GCSE biology is dumbed down

It’s not just physics exams that are dumbed down in Britain, biology exams are too. Here’s a question from AQA’s GCSE Unit 1 Biology exam, taken on 2oth June 2007:

Every December the European Commission makes proposals for cod fishing quotas in European Union (EU) waters. These quotas take into account data obtained by scientists.

Scientists calculate what proportion of the cod stock is being caught each year. They do this by working out the numbers in each age-group of cod.

Every year the fishermen say the scientists are exaggerating the danger to the stocks in the North Sea. The scientists say the fishermen are threatening their own long-term livelihoods by ignoring their warnings of a collapse of cod populations.

The scientists say that fishermen go only to parts of the sea where there are a lot of cod, so they get the wrong idea of the number of cod in the whole area.

(a) The scientists and the fishermen have different opinions about the size of the cod population. Explain why. (2 Marks)

(b) The final decision on how many cod the fishermen are allowed to catch may not depend entirely on the data produced by the scientists.  Suggest two reasons for this.

Instead of making the exams easier, why doesn’t the government go the whole hog and give everyone a certificate on their first day of school saying they’ve passed 10 GCSEs. That way, the number of exam passes will be even higher, and the kids won’t have to go through the tedious rigmarole of pretending to learn the pretend science in the syllabuses.

(via Frank Chalk; the entire exam paper is available as a PDF from the AQA website.)

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5 Responses to GCSE biology is dumbed down

  1. Jennie says:

    In what way is that a biology question?

  2. cabalamat says:

    Actually it would make a good question for a politics exam. The correct answers, BTW are:

    (a) because fishermen would be out of a job if they stopped fishing, they have a cognitive bias to believe there’s still plenty of fish. So they convince themselves that there are.

    (b) because the government doesn’t care whether their policies work, they only care about how popular they are. If they reduce catches, the government will be unpopular with fisdhermen, of whom there are more than fishery scientists. Also, if the fishery does become fished out (like the Grand Banks has) maybe that won’t happen until the Other Lot are in power, in which case they can take the blame.

  3. Graham says:

    Dumbed down compared to what?

    This only makes any sense whatever if it’s a roughly average question compared to roughly average question from some years previously.

    As a career biologist, I can only say that to make such a statement without any such comparison is scientifically illiterate. No more detailed response is justified. Neither you nor Chalk make any such comparison – I think the conclusion is obviously that during the period the two of you were being educated, scientific principles were sadly neglected.

  4. Mags says:

    Actually, as another career biologist, I quite like this question.

    Think of all the people out there who swallow the claims of homeopaths whole, without a second thought. It is unrealistic to teach lower ability kids the ins and outs of exactly why the woo pedellers are wrong, but this sort of questioning at least opens their eyes to the various confounding factors surrounding such issues (although of course the merits of the debates are quite different).

    I notice that on the front page of the example paper, it states it is for the foundation tier. Presumably this is the lower ability group. I would expect the higher tier paper would contain a higher proportion of fact based questions – although the point of an education system shouldn’t be to churn out fact regurgitators.

    In fact, the rest of this lower tier paper contains some reasonably probing questions involving selection of control variables, cloning, and nutrition. I really don’t see the problem.

  5. Pingback: Do you see with you eyes, ears, nose or mouth? « Amused Cynicism

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