‘Steady reduction’ in students excelling in English, examiners cite weak critical skills

Speak, won’t write: “only welcome exception” in English A-level is candidates’ performance in the oral exams

Candidates’ performance in the oral exams was not only generally ‘very good to excellent’ but also significantly better than that in any of the previous years in which the Oral was part of the Advanced English exam in its current format
Candidates’ performance in the oral exams was not only generally ‘very good to excellent’ but also significantly better than that in any of the previous years in which the Oral was part of the Advanced English exam in its current format

Matsec examiners have reported “a gradual but steady reduction” in the percentage of candidates who excel in English at Advanced Level over the last few years, in contrast to a marked improvement in spoken English.

While the percentage of candidates awarded a pass mark (A to E) has remained the same as the previous year, the number of candidates awarded a Grade A to Grade C has sharply declined.

Their report shows that only 37% of students managed to obtain a grade between A and C in last May’s exam, compared to 44% in 2018 and 43% in 2017.

A total of 743 candidates registered for the English A level exam in 2018. Of those, 9% did not even turn up for the exam.

The examiners point out that these results cannot be blamed on the instruction received for the A-Level but must be studied “in the context of the education system and social environment that developed the candidates’ English language skills prior to that”.

“The reduction in A-C percentages makes us question whether enough is being done to allow more students to achieve excellence in English,” the report concludes.

The major decline from 2018 was in the percentage of candidates who obtained a grade C (29.1% in 2019, that is, 6.4% fewer than the 35.5% of 2018).

Nonetheless, while the percentage of candidates obtaining an A or a B (8.2%) in this year’s sitting was similar to that of last year (8.1%), the examiners also noted a clear downward trend in performance in the higher brackets over the last five years. This was evident when comparing this year’s results with the percentage of candidates obtaining A or B in 2017 (11%); 2016 (12.3%); 2015 (14.3%), 2014 (15%).

This represents a gradual shift downwards of almost 7% between 2014 and 2019 in the percentage of candidates achieving an A or a B.

There was no change in the total percentage of candidates who obtained a grade between A and E, that is obtained a Pass in the exam.

But the examiners and markers of the different components of the exam reported that this year’s performance by the candidates was ‘average to weak’ and that this continues to indicate a downward trend in the candidates’ performance in the exam over the last five years.

The examiners highlighted a number of problems which include the inaccurate use of written English. Many literature essays did not even respond to the question set or attempted “to repackage rehearsed material in ways that are not relevant to the rubric”.

They also reported “weak to very weak critical skills” and poor descriptive and narrative skills in the language essay component.

Candidates speaking fluent English

The “only welcome exception” to this trend was the candidates’ performance in the oral exams, which was not only generally ‘very good to excellent’ but also significantly better than that in any of the previous years in which the Oral was part of the Advanced English exam in its current format.

The results in the Oral component showed an increased mastery in speaking skills.

All candidates prefer Othello and Owen

The exam includes a literature component. Interestingly, in the Shakespeare section, all candidates sitting for the exam opted for Othello and none chose Julius Caesar or The Tempest.

In the poetry section none of the candidates chose the works of Emily Dickinson or John Keats. In this case all candidates opted for Wilfred Owen.

In the novel section, the overwhelming majority opted for Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Ian McEwan’s Atonement. None opted for Evelyn Waugh’s A Handful of Dust.

Political essays attract best replies

The most popular language essay (chosen by 25% of candidates) was ‘A moment I will remember for the rest of my life’.

Essays in response to this question were, “in the main, chatty and discursive with very few attempts that were above average”.

The second most popular essay was about the ways technology affects the way human beings communicate (20%).

Examiners noted “a general lack of general and cultural knowledge” which restricted the response of the majority to repetitive arguments.

The third most popular essay asked students whether politics should be part of a student’s compulsory education (12%).

According to the examiners this question attracted more candidates with critical writing ability than any other. Some students “produced balanced, well-constructed essays that were full of conviction and reason, underpinning strong language skills”.

The least popular of the eight essays topics was the one with the topic ‘The village feast’ which was only chosen by 5% of candidates.

 

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