Numbering nested questions
In line with the aim of simplifying and standardising the format of AQA‘s question papers, it has been proposed that all question papers should be numbered using a simple sequential system (i.e. 1, 2, 3… etc.).
The study reported here investigated whether using sequential question numbering where an alphanumeric system (1(a)i, 1(a)ii,… etc.) is currently used might have any impact on candidates. 485 Year 11 GCSE Geography candidates participated in the study.
Approximately half of the candidates sat a mock examination of the original, unmodified question paper, which used alphanumeric question numbering throughout the three sections; the remaining candidates sat a modified paper in which all but those questions in the first section were renumbered sequentially. Candidates‘ performances in the first, common section were used as a covariate when comparing the performance of the two groups of candidates on the differently-numbered sections.
The analysis showed that the type of question numbering system used by candidates had no significant effect on their performance overall. Likewise, the facility indices of all part-questions were very similar for both groups of candidates and an analysis of candidates‘ rubric infringements did not find any evidence of systematic error caused by the sequential numbering system.
Lastly, candidates in the modified paper condition were asked to comment on their experience of using the two question numbering systems in the mock examination. They identified strengths and weaknesses of both the alphanumeric system and the sequential system but expressed no strong opinion as to which system they preferred.
It was concluded that the decision whether or not to discontinue using the alphanumeric question numbering system can probably be made without any concern that candidates will be disadvantaged either way.