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back in the day we had O-Levels and birching
March 27, 2009 11:52 AM   Subscribe

Has the UKs GCSE Science exam been dumbed down too far? See how well you do for yourself.
posted by Artw (100 comments total)

 
Uh, already took this. Thankfully for the sake of my university, I got 8 out of 8. Phew.
posted by Sova at 11:54 AM on March 27, 2009


You scored 7 out of a possible 8 Sova I'm dumb.
posted by Mblue at 12:01 PM on March 27, 2009


6 out of 8, suntan girl and viruses.
posted by lazaruslong at 12:03 PM on March 27, 2009 [3 favorites]


You scored 8 out of a possible 8

You rated: Alpha quiz-taker
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 12:06 PM on March 27, 2009


So I guess what I am saying is that if I could get 8 of 8 then yes, it has been dumbed-down too far.
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 12:07 PM on March 27, 2009


Those questions are inane. Did the Guardian pick the most absurdly dumb ones they found to make their point? Or are these truly representative?? Seriously: "Six is the right number of times to test anything"?!
posted by R343L at 12:10 PM on March 27, 2009


What is the GCSE Science exam? Is it some kind of college entrance exam? Or is it for younger students?

Knowing that you notice cars with your ears seems incredibly simple for someone above the age of 7, but even with an advanced post-secondary science education I still do not know exactly how Polio works.
posted by Midnight Rambler at 12:10 PM on March 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Having scored 7 out of 8, I am bus passenger. So, I have that to fall back on for employment.
posted by Bernt Pancreas at 12:10 PM on March 27, 2009


Hey, man. Six is the right number of times to test anything.
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 12:10 PM on March 27, 2009 [5 favorites]


I got 7 out of 8, but most of the questions were laughably easy. I got tripped up by the polio one.

I'm puzzled by the concept of a GCSE in "science" though - I took O levels in chemistry & physics, and could have also taken biology as a separate subject. Are kids no longer offered or examined in different branches of science as discrete topics? This all seems a bit too much like "general knowledge" to me ... and as for the idea of making the whole test "multiple guess", umm ... yeah. I vote for "dumbed down".
posted by kcds at 12:14 PM on March 27, 2009


8 out of 8.
My god, it's pretty dumb.
The SAT II Biology is maybe analogous, and much harder. No (free) online practice tests, though.
posted by Methylviolet at 12:14 PM on March 27, 2009


For those of you wondering what the GCSE is, here is Wikipedia's bit. It's 'for ages 15-16'.

Seems to me about half of the questions are ridiculously stupid, and about half are, while not ridiculously hard, very specific. I don't know much about DNA, for example, but then I suppose if they've been studying it just recently, they should.
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 12:15 PM on March 27, 2009


Doesn't suntan girl have two answers? Why is "She believes the risk outweighs the benefit" correct and "She is aware of a risk but decides to go ahead" is not?
posted by harperpitt at 12:16 PM on March 27, 2009 [15 favorites]


"What other sense organ does she use to notice the car?

Correct answer: Ear"

Why does the Guardian hate car-tonguers?
posted by CKmtl at 12:18 PM on March 27, 2009 [3 favorites]


That's a truly terrible test if that Guardian story is an accurate representation.

Two answers for #1 are correct, and none are correct for #3, since if you had battery powered cars and diesel buses full of people, you would satisfy the criterion of less energy used per person by the buses, but the cars would be less polluting.
posted by jamjam at 12:18 PM on March 27, 2009


Well, that's 8 out of 8 for me. I'd make for a pretty smart 15-year-old, I guess.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 12:22 PM on March 27, 2009


Only 7 out of 8 here. Thankfully I've already passed my OWLs in Transfiguration.
posted by rusty at 12:23 PM on March 27, 2009 [7 favorites]


This was just on the BBC news... and yes the other questions seem just as stupid if the examples they give are anything to go by ('What organ pumps blood around the body?' 'Which are better for you - grilled sausages or fried sausages?')

A science teachers bright, but not particularly remarkable, 8 year old son took the test and passed.

I remember a piece in the Guardian by a teacher when the syllabus started that essentially it just reduced science to general knowledge.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 12:23 PM on March 27, 2009


If this test is a fair representation then most eight year olds would also make for pretty smart 15 year olds.
posted by minifigs at 12:25 PM on March 27, 2009


Another 7 of 8 here. Failed the polio question.

It did correctly identify me as a bus-passenger, but failed to realize that I also ride trains as part of my commute. Definitely too dumbed down. Still, pretty impressive it could peg me like that based on how I answered some science-related questions.
posted by owtytrof at 12:25 PM on March 27, 2009


Yeah, GCSEs are the school leaving examinations taken by 16-year-olds after about twelve years of education. Only the A* to C grades really count for anything, but over half the population goes on to get higher qualifications anyway. Those who are less likely to get a good grade such as A*, can be entered into a lower paper where the questions are easier but the tope mark is only a C. These questions may be from one of these lower papers, thereby skewing the impression somewhat.

