2023 Poorly Written AQA Physics Exam

I am extremely disappointed by this year’s AQA Spec A A-level papers. The challenge was simply too much for many pupils and clearly the difficulty of the papers in comparison to Edexcel as a comparison was clear from the papers and marks requires for higher grades which were significantly different. See my analysis below of the difference between the two papers.

The content itself is clearly similar overall to both courses but the contexts were not to that taught. Pupils and teachers expect to teach on a factual and then see that mostly that content is obvious when tested. The whole question should not be cryptic and clearly whoever was writing most of the longer answer questions was someone with a point to prove. The Physics subject is not popular at most schools and has become worse over time with many pupils simply not picking it as the chances of getting an A or A* at other subjects is easier. We have no coursework to pick up some easier marks so it’s all on 3 hard papers. Paper 3 had a question to start about the “duty cycle” of an oscilloscope. Interesting you don’t need to know what that is to answer to that to get the 1 marker, but I have never each heard of a “duty cycle”. When you delve into it with the internet available and work through the question with help of a mark scheme it is clear. Not complex but convoluted and not accessible. So, if I have never heard of it, taught or, been taught it and I have a pure Physics degree, who will?  I pride myself on doing a thorough job and even teach Lissajous figures which most don’t so how did my pupils get caught out?

Also, Paper 3 Q1.3 talks of “graphical analysis of figure 1” which is a photograph and not graph. As a good teacher I always ask pupils to look at the whole of a question before they start. When I did Q1.3 I was confused I as looked at figure 3 after the question as it was a graph wondering what to do. It’s another example of poor wording and making the questions so long over pages it is just confusing. Also, some of the practical questions were just not clear on what they wanted and again so convoluted it was hard for any pupil so see what to answer. A lot were just stabbing around in the dark as was I when I did the papers myself in lots of questions. They took me ages to work out and the time you gave in the exam was not enough. I would have certainly run out of time and not been tested on what I knew. The practical skills are hard enough to teach with simply basic examples of graphing and skills we don’t need to make it into a maths exercise. Which brings me onto the maths across all three papers. In reality your exams are not accessible for any pupils not taking A-level Maths to an A2 level. Virtually every question seemed to have some fiddly maths on each level to start and finish a question. Paper3 Q7 on nuclear decay and thermal neutrons usually has been a straightforward word-based question to explain. However, they showed a complex ratio graph, again which I have never seen in all my travels (and I worked at the Nuclear electric but had not taken a “nuclear physics degree”). It’s just too involved for mainstream exams and pushing onto university ideas. If you want them to be taught this kind of thing, it needs to be clearly defined in the specifications so I can teach them some of it beforehand.

The leaps expected for most students are so tricky, again they are just guessing and randomly stumbling on an answer. Why make it so tricky, just not needed. It is wrong to do this as we are ending up cutting off many students. Since the A-level reforms nobody does AS so we don’t even have pupils taking Maths further than GCSE. If you want this to be the case, you need to put out new guidance to teachers so we can make this clear. Again, the Maths only route is really not great for Physics numbers.

Physics drops as a mainstream subject down the rankings

I have taught AQA for all of my 21-year career and had many pupils obtain A* grades over an extended period of time and see many go to Oxbridge or other high class destinations. We also had pupils with exceptionally low grades which made 2 years of their and our lives pointless. This is similar to when pupils and teachers were cheating at AQA ISA exams and I realised that they had become impossible to do unless you cheated, I switched to the EMPA exam and found my A* students again were obtaining A* instead of C on the ISA exams. We must change it for next year or we will end up with an even bigger crisis than ever in Physics teaching and nobody will take physics. I am really saddened and hope AQA will listen.

So if anyone who works with AQA has any thoughts, please share them, and AQA might listen?

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