topics pupils were informed to revise.
The exam board had told pupils that “higher tariff questions” would draw on the listed topics given to pupils before their exam.
AQA also apologised last week after its standalone GCSE physics paper included a nine-mark question on a topic that had been ruled out in the advance information.
The board ended up awarding all candidates full marks for the question on energy transfers and circuits in the physics paper after a social media backlash from angry students.
Students were given advance topic notice this year in order to mitigate the impact of the pandemic after two years of exam chaos and cancellations.
‘Made the whole exam quite distressing’
One parent, who wished to remain anonymous, said her daughter had taken the physics paper in Gloucestershire and had left the assessment “upset” about the surprise question.
They told The Telegraph: “Lots of pupils will have seen it and panicked, and it could arguably have affected the way they performed in the rest of the paper.
“This cohort have just gone through two years of severely disrupted education and were assured certain things would not be in the exam, so to then put it in is pretty appalling.
“I have been told that it made the whole exam quite distressing for many, and it will make them doubt next papers coming up too.”
They added that it does not appear to have been an isolated incident, as fellow parents had reported similar issues.
‘Real bumps in this road’
Another exam board, Edexcel, was also forced to apologise over an error in its GCSE geography paper which labelled Gabon as the Democratic Republic of Congo on a map of Africa.
Jo Saxton, Ofqual’s chief regulator, told the Confederation of School Trusts’ annual conference on Friday that “the package of support in place for students for this year’s summer series” had had some “real bumps in this road”.
“I absolutely understand the distress that mistakes in advance information and exam papers cause,” she said.
Ms Saxton added that students had “welcomed” exam aids and formulae sheets, which she said had “taken the stress off of their shoulders”.
But she noted: “They love the idea of the advance information, but the reality is they found navigating it in many cases just one other thing to think about.”
‘We didn’t mean to cause confusion’
An AQA spokesman said: “One of the aims of advance information is that it shouldn’t narrow teaching and learning, so we couldn’t list all the topics on the exam paper.
“Although we advised students to revise all topics and included the focus of one of the two 30-mark questions, we appreciate that many students expected us to include the focus of both questions – especially in light of guidance we gave before we released the advance information.
“We didn’t mean to cause any confusion or stress for students and we’re sorry that we did. The fairest way to address this is for us to look at how students performed on this paper after we’ve marked it, and we’ll take any action necessary to protect them.”