Also, as mentioned, there are usually separate papers for different science subjects, and the taking of a 'Science' paper indicates that the taker isn't particularly bright. In a normal secondary school a pupil will have about 3 to 5 hours a week on science subjects (or thereabouts) which include physics, chemistry, and biology. The fact that a pupil needs that much teaching to earn one GCSE isn't a good look. A 'good' student will have less than 3 hours a week per GCSE taken, and end up with about ten or so. At least, that's how it was when I was last at school, about, um, 13 years ago.
posted by Sova at 12:28 PM on March 27, 2009


Oh, and just for note, I don't have any GCSEs.
posted by Sova at 12:30 PM on March 27, 2009


7 of 8. That polio question tripped me up, as well. *ashamed*
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:31 PM on March 27, 2009


The U.K. does some stuff as well or better than the U.S. even when the U.S. seemingly invented it.

I'd say they only hold their own on real economic damage due to privatization. Yes, CA's blackouts are spectacular but so are the two tier health care system and the railways. well, clearly the U.K. beats the U.S. on TV dinners and grade inflation.
posted by jeffburdges at 12:32 PM on March 27, 2009


It's always the dumb question. Most engineers know the question and answer, but I always ask them why. Viscous fluids tend to leak more. Why?
posted by Mblue at 12:36 PM on March 27, 2009


Are kids no longer offered or examined in different branches of science as discrete topics?

Sort of. From wikipedia:

* One GCSE: Core science (which includes elements of biology, chemistry, and physics)
* Two GCSEs: Core Science and Additional Science (a more academic course)
* Two GCSEs: Science and GCSE Applied Science (a more vocational course)
* Two GCSEs: Double Award Applied Science (a very vocational course)
* Three GCSEs: Core Science, Additional Science and either a single further science (Biology, Chemistry, Physics) or Additional Applied Science
* Up to three GCSEs: Biology, Chemistry and Physics as separate GCSEs

These questions in the article are from the Core Science curriculum I believe, i.e. the exam for those who just want to do the mandatory minimum science curriculum; otherwise known as Science for Hairdressers. Those questions are indeed representative, I'm afraid.

Thank His Noodliness I work in a boarding school that doesn't have to follow the national curriculum.
posted by ArkhanJG at 12:36 PM on March 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


She might end up sensing the car with her skin, nose and tongue if she doesn't jump back fast enough.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 12:41 PM on March 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


8 out of 8, so yeah, way too dumbed down
posted by IndigoJones at 12:45 PM on March 27, 2009


7 of 8. Maybe you need to be British to answer the tanning question.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 12:46 PM on March 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


Unless they have an engineering GCSE, then this does not count as science. Social science perhaps, but at 15 we were trying to figure out blowing stuff up with fertiliser in chemistry and pendulums in physics. Biology, not so much, but I bet they got to look at some entrails.


Braniac
and Mythbusters are doing more for science than the national curriculum. And shouldn't there be some cumputer sciece in there? Like basics of flashing your iphone so you can get unrestricted access to piratebay? (Maybe all 15 year olds know this already ...)


And sunbed girl:

Correct answer: She believes the benefit outweighs the risk
You answered: She is aware of a risk but decides to go ahead

She can believe whatever the hell she likes, but she still shouldn't put her hands through the protective grill.
posted by fistynuts at 12:51 PM on March 27, 2009


7 of 8, but I got polio wrong only because I second-guessed myself. Also, she could totally have sensed the car with her nose before her ears, if it were an electric car moving slowly and covered in dog shit.
posted by marginaliana at 12:53 PM on March 27, 2009 [3 favorites]


My take (as someone who took 'O' levels in the year before GCSEs were introduced, and then went on to train as a science teacher, as well as having a good friend who was head of science at a big secondary school) is that yes, there has been a degree of dumbing-down.

A lot of that is the result of narrowly-defined target setting in education (i.e. grades being seen as a measure of overall quality and consequent lowering of hurdles). But the focus of the curriculum also plays a part.

Science education in the UK used to be a much smoother transistion from Key Stage 3 (age 11+) to university; obviously this led to a degree of exclusion for the less-able who weren't best suited to more rigorous science. Study at Key Stages 3 and 4 (11-16) is now much more about learning things that are of practical use to the average person (who is unlikely to pursue a career in the sciences). Hence there are questions about sun beds and salad cream. And hence the frequent criticisms from universities who feel that this year's new batch of students isn't quite as good as last year's.

The curriculum has to evolve; changes within society dictate this. But we do need to keep the most able students challenged, and we do need to raise the bar if we're going to continue to meet the need for highly-skilled people in the sciences, engineering and medicine. The UK is losing a lot of ground to countries where sciences and mathematics are taught with a bit less concern about being inclusive.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 1:02 PM on March 27, 2009


7 of 8, but I got polio wrong only because I second-guessed myself. Also, she could totally have sensed the car with her nose before her ears, if it were an electric car moving slowly and covered in dog shit.

