TDs and senators were told yesterday many students brought calculators into the exam to work out how much time to give each question as there was no certainty about the structure from sample papers provided by the State Examinations Commission (SEC).
The Oireachtas Petitions Committee heard from four students, who did the exam, that even the fastest writers were not all able to finish the paper in time. It was the first assessment of a new curriculum as part of wider junior cycle reforms, with a single two-hour exam replacing two papers previously taken on the subject.
The students are in transition year at Loreto College in St Stephen’s Green, Dublin. Their online petition asking for 30 minutes to be added to the English paper has been supported by 12,400 people since March but did not result in changes before the exam in June.
When the SEC appeared before the committee weeks later, its chief executive, Aidan Farrell, said reports from teachers and candidates showed “no difficulties were experienced by candidates in respect of completion time”. But the SEC told the
yesterday it has since received four individual complaints about the issue of time available.
At yesterday’s committee meeting, Loreto student Tara O’Sullivan said the exam was like “a competition to see how fast you could write, instead of an actual test of your knowledge and ability”.
The Irish National Organisation of Teachers of English has also told the Petitions Committee it supports the students’ argument, citing “numerous complaints from students, teachers and parents on the timing of this particular exam”.
“There was a lot of disappointment with results, particularly among well-able students who ran out of time,” a spokesperson wrote to the committee last month.
Ms O’Sullivan and classmates Adrianne Ward, Ellen McKimm and Faye Dolan also complained about the confusion caused by the SEC’s own sample papers and the subsequent mock exams set by schools and commercial publishers. The setting of sample papers by the SEC, with different numbers of sections in each, meant students had no idea in advance what time to allocate each question.
“I had to bring a calculator into my English exam, and it was a strange way of multiplying the marks to work out the time, which took away further time,” Ms Ward said.
Committee chairman Seán Sherlock said the views of the Irish Second-level Students’ Union and the Teaching Council will be sought, and the SEC will be asked for an update on its engagements with stakeholders on the issue early next year.