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Exam reports - General comments


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#1 Yet another muso

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Posted 11 June 2019 - 11:29

I have often heard teachers complain about examiners hardly ever bothering to write in the general comments section on exam reports these days. Therefore, I thought I would report what I have heard second hand what someone said who recently did the examiner training. 

 

Apparently, trainee examiners are now discouraged from writing anything there. I'm not sure if this is a strict policy or just what they are encouraged to do, but the general comments bit is now just reserved for giving the reason a candidate failed, or just missed the next category up (118 or 128). Also general words of congratulation for distinction candidates still seem to be accepted.

 

It would seem the board are trying to do all they can to keep examiners to task on keeping comments strictly relating the the criteria, and minimise opportunities for complaints and appeals. It's all quite understandable in their attempt to improve consistency and curb any maverick tendencies in examiners. However, I hear that examiners going through the process are frustrated at having to repress any individuality.

 

I can certainly see this one from both sides, but just thought I would share as it is something that is often commented on. The lack of general comments is not the fault of indifference from the examiners, but ABRSM training policy.


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#2 ma non troppo

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Posted 11 June 2019 - 11:58

This does not surprise me but it is very sad.
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#3 jpiano

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Posted 11 June 2019 - 12:18

This sounds badly thought out to me. I really dislike the comments along the lines of '2 more marks would have achieved a distiction/merit' etc. First, we can all see that, and secondly it comes across as rather carping, rather than celebrating the candidate's achievement. The other thing is that I've taught some pupils for whom a pass mark is a genuine triumph and the result of lots of hard work on all of our parts- I want to focus on what the pupil has achieved, not what they haven't. Given the high fees paid for exams, it seems poor if it's the case that only oustandingly good or bad performances are thought worthy of comment. I'd like to see the comments either used for all candidates, or got rid of.


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#4 ma non troppo

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Posted 11 June 2019 - 12:27

Perhaps it would be easier if they replaced the examiners with some form of A.I.
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#5 elemimele

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Posted 11 June 2019 - 12:49

I don't see why candidates who are right in the middle of a band, a long way from a boundary, should be less worthy of feedback than those who are just below a boundary. In these days where a lot of parents must be questioning value-for-money on optional exams, useful feedback from an independent source would be a good justification for the painful and expensive process. If you're not going to provide useful, musical feedback to everyone, why bother providing any feedback to anyone? There's no more value in knowing how you could have improved enough to get a distinction than in knowing how you could have improved enough to sound a little bit nicer - unless, of course, the exam system is purely about collecting stars, and not about developing ability at the subject being examined.


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#6 maggiemay

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Posted 11 June 2019 - 13:32

Having noticed the general decline of general comments over the past few years, I had actually wondered if what YAM described was the case.

It seems just another way in which the board are trying to cover themselves / minimise the likelihood of any come-back from the candidate.

The comments themselves have become so formulaic recently, II sometimes wonder why they don’t replace the comments sheet with a list of boxes to tick, a bit like the theory one.
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#7 Aquarelle

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Posted 11 June 2019 - 13:54

All candidates, whatever their result, deserve an encouraging remark from their examiner - and I mean encouraging - not just along the "2 more marks and you would have got a distinction) line.It appears that as from next year we will get typed reports and I am pretty certain that will mean even more use of the word bank. Wherever they have got, wherever they haven't got with their result candidates  have, nonetheless, presented themselves and their work for assessment and parents have paid a lot of money to get them there, both in terms of lessons and instruments as well as exam fees to say nothing of time.

 

So if this is Board policy it is very retrograde and we are not getting full value for money. The whole point of using the exam system is to encourage further learning and an encouraging remark goes a long way for a child who just scraped a pass.


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#8 Bagpuss

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Posted 11 June 2019 - 15:40

I find the whole 'word bank' thing hideous. I feel that, at the risk of being sued or bombarded with complaints, the examining Board is trying to remove any subjectivity from examiners' assessments.  I don't think this is right but that's just my opinion.

Personally, I think a GENUINE comment in the general box at the bottom could be invaluable to a candidate moving on - whether that be a high flyer, or someone who had a meltdown on the day, perhaps a particularly nervous candidate or and OAP taking Grade 1 etc.

It's a sorry state of affairs and yet another reason I've got out.