Gee, have a mistake.
posted by Mblue at 1:02 PM on March 27, 2009


Oh, and if I can think like a GCSE exam setter for a moment, I can probably explain the sunbed girl question.

As a general rule of thumb, you should use all the information in the question. That she stated she doesn't want to be the only one on the beach without a tan indicates that she has a goal in mind - getting a tan - and is prepared to take a risk to achieve that goal. The only answer that includes both risk and benefit in the correct order is answer 2, "She believes the benefit outweighs the risk"

If, on the other hand, she'd said something like "They say there's a risk of getting cancer using a sunbed, but I don't really care" the answer would have been answer 1, "She is aware of a risk but decides to go ahead".

No doubt this semantic difference was covered during their risk/benefit section of analysing risk. Whether this should be on a 16 year old's science exam rather than an english exam at a much lower level though, is a different question.

Also, you electric car etc people are overthinking it. When it comes to GCSE questions, the simplistic answer IS the correct one. The questions often seem deliberately designed to trip up the people thinking 'yes, but...' Nuance is your enemy at this level.
posted by ArkhanJG at 1:05 PM on March 27, 2009


You scored 7 out of a possible 8 teeth
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:05 PM on March 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


I failed on the sunbed question too... I thought benefit? Not getting laughed at? No, it can't be...

Bus Passenger.

In my day these would have been on the CSE science course, correctly identified as 'science for hairdressers'. Any CSE students out there who might have a go?
posted by itsjustanalias at 1:06 PM on March 27, 2009


8 out of 8. But I still won't get any favorites.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 1:07 PM on March 27, 2009 [4 favorites]



8 out of 8. But I still won't get any favorites.

sixth mistake
posted by Mblue at 1:09 PM on March 27, 2009


4. What is the correct description of a gene?

Correct answer: A section of DNA in the nucleus of a cell


Wait, aren't there genes in mitochondrial DNA?
posted by Rumple at 1:15 PM on March 27, 2009


Yeah, the right answers in some cases were laughably inaccurate or misleading. "Viruses aren't affected by drugs" ... uh, kind of depends on what you call a drug and what you mean by "affect". Because there certainly *are* things people would call drugs that affect viruses. What they meant, of course, is that viruses aren't affected by (anti-bacterial) antibiotics.
posted by R343L at 1:32 PM on March 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Viscous fluids tend to leak more. Why?

This is not absolutely true, since liquid helium below the lambda point is the leakiest liquid by almost any standard, and has a viscosity of (almost) zero, but it does kind of jibe with my experience.

Do you have any sources you'd care to cite?
posted by jamjam at 1:34 PM on March 27, 2009


As a general rule of thumb, you should use all the information in the question. That she stated she doesn't want to be the only one on the beach without a tan indicates that she has a goal in mind - getting a tan - and is prepared to take a risk to achieve that goal. The only answer that includes both risk and benefit in the correct order is answer 2, "She believes the benefit outweighs the risk"

Hmm, I took the opposite approach. She says "I know I shouldn't really use them" and "I don't want to be the only one on the beach without a tan" suggesting that although she is aware of the risk, her decision is motivated primarily by fear of embarrassment rather than a rigorous cost benefit analysis. That is, the first statement suggests that if asked directly she would agree that a tan is not worth the risk of getting cancer (intellectually, she does not believe that the benefits outweigh the risks), but she goes ahead and gets the tan anyway against her better judgment.

Plus, a government sponsored test targeted at young people suggesting that it is possible for people to weight risks and benefits and then still decide to engage in 'risky' activities (e.g., drugs) is preposterous.
posted by Pyry at 1:43 PM on March 27, 2009


Wait, aren't there genes in mitochondrial DNA?

And in viruses and bacteria...
posted by mr_roboto at 1:44 PM on March 27, 2009


Yeah, the right answers in some cases were laughably inaccurate or misleading. "Viruses aren't affected by drugs"

That's not the right answer, not even according to this test. The answer they're looking for is "The virus lives inside cells".
posted by mr_roboto at 1:47 PM on March 27, 2009


But in the sunbathing one, no actual benefit was explicitly stated, unless not not being the only one on the beach is considered to be a benefit.

As for tasting cars... when I walk into the local Canadian Tire (a home, hardware and automotive parts retail store), I can taste the rubber tires without actually seeing them. It's a pretty nasty experience.
posted by bitteroldman at 1:48 PM on March 27, 2009


Hrm. Maybe I have misremembered which of the eight I missed (I only missed one). Anyway, I think my point is still correct even if my example is wrong. :)
posted by R343L at 1:49 PM on March 27, 2009


7 of 8. I'm sad because I missed the radiation one. Oops. And I even used to read the Hulk.

