Sixth form students sitting for exams eight months early

17-year-olds sit for their Intermediate level exams a year earlier to ‘get them out of the way’ and focus on harder ‘A’ levels in the May session

A large number of 17-year-old students are sitting for exams in the September exam session before even starting their second year at Junior College.

A report by the Matsec examinations board reveals that the September session, designed for students to re-sit the exams they failed in the May session, was now being used by first-year Sixth formers to “get subjects out of the way” – in the words of Matsec chairman Frank Ventura.

The increased number of 17-year-olds sitting ‘early’ for their Intermediates was made possible after a change in regulations in 2012 that turned the re-sit exams into a separate session from the May session.

In September, the number of 17-year-olds sitting for their Intermediate level exams was over twice the number of 18-year-olds. The majority of registrations for Advanced level subjects were from 18-year-olds.

Ventura said the increase in 17-year-olds sitting for the exam and the need to publish results before the end of September had made “the manageability of the examination very challenging”.

The rise in September sittings had particularly increased the administrative load for language examinations, which have oral and aural components besides written papers, and subjects with a coursework or project component which require an interview with individual candidates about their work.

In Advanced and Intermediate English alone, more than 900 oral sessions were conducted in September.

According to Ventura a significant number of first-year Sixth formers are also opting to sit for one or two Intermediate subjects before completing the course at school. “It is reported that this practice is causing management difficulties in the post-secondary schools and colleges”.

Four in every 10 sit for A-levels

In 2017, 42% of second-year 18-year-olds registered for Advanced Level and Intermediate Level examinations. Yet only 30% of this specific cohort managed to qualify for the matriculation certificate which allows them to proceed to university.

Ventura says the high number of students failing to get their matriculation certificate suggests that a number of students will only obtain the necessary ‘A’ and ‘Int’ passes to join tertiary courses in institutions other than the University of Malta.

Another interpretation is that the passes satisfying the criteria for matriculation is unnecessarily too tough. “This statistic alone highlights the issue that educational opportunities at post-secondary and tertiary level have changed considerably since the introduction of the Matriculation Certificate over 20 years ago.”

This change in the educational context has still not been reflected in the way exams are conducted. But a review of the system is in the offing. This review “will hopefully lead to the necessary changes to address the needs of all young persons seeking further education and training on completion of compulsory education.”

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