Bag x


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#9 elemimele

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Posted 11 June 2019 - 16:43

Yes, it's sad and not unique to music. I don't think we parents help the situation either. At risk of sounding elderly and right-wing, I do feel that in my youth, we regarded exam outcomes as an act of God, a thing that existed, and you just got on with life. It wouldn't have crossed our minds to complain about a failed Geography O-level, let alone threaten the examining board. You just accepted that maybe Geography/a wet Wednesday morning in 1984/fried bread before an exam wasn't a good idea, and maybe it would be better to concentrate on Physics/Thursdays/Porridge for breakfast instead. I have some communications from my past, including a letter from my director of studies as an undergraduate after I scraped the required degree, and to be quite honest, were it written today, it would be considered an outrageous act of harassment. Actually it was a truthful (from his view-point) and well-meant opinion from someone who wanted me to make something of my life (and didn't mince his words).

 

We pressure our kids to succeed, and when they don't, we go into muckspreader mode, throwing blame willy-nilly. But simultaneously, one gets the feeling that exam boards have become simple businesses: sell a product, and provided the income is coming in, who cares? Errors are only relevant if they impact the Bottom Line, so provided we can defend against accusations of having messed up, who cares if we actually get the assessment right? (I'm not suggesting this is the attitude from ABRSM; personal examiners in the room are obviously dedicated musicians who aren't going to fall into that attitude so easily). But as with a lot of commercial pressures, there's a risk that commercialised exam systems will chase profit instead of quality (because if it doesn't, it will fail relative to someone who does). We parents don't care if our kids' exams are quality, provided they give the grade the kid needs...

 

Automated reporting and word-bank stuff is just plain silly. It can also back-fire badly. It never occurs to the purveyors of write-your-report-for-you word-selection software that some of the people receiving the output have used the exact same software themselves, and can recognise when their kid's report was written by a stressed teacher who'd forgotten who the kid actually was, ticking boxes in an app.

 

Sorry, feeling a bit down about assessment...


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#10 HelenVJ

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Posted 11 June 2019 - 18:18

Yet another reason to prefer Trinitysmile.png. The beakdown of marks for the pieces, though probably skimmed over by parents and students, actually provide useful feedback, and the comments are detailed, focusing on the candidates' performances, rather than the identikit wordbank meaningless statements.


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#11 fsharpminor

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Posted 11 June 2019 - 18:36

I still have my l comments sheet from 1964 Organ Grade 8, and in the General comments section, the examiner ran out of space and made comments which were very helpful  (PS I got 126, but lost 6 marks on Aurals, very unusual for me). Examiner was the DOM at Carlisle Cathedral.


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#12 Sautillé

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Posted 11 June 2019 - 20:21

So, I asked the chief examiner about it last year. They have to write a comment if there’s a fail or distinction. They are supposed to write one in a near miss (118eg). I was arguing that it would be nice if an examiner could be bothered to write a comment that was encouraging for a child who had just done grade 1, maybe quite young. I think it's Important to encourage all beginners and a little positive comment would go a long way but you would’ve thought ai was asking for the moon. They have a checklist. Examiners are taught the checklist. That’s what they mark to. Human interest doesn’t come into it....
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#13 maggiemay

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Posted 11 June 2019 - 20:55

Well, I have to say that each time I see that big empty space underneath all the (fairly) full ones, it jumps out at me like some kind of glaring omission.

Whatever the level of pass, a little ‘well done today’ makes a big difference.
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#14 ma non troppo

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Posted 11 June 2019 - 21:19

Having noticed the general decline of general comments over the past few years, I had actually wondered if what YAM described was the case.
It seems just another way in which the board are trying to cover themselves / minimise the likelihood of any come-back from the candidate.
The comments themselves have become so formulaic recently, II sometimes wonder why they don’t replace the comments sheet with a list of boxes to tick, a bit like the theory one.


It is almost like that now. Some of the A Level music practicals are pretty much marked like a tick box already. I despair. This is not what music is - although I understand the need for moderating the whims of individual examiners. It is never going to be perfectly "fair" in this sort of forensic way, however.
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#15 ma non troppo

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Posted 11 June 2019 - 21:29

Elemimele's post is bang on the money so far as I feel. I do think that the Abrsm and other examining boards are scared witless of parents complaining.

Interestingly enough, I consider some of the remarks on my abrsm marks forms from the 1970's to be borderline dodgy. I have one which says I played a piece with "modest charm". I would be willing to bet that phrase doesn't feature in the word bank.
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