I too am struck by the way the questions veer from utter stupidity to "science trivia". I'm not sure what this test really proves. Of course, in general I'm not sure how useful this sort of after-the-fact multiple-choice test is. I used to teach prep courses for SAT, GRE, and LSAT (for non-US readers, those are tests for college entrance, graduate school entrance, and law school entrance, respectively). I could very easily improve the test scores of the people fortunate enough to have $700 - $1000 available for the course, but it didn't seem to me like they were learning anything they'd retain. It was all test-taking strategy and a narrow focus on past questions (memorize these vocabulary words!). With the law school students especially, it seemed ludicrous that this was supposed to predict their future ability as lawyers.

I'm curious what people think might be better ways to impart and test knowledge. I'm especially nervous about the fact that my 4 year-old is entering the US school system soon and that there's all this focus on standardized tests (No Child Left Behind). But that's a "whole nuther" topic I suppose.
posted by freecellwizard at 1:54 PM on March 27, 2009


Ph.D. in chemistry here with 6/8. I thought the suntan girl believed the benefits outweighed the risks or else she wouldn't have done it, ipso facto. And with the polio I was trying to guess what the dumbed down answer would be, i.e. its common knowledge that antibiotics don't kill viruses. Plenty of drugs cross the cell membrane, so I don't think that's really the difficulty with polio. if it just stayed in one cell, it wouldn't be a problem, it's that it replicates in a cell and then spreads to others.
posted by 445supermag at 1:56 PM on March 27, 2009


Pyry:

a) For this theoretical teenage girl, fitting in IS a strong benefit that outweighs the (small) risk. We're to take her statement that she considers it so at face value.
b) you're overthinking it.

I read a couple of ICT GCSE papers a couple of years ago, complete with answer booklet. In almost every question, they were vague and there were often multiple somewhat correct answers. Yet the 'correct' answer was pretty much always based upon a truly literal reading of the question, and a simplistic approach to the problem, even if it was actually wrong in the real world.

The best way to pass one of these things for your average mefite would be to channel an 8 year old.
posted by ArkhanJG at 2:02 PM on March 27, 2009


I'm curious what people think might be better ways to impart and test knowledge.

Who said school was about knowledge? I dare say learning the skill of sitting still and doing what you're told for several hours every day for 10+ years is the only lesson you really need. Any 'tests' are just recognitions of the system's authority.

Maybe pupils should be allowed to mark themselves. Like ask them to write down on a piece of paper how well they think they did, and let that decide the next semester's level of work. After a couple of mishaps with either too easy or too difficult work, I'm sure most pupils would progress at a rate proportional to their needs.
posted by Sova at 2:07 PM on March 27, 2009


I'm a bus passenger because of that stupid girl and her tanning bed. And the radiation one (guess I should be reading more comic books!).
posted by rtha at 2:12 PM on March 27, 2009


8 of 8. And yes, it's dumbed down.
posted by orthogonality at 2:26 PM on March 27, 2009


Clearly all GCSE multiple choice questions should come with an optional freetext area where students can quibble with the question for extra credit.
posted by Artw at 2:40 PM on March 27, 2009 [3 favorites]


It's actually worse than you think.
posted by K.P. at 2:41 PM on March 27, 2009


To overthink this plate of UV rays, "She is aware of a risk but decides to go ahead" is wrong because no where did she say she was going to do it. She just made a statement about the benefit vs. risk and concluded the benefit outweighed the risk. Whether she decided to go ahead is a guess.

7 o' 8.
posted by Green With You at 2:46 PM on March 27, 2009


I went 8/8. But I doubt if I would have gone 4/8 at fifteen yrs. of age.
posted by notreally at 2:50 PM on March 27, 2009


Two answers for #1 are correct

A lot of other people have been echoing this sentiment, but actually, it is not correct. There is only one correct answer. Let's look again at your options:
  1. She is aware of a risk but decides to go ahead
  2. She believes the benefit outweighs the risk
  3. She is aware of a risk and decides not to go ahead
  4. She believes the risk outweighs the benefit
4. She believes the risk outweighs the benefit
This we can eliminate immediately.

1. She is aware of a risk but decides to go ahead.
3. She is aware of the risk and decides not to go ahead

Sara says: "I know I shouldn't really use them, but I'm going on holiday soon and I don't want to be the only one on the beach without a tan." Soonwant to be. Those both indicate that she has not been on holiday yet. So we don't necessarily know if she's decided to go ahead or not. She might have been hit by a bus in the interim—we don't know and can't assume that. Therefor both are incorrect.

