Old science test stumps ‘A’ students

Top science students in Britain failed a science test using questions from 1965 to 2005 exams. The Royal Society of Chemistry devised the two-hour exam. The oldest questions were the hardest: Students averaged 35 percent correct for 2005 questions but only 15 percent for 1965 questions.

The RSC called the test, taken by just over 1,300 of the country’s brightest 16-year-olds, the first hard evidence of a “catastrophic slippage” in exam standards.

. . . Dr. Richard Pike, chief executive of the RSC, said: “The brightest pupils are not being trained in mathematical techniques, because they can get a grade A* pass without doing a single calculation. Conversely, the majority get at least a ‘good pass’ (grade C) by showing merely a superficial knowledge on a wide range of issues but no understanding of the fundamentals.

The students who took the test are expected to earn A grades on the 2009 science exam.

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  1. This is not evidence that the science students are failing, this is evidence that science is not static. Even in cases where the answer is still true, the vocabulary and manner of expression has changed. And, of course, most of 2008 science did not exist in 1965, leading to a completely different emphasis and direction.

  2. Miller T. Smith says:

    Stephen, electron configuration is the same now as it was in 1965. The students were missing questions about things that are still true. Go read the study.

  3. superdestroyer says:

    Unless the test covered quantum mechanics, I doubt if any of the science that is covered in a high school chemistry class was discovered in this century. Basic chemistry dates from last century and nothing in high school should date from after WWII.

  4. I’m with Miller T. Smith – read the study.

    And if ‘vocabulary and manner of expression’ are legitimate concerns – and they are, though not significant enough to make/break this test – the inability of current students to adapt to slightly unfamiliar language doesn’t bode well for efficiency/productivity in that global 21st economy we hear so much about.

  5. superdestroyer says:
  6. There must be some sort of decline happening in the UK:

    Extinguishers banned as a fire safety hazard


  7. Bart–that’s too funny, in a grim sort of way. Where’s Monty Python when you need them?

  8. I dug through to the test questions.  I found them amusing, especially because they led students step-by-step through the process of asking the right questions about intermediate results.  A real test would require the student to know enough to do that without prompting; those historical tests are either quite basic (as “sophisticated” as they are) or already dumbed down.

    This dumbing down is happening in the USA too.  Subjects as basic as algebra are being deliberately mis-taught.  Example:  an ex-gf of mine, taking algebra classes at community college, had no idea how to manipulate an equation to extract one variable; she could substitute values for variables and compute a result, but I suspect that taking y=1/(1-x) and solving for x in terms of y would have been beyond her.

    Of course, this sort of mis-teaching makes higher math like calculus totally inaccessible.

  9. The report lays a great deal of blame on a lack of math skills. Simply put, the students don’t have the math necessary to perform the multi-step calculations required to represent chemical reactions.

    These students were nominated by their schools. Their schools chose their best students to participate. A few did exceptionally well. The top score was 94%. The average, however, was 25%.

    Boys did better than girls, and independent school students did better than public (that is, state) sponsored schools.

  10. If these kids are failing when in a room by themselves, it might be because when they get the “A” in the classroom, they rely on cheating. Especially since it’s dramatically growing in the US and such. Maybe we’re just rubbing off on other countries that way too.

    Also, kids in high school learn how to find square roots of imaginary numbers. Maybe a review in basic math is needed for some of them..