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Adrian,

What can I say?!

Sorry, I should encourage my students to give answers that the examiners expect them to give in order to be more 'in the spirit of the exam'. You forget that whilst examiners may enjoy setting questions very few students out there enjoy taking them, so I can't imagine what 'the spirit of the exam' might be!

Perhaps in a perfect world where our said copper coin sat in splendid isolation for several hundred years then the only coating on the coin might be copper oxide, but in the real world I suspect that there might be a few skin cells on there, perhaps even some oil, grease, bacteria and goodness knows what else. Certainly in Biology we refuse to place coins on agar plates to grow micro-organisms for fear that all sorts of nasty lurgies might be bred. This suggests that there is more than just copper oxide encrusting our coins and that the students who wrote 'dirt' (lacking the necessary vocabulary at the age of 11 to describe dead skins cells and oils in detail) were every bit as right as the few kids who wrote 'copper oxide'.

Copper Oxide may well have been what the examiner was looking for and there is no doubt that some might be some to be found on said coin, but that does not mean that it is completely impossible to find 'dirt' there also.

Moving away from this particular instance - just because a child cannot read an examiners mind and has not chosen the answer that the examer had hoped for, does not necessarily mean that it is wrong, and being forced to mark the answers as such and then explain to the students that whilst they were perfectly correct, their answer was supposedly wrong and I would have to dock them precious marks as a result is not a pleasant task.

Surely Chemistry of all things is supposed to be about the real world?

Rowena

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Guest Adrian Dingle

Rowena

I think the quote below encapsulates your problem of understanding;

Surely Chemistry of all things is supposed to be about the real world?

The answer to that question is, "Certainly NOT - when it comes to the exam".

The phrase, "In the spirt of the exam", means that without that "spirit" exams would be completely useless. For an understanding of what I mean, read my comment about the Niels Bohr anecdote.

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Hm … back to reliability vs. validity. I'm fairly sure that GCSE Chemistry examiners would want their exams to be about the real world, Adrian, although I'm not a chemist!

This reminds me of another piece of anecdotal 'evidence' I picked up somewhere. After independence, Nigeria decided to make English one of its official languages (to try to dampen regional rivalries), and made the teaching of English compulsory in all secondary schools. However, there weren't enough teachers who actually spoke English to go round, so the government produced a standardised syllabus, with accompanying textbooks which could be used by people whose own English was very poor. There was, of course, a comprehensive 'objective' examination system, where the spirit of the examination was the thing to bear in mind.

After 15 or 20 years the results you'd expect had come to pass: the Nigerian school system produced lots of graduates who had qualifications in 'English' … but who spoke and wrote a language which was almost impossible for someone who *hadn't* been through the system themselves to understand. C'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas l'enseignement!

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