2. She believes the benefit outweighs the risk
This is the only thing we can deduce from Sara's words. The telling statement is "I know I shouldn't really use them, but…"
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:37 PM on March 27, 2009


the taking of a 'Science' paper indicates that the taker isn't particularly bright

Many schools, including mine, did not offer separate Science subjects at GCSE and, as such, I find your generalisation unfair.
posted by HaloMan at 3:50 PM on March 27, 2009


jamjam
Viscous fluids tend to leak more.


As an engineer that deals with common fluids, say oils at room temperature, the more solid the fluid, the slower it flows, the more opportunities it has to find a way out. I wasn't talking about extremes, nor would I need an scientist of that quality.
posted by Mblue at 3:58 PM on March 27, 2009


Those both indicate that she has not been on holiday yet. So we don't necessarily know if she's decided to go ahead or not. She might have been hit by a bus in the interim

No. You have the right answer but the wrong reason. We're being asked 'How could you explain Sara's decision?'. We're not being asked what's going to happen in the future.

The reason 1 and 3 are incorrect is because they don't explain how she made the decision. They're just two statements about what she already knows and what her future decision was (one way or the other). What we're actually looking for is a valid reason for whatever decision she is about to make.

This is more a test of careful reading of the question and not making unwarranted assumptions than anything else. It's actually not a bad question.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 4:01 PM on March 27, 2009


6 out of 8, suntan girl and viruses.

Same here, and for the same reason: there is a lot of ambiguity in that test and multiple answer tests leave no room for ambiguity. Perhaps the test hasn't been dumbed down so much as the testers have been dumbed down.
posted by TedW at 4:08 PM on March 27, 2009


Why does the Guardian hate car-tonguers?

You must be a cat person; Dog knows the way to a car is with your nose.
posted by TedW at 4:10 PM on March 27, 2009


Oh, by the way, viscous oils are moved by positive displacement pumps which is why oil spills are horrendous.
posted by Mblue at 4:11 PM on March 27, 2009


Civil_Disobedient, Ms. Sunbather is going to go on holiday soon, but she has decided to go ahead and use the sunbed now. The question is about the decision, not the holiday.
posted by ryanrs at 4:15 PM on March 27, 2009


Yes, I suppose that's true, ryanrs & le morte...
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:16 PM on March 27, 2009


As an engineer that deals with common fluids, say oils at room temperature, the more solid the fluid, the slower it flows, the more opportunities it has to find a way out. I wasn't talking about extremes, nor would I need an scientist of that quality.

what.
posted by ryanrs at 4:17 PM on March 27, 2009


And yet I still got an 8/8.

This just proves the test is inherently flawed.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:18 PM on March 27, 2009


Regarding leaky fluids, I think viscosity is a bit of a red herring. It seems to me that leakage is more related to surface tension and wetting ability, which aren't much related to viscosity.
posted by ryanrs at 4:21 PM on March 27, 2009


ryanrs
Gas flows. Pressure leaks are found quickly. Like any fluid, it rushes to the weak end. Bunker fuel leaks because it stays.

posted by Mblue at 4:37 PM on March 27, 2009


This is the only thing we can deduce from Sara's words. The telling statement is "I know I shouldn't really use them, but…"

That applies to answer number one as well; she is aware of the risks but decides to go ahead. Why she decides to go ahead (some perceived benefit) is not addressed in this answer but that does not make it any less correct. The virus question is doomed from the start since the question of whether viruses "live" anywhere is debatable. This sort of shortcoming is addressed in Stephen Jay Gould's The Mismeasure of Man; historically IQ tests and their standardized cousins (SAT anyone? Myers-Briggs?) are direct descendants of phrenology and have about as much reliability.
posted by TedW at 4:38 PM on March 27, 2009


Mblue, I do not understand what you are saying. Are you quoting something from Wikipedia? That text doesn't appear in the article you linked.
posted by ryanrs at 4:43 PM on March 27, 2009


a) For this theoretical teenage girl, fitting in IS a strong benefit that outweighs the (small) risk. We're to take her statement that she considers it so at face value.

I honestly think this question is both ambiguous and pointless, so I sympathize with this interpretation.

At the same time, the phrase "I know I shouldn't really use them, but [my emphasis]" seems to indicate that she has made her decision against her better judgment, at which point all we can say is that she is aware of the risk and decided to get the tan anyway.
posted by Pyry at 4:54 PM on March 27, 2009


ryanrs
Fuels for industry aren't fuels for home heating. Your furnace probably burns refined oil. The plant (almost any plant) provides its own heat and power, and it burns bunker oil. Kraft burns millions to make cheese.
posted by Mblue at 4:58 PM on March 27, 2009


Ok, now I definitely don't know what you're talking about. Or rather, I know you're talking about heavy fuel oil, but I can't imagine why. Instead of listing random facts about oil, try making a cogent argument.

And my furnace runs on natural gas, FWIW.
posted by ryanrs at 5:14 PM on March 27, 2009


ryanrs

try making a cogent argument.

