Letter: Doing a number

August 24, 2001

The rise in the pass rate at A level ("A-level horde prompts calls for more cash", THES , August 17) reminds me of when I was a maths student and criticised one of the final-year exams as being "fiddled".

The university replied that it had the highest marks of any final-year maths exam that year. I pointed out that a couple of questions were very similar to those in our second-year exams. The department also made strenuous attempts to dissuade people from studying this unit by stressing how hard it was. It had some success: the number of students more than halved from the original intake.

The university denied the questions were similar - which takes some doing given the objective nature of the subject and the fact they were the same questions with different numbers inserted.

When I tried to take this matter further, a real Kafka-like scenario ensued, with people deciding that the questions were different, including teachers who could not tell me how to solve them and my MP.

The tide started to turn when I got the support of a professor.

That now leaves only the contradiction of the exam results being so high contrasted with the attempts to dissuade students from studying the unit. Officially, the results were "excellent".

Brian Daugherty
Open University

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