Tips from examiners

Functional Skills Examiners report that candidates tend to respond appropriately and enthusiastically to the questions asked in assessments in English, Maths and ICT. However, there are four main areas, common to all subjects, that are a concern.

  • Enter candidates at the right level

  • Entering students at the appropriate level gives them the best chance of examination success. Examiners report that a number of students are entered at Level 2 when this is clearly not an appropriate level for them. Similarly, a significant proportion of students seem to be entered at Level 1 when it is clear that a lower level would have been more appropriate.
    Centres should:

    • assess students’ skills in the coverage and range to find out what level they are working at
    • conduct a diagnostic assessment to reveal any gaps in knowledge at that level
    • devise a teaching programme that will fill the knowledge gaps and provide students with adequate practise in applying these skills in real-life contexts.
  • Teach candidates basic exam technique

  • Often very straightforward mistakes are made in the candidates’ reading of the questions. Instead of reading a question carefully and making sure they answer the question, many lose significant marks by rushing their answer and going off at a tangent.

    Centres should also train candidates to look at the relative weighting of each question in the papers. Some candidates devote far too much time to questions worth fewer points and don’t leave enough time left to do justice to the remaining questions that were worth far more marks.

  • Presentation

  • This is really obvious, but if examiners can’t read a script, they can’t mark it. Emphasising this fact to candidates will help mitigate against the small, but steady, number of nearly unreadable scripts received. For ICT papers - make sure that any screenshots taken by candidates are large enough for examiners to read.
  • Checking

  • The majority of candidates do not appear to check their work for either accuracy or sense. All papers would benefit not only from proofreading for accuracy and sense but also that all questions have been answered.

Specific to Functional English

In reading tasks candidates should take care to use information from the documents rather than from their own experience when answering questions.

Candidates should be encouraged to use their own words rather than copying verbatim from source documents. Centres could help achieve this by giving candidates opportunities to practice the skill of selection, rather than quoting extensively from the source documents.

Candidates should organise themselves so that they have sufficient time at the end of the assessment for proofreading and corrections, paying particular attention to spelling, grammar and punctuation. Candidates will lose significant marks if spelling, punctuation and grammar (SPAG) are used inaccurately at Levels 1 and 2 as up to 45% of the available marks in the writing assessment are awarded for SPAG.

Specific to Functional Maths

Being functional in maths is about more than the ability to simply use mathematical skills. Candidates are assessed on three interrelated process skills: Representing, Analysing and Interpreting. Only Analysing requires candidates to process and use maths. It is therefore essential that candidates show reasons, justifications and explanations for their answers as marks available for Representing and Interpreting form up to 60% of the overall marks in a test.

Therefore candidates must be made aware of the importance of showing all their working and that they should demonstrate how they have come to an answer so that all possible credit can be given. Training candidates to read and understand the questions and the source materials accurately by underlining and extracting key information will help. Candidates also need sufficient practise in answering open questions related to real-life skills and communicating their solutions to others.

Specific to Functional ICT

In ICT assessments complex, multi-step questions are proving problematic for weaker candidates who clearly find it difficult to plan an appropriate solution to these tasks. Candidates also often lose marks available for using software tools when they simply copy and paste information into a document without selecting the appropriate tools.

Other common errors are in choosing the correct software to complete a task, or using software inappropriately. Some candidates fail to consider the fitness for purpose of their response for the intended audience.

For up to the minute information and tips from examiners do keep checking back at the blog where we’ll be posting useful information weekly.