Good luck with the gas bill.
posted by Mblue at 5:22 PM on March 27, 2009


???
posted by ryanrs at 5:27 PM on March 27, 2009


Most of the questions are pretty awful.

1. Answers 1 and 2 are basically both right, I agree with Pyry's analysis that the official 'correct' answer may be less so than the other. It's just a matter of semantics and interpretation, which is not what science is about.

2. That requires pretty darn specific knowledge of ionizing radiation, beyond that I'd expect from anything other than a college graduate. Not really that bad, but rather difficult.

3. This question is obviously editorializing. Even if I like public transport, that isn't what tests are for.

4. "A section of DNA in the nucleus of a cell?" So, I guess mitochondrial DNA doesn't contain genes then? Or bacteria?

5. Ridiculously, pathetically easy.

6. Despite not being right according to the answer sheet, "To make sure it is a fair test" is actually a pretty good answer. Making sure a test uses a representative sample does make it more 'fair' in the average person's usage than a single test, which could misjudge the subject.

In any case, the answer "To make sure that the results are reliable" is subject to a lot of interpretation. It would be much better to say something like "To make sure the results are representative of the overall strength of the line" or "To make sure the results are not thrown off because the test happened to use a particularly strong or weak part of the line." Something more concrete.

7. "The virus is not affected by drugs" is just a mean answer to include, since it lets you think the test takers are expecting you to go in the 'antibiotics are not good against viruses' direction. 'The virus lives inside cells' is a crappy answer because there are plenty of diseases (think parasites) that live outside of cells but are still very difficult to treat. "The virus produces antitoxins" is another mean answer, because that is in fact the way some bacteria evolve antibiotic resistance (by producing chemicals that disable antibiotics, which would make them essentially antitoxins for bacteria), and viruses could and probably do develop antiviral resistance the same way.

8. This is obviously questioning a specific curriculum, and is kind of overly specific. Is asking which property makes a more effective salad dressing really that important?
posted by Mitrovarr at 5:48 PM on March 27, 2009


Mblue, don't know fer shore what oils you're working with but in my world (industrial hydrostatics) leakage is inversely proportional to kinematic viscosity.

The more viscous the oil, the less will drip out- all else being equal.
posted by drhydro at 5:51 PM on March 27, 2009


Question 1 is, of course, terribly written due to having two perfectly valid answers, but more importantly, how is it even tangentially relevant to a science curriculum? I mean, it barely even qualifies as a question of critical thinking; it's just quibbling over semantics.

Question 6 isn't as bad as it seems, as long as you recognize that it's really just testing knowledge of the GCSE secret code words. When you see "make it a fair test", mentally substitute "control extraneous variables" or "reduce systematic errors". This is taught as if it was part of the standard scientific vocabulary; maybe it is in the UK, but it always seemed to me like the kind of phrasing an elementary school student would use.

All of these pale in comparison to the idiotic questions of the form "X is most likely because of: A, B, C, or D?" Usually, any reasonably bright student can come up with perfectly convincing arguments for all of the options; the problem is reduced to figuring out just how simplistic are the assumptions the examiner expects you to make.

no, I'm not still bitter. why do you ask?
posted by teraflop at 6:26 PM on March 27, 2009


Never mind him, drhydro. A Vermonter who taunts a San Franciscan over heating bills can't be very bright.
posted by ryanrs at 6:27 PM on March 27, 2009


Another 8/8 here - thankfully.

I did the three separate sciences when I did my GCSEs (15 years ago... yipes...), of the 150 or so in my year, only the top set - about 25-30 or so of us - did them. Each subject was an independent module (most sat 9 GCSEs, I don't know if that's still the same). Most of the rest did a combined science course that covered the standard 3 sciences in 2 modules, kind of a 2/3-per-science kind of thing.

I agree that some of these questions are pretty stupid - although I'm surprised about the ionising radiation comment made above - I'm sure I learned ionising radiation types at GCSE level. I certainly covered it at A-Level (college entry level, for the non-Brits), it's definitely not college-grad level.
posted by Nice Guy Mike at 6:50 PM on March 27, 2009


"She is aware of a risk but decides to go ahead" isn't supported because we aren't told that she's aware of the risk, just that she thinks she's not supposed to use them. In clinical practice this distinction happens all the time. People know they're not supposed to let their blood glucose hang around 400 mg/dL, but they do it anyway because they don't know the actual risk. Lots of poor decision making turns on people not internalizing / understanding a risk and just adding it to the list of Rules from Authorities.

"To make sure it is a fair test" makes no sense. Doing a test more times tells you nothing about its bias.

