2021 exam changes

Your go-to place for exam changes and teacher support this summer

Why exam boards are using past questions for summer 2021

Published:Friday 9 Apr 2021

Since we released our assessment materials, we’ve had some questions about why we’ve used questions from past papers instead of new materials. We appreciate that some teachers would have liked new questions - but all the exam boards are taking the same approach, which was set out by Ofqual. This means that most additional assessment materials are taken from past papers – including ones from 2019 and 2020 that haven’t previously been publicly released.

Our Head of Assessment, Ruth Johnson gives a bit of background as to why Ofqual chose this approach for exam boards this summer and what this means for teachers:

“Past paper questions are useful in a situation where national exams aren’t being sat as we can look at the performance of these questions. We can see which ones were harder than others, which can help to target different groups of students with questions that are appropriate to their ability. Teachers can use the data in ERA (Enhanced Results Analysis) to compare the performance of previous years’ students on those questions with the performance of this year’s students. This can help when making decisions about the grades to award to students in the absence of standardised exams. In addition, in using past paper questions we are able to produce marked answers and commentaries that use real students’ answers to help teachers understand and apply the mark scheme.

Developing questions that are of that right level of demand and can differentiate between all the students who take them takes a long time to do well. Our focus here was on providing as broad a range of questions as possible to enable teachers, who will know what has been taught thoroughly to their students in this disrupted year, to select the questions that are most suitable for their students.”

Using the assessment materials isn’t compulsory – they form part of the range of evidence teachers can use to determine grades. Equally, there is no requirement to use new materials to determine grades. The JCQ guidance will help teachers clarify what Ofqual is expecting and has support materials for administrating the summer 2021 assessments.

Our Get ready for grading programme provides guidance and support for teachers where they need to build more confidence for grading students.

You can find the assessment materials for the summer 2021 series in Centre Services. They’re also in Secure Key Materials (SKM) in e-AQA. The Government has decided that some of the exam boards’ support materials should be made publicly available, and this applies to all exam boards. The sets of questions and high level mapping grids from our assessment materials will be published on the public area of our website from mid-April, but the mark schemes, marked example answers, detailed mapping grids and all other resources will still be kept secure.

The full 2019 and 2020 exam papers that some of the questions are taken from will also still be kept secure.

See all 2021 exam changes

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