British exam boards have been criticised for making questions too easy after it emerged one paper asked 16-year-old school leavers to ‘spot the difference’ between two pictures.
The AQA History GCSE paper presents students with two images of the House of Commons – one a painting by Karl Anton Hickel of William Pitt the Younger addressing parliament in 1793, the other a photograph of the Commons from 2014.
Question one asks students to state the differences between the membership of parliament. They can earn up to four marks for spotting that the House of Commons is now less white and male.
Students – who by the time they take this exam will have been through 12 years of education – can even earn a mark just for writing: “The people all look the same in [the first picture] but in [the second] they are all different.”
It is not until question two that they are actually tested on their historical knowledge of the suffragette movement and the extension of the franchise.
There are also accusations of political bias in another question about the 2003 Iraq War. The question asks students to assess the statement: “The main reason for opposition to the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was the absence of a UN mandate.”
Rather than asking them to examine arguments for and against the invasion, they are simply asked to say which arguments against the war are more important and why.
The British government has been desperately trying to tackle falling educational standards and so-called “grade inflation”.
Analysts warn that having competing exam boards for the same subjects leads to a “race to the bottom” where they set easier questions so that more students get higher grades, thus making them more appealing to schools.
Schools Minister Nick Gibb told the Daily Mail: “The sample history GCSE exam papers published by the exam boards that I have seen are so far below the standard that both this Government and the last administration had asked for that I am now more convinced than ever that we need long-term and fundamental reform of the exam boards.
“With the expertise and help of the exams regulator, Ofqual, I am confident we will deliver a very high quality History GCSE ready for first teaching in 2016.
“My frustration is the poor quality of the sample exam papers that the exam boards thought they could get away.”