"The virus is not affected by drugs" is curious. I don't know of any pharmaceutical treatments that are used (and I'm not logged into my database to check), but I doubt that there are no drugs that affect it at all. That it lives inside cells is only partially true; it reproduces in cells, but it doesn't do cell-cell transfer (that I remember) and is spread person to person through fresh water. The killed-virus (Salk) vaccine relied on IgG antibodies that only kill the virus when it's not inside cells (does IgG-only lead to a better cell-mediated immune response when challenged?). It's also not the whole story: Rickettsia are intracellular and respond to -cyclines, similarly C. trachomatis.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 7:43 PM on March 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


See also the U. S. Army's Alpha Intelligence Test from World War I.

The Wyandotte is a kind of
a. horse b. fowl c. cattle d. granite

Salsify is a kind of
a. snake b. fish c. lizard d. vegetable

Rosa Bonheur is famous as a
a. poet b. painter c. composer d. sculptor

Velvet Joe appears in advertisements of
a. tooth powder b. dry goods c. tobacco d. soap

The Overland car is made in
a. Buffalo b. Detroit c. Flint d. Toledo

Got 7 of 8. Foiled by Miss Suntan.
posted by intermod at 8:32 PM on March 27, 2009


8/8 - but I'm a science nerd and I have to say that I had to think about a few of these quite hard

Although using a multiple choice question/answer system is undoubtedly 'dumbing down' there is one good reason for introducing it - GCSE science papers are not on the whole marked by people with knowledge of the subject matter.

In order to get marks your answers are checked to see if you have repeated, parrot fashion, the particular phrases or words on the marking sheet for that question.

If you know the answer but phrase it in a manner that doesn't tally with the answer sheet then your marks really are at the mercy of the marker. This was drummed into me by my GCSE Chemistry teacher - I was expected an A (this was before those ridiculous A*'s), but I got a C in my 'mock' exams (a practice run before the real thing).

When I got my paper back I went through it with my teacher and she pointed out that on nearly every answer, even though they were (mostly) correct I lost points for not using the 'correct' words and phrases.

Multiple choice exams are easy to mark by machine and there is no danger of a student being marked incorrectly by an incompetent marker
posted by JustAsItSounds at 8:59 PM on March 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Very surprised to get 8 out of 8, because I'm a complete idiot.
posted by swift at 9:54 PM on March 27, 2009


Question #1 is not a plate of beans. It does not need to be overthought. This is a prime example of what people are talking about when they say "test-taking skills". You're not looking for a correct answer, you're looking for the correct answer. Get in the mind of the test writer: What does he want you to answer?
posted by 0xFCAF at 12:23 AM on March 28, 2009


0xFCAF: Get in the mind of the test writer: What does he want you to answer?

I'm good at metagaming tests, and it's a very useful ability to have, but you should never have to do that. If the difficult part of a question is thinking about what answer the test taker wants, not understanding the material, that is a sign of utter failure on a test writer's part. And these questions are some of the most ambiguous disasters I've ever seen. I could do better off the top of my head, and I don't even have the proper education or degree.

My guess is they have administrators or politicians writing the questions, not educators, or the educators they have suck. In any case, they need to do better. Anyone without test-taking skills, with test anxiety, or without a native command of english is going to be thrown for a loop regardless of their understanding of the subject matter, and that could really mess up their education.
posted by Mitrovarr at 2:19 AM on March 28, 2009 [4 favorites]


Question #1 is not a plate of beans. It does not need to be overthought.

Except, apparently it does, because...

Get in the mind of the test writer: What does he want you to answer?

In what way does this test my scientific knowledge?
posted by dirigibleman at 2:40 AM on March 28, 2009 [3 favorites]


But in the sunbathing one, no actual benefit was explicitly stated,

See, I figured the benefit was obvious---getting a tan.
posted by leahwrenn at 5:06 AM on March 28, 2009


8 out of 8, which is considerably better than when I actually sat the Science GCSE 15 years ago.
posted by Acarpous at 6:57 AM on March 28, 2009


7/8 here. The suntanning girl correctly tested my reasoning skills (or lack thereof. I did almost fail my philosophy of logic course in university) but if an education system is grouping logical reasoning in with general science then it really is doomed. Last time I checked logical reasoning was supposed to be stitched into the English courses somewhere.
posted by Pseudology at 8:55 AM on March 28, 2009


8/8, but it was significantly harder to figure out some of those answers than I thought it would be. I definitely over-thought the suntan and virus questions.

That's a major drawback to multiple-choice exams - if you don't keep it simple looking at the possible answers and what the examiner is actually asking, you make it much more difficult for yourself.

And it's only 10 years after getting A* in my Bio, Chem and Physics GCSEs, ultimately pointless because I moved to the USA rather than going to 6th form and taking my A-levels. I can still wow, or perhaps disgust, people with my recall of how Quorn (mycoprotein) is made because of weeks of revising that #$*@ing process.
posted by subbes at 11:07 AM on March 28, 2009


It didn't take many standardized tests before I went entirely to metagaming them. For example, silly things like "look to future questions to answer previous questions" on reading comprehension exams work a lot better than they should.

The standardized tests, I hate to say, really just test your knowledge of how to pass standardized tests. I actually like a number of the questions on this GCSE, just because you either know the science or you don't. This is a science exam, that's what you'd want! But then you get question 1 (the suntan question), where it's just flat out "OK, lets take these four questions, see what inputs would make each space true, figure out which question is closest in answer space".

All of you who are defending #1 are part of the problem. (Sorry.) The fact that the question posits Sarah's statement as a decision implies that she is indeed deciding to go ahead. So she is indeed aware of the risk, and she is indeed deciding to go ahead. So how is someone supposed to know the right answer?

Luck, really. You're basically measuring politics (sunbathing shouldn't be considered a benefit, and that answer implies that she made the right choice) versus terminology (awareness of 'cost benefit analysis'). In this one case, the right metagame was terminology. It could have easily been the other.

Number six is actually the one I consider the worst. "To make sure this is a fair test" vs. "To make sure the results are reliable" are pretty damn close in solution-space. Unfairness in testing is a problem precisely because it leads to unreliable results. The difference between the two is whether you want to see if the test concept is bad, or the results from a test execution are bad. The chosen right answer is making sure this is a fair test, so I guess they want to know about the concept. But at this level of obscura, we really do need to stop pretending we're measuring anything other than arcane test parsing skills.

(Oh, I'm not wildly happy about the polio question either -- seems like it's there to trip up the student who's aware that antibiotics do nothing against polio, and thinks, apparently correctly, that there are no antivirals for poliovirus. In fact, the 'correct answer' that poliovirus lives in cells is only correct if it would be easy to kill polio if it did in fact not live inside of cells. If there's no antivirals for free-floating polio, the correct answer isn't.)

On the flip side, if it's this hard to build even a dumbed down standardized test, I have to feel some sympathy for the examiners.
posted by effugas at 1:42 PM on March 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


@MBlue, ryanrs and drhydro

I think what Mblue is aiming for is that less viscous fluids find the holes fast, and so if there is a leak someone notices. More viscous fluids as a result leak more, because no one notices and repairs said leak?

amiright?
posted by fistynuts at 2:09 PM on March 28, 2009


In fact, the 'correct answer' that poliovirus lives in cells is only correct if it would be easy to kill polio if it did in fact not live inside of cells.

Not to mention that many if not most scientists would argue that the poliovirus doesn't 'live' anywhere, because viruses are not generally considered by the scientific establishment to be a life form.
posted by Mitrovarr at 2:32 PM on March 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Mitrovarr--

This seems to be a matter of some controversy, and frankly, it's incredibly nit-picky. What's the mark of not being alive? A dependency on living organisms? I doubt a bacteria-free human could survive. Dormancy? Some fungal spores would like to talk to you. Adaptation? Virii adapt more than anything else on the planet.
posted by effugas at 3:12 PM on March 28, 2009


Isn't all of the discussion here, by reasonably intelligent people making reasonably intelligent points about why different answers could be correct, proof that this is indeed a really bad test?

No matter who's right, students really shouldn't have to game the test to that extent in order to get the question right. The question should be about science, not fuzzy, ambiguous semantics.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 1:27 PM on March 29, 2009 [2 favorites]


Bluh. This test has just about everything in standardized tests that I find infuriatingly stupid. Some questions are ridiculously easy. Some questions require that you have read a specific obscure passage in a textbook and memorized it, without realizing that intimate knowledge of the subject only comes at the college level and above. Many of the questions are blatantly written from a non-science-literate point of view, and use frustrating and imprecise language. Jesus, people. Can't somebody who actually knows some science write one of these things once in awhile?
posted by tehloki at 9:10 PM on March 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


Btw, I got 7/8. I, too, could not find any discernible difference between "has accepted the risk" and "thinks the risk outweighs the benefit".
posted by tehloki at 9:11 PM on March 29, 2009


effugas: This seems to be a matter of some controversy, and frankly, it's incredibly nit-picky.

Ah, well, it's an important question concerning the origin and nature of life, which I am familiar with due to my interest in astrobiology. I can see how you'd consider it a matter of semantics, and it is when considered as a lone question or matter of terminology, but the greater question of what constitutes 'life' is more fundamental.

If viruses are alive, what about prions? Same concept, really, just a different material and mechanism. What about that same protein before it becomes converted to the pathogenic form? It's almost identical to a prion and could almost be considered a 'dormant' form. Also, what about viriods? They're just RNA. Does RNA suddenly become alive when it has a form that can replicate itself in a living organism, but not when it can't? What about plasmids then?

Personally, I am undecided if viruses are alive - but I tend to think not. I generally consider it a criteria of life that it has a metabolism, which viruses don't, but obligate parasites do. However, I cannot guarantee this is a catch-all definition of what constitutes life and in the end, there may not be a perfect delineation between the living and the non-living.
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:05 PM on March 29, 2009


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