GCSE Business controlled assessment: The research phase

Thu Jun 23 10:39:00 UTC 2011

This is the second of a four-part series on controlled assessment for GCSE Business Unit 2, Investigating a Small Business. Here, the focus is on the students' research.

Read more

GCSE Business Studies, Unit 2: controlled assessment – FAQs

Step 2: The research phase


How does the 6 hours' research time work?

Students need to be told they have 6 hours for research; some of this can be done in the classroom and some of it outside. Research done outside the classroom should be put into the research folder. The teacher monitors what goes in the folder to ensure it is just research and not an attempt to answer the question or analyse data collected. Putting the results of a small survey into a table or chart would not be considered analysis; writing a short paragraph saying what it tells the student in relation to the question would be.

Students do not need to do any more than 6 hours of research - we are not assessing how much research they do but the quality of the research and how they use it to answer the question. Indeed, when submitted for moderation to Edexcel, work which appears to have been based on more than six hours' research can be questioned by the senior examining team.

The crucial point is that students answer the question, and to do so they only need to look at three or four key factors and then draw their analysis together with a conclusion which addresses the answer. In the time available, students must conduct research which is targeted (selective and focused) so that it helps them answer the question they have chosen to do.

How could students best spend their 6 hours of research?

Research has a low level of control, which means that students can do it outside the classroom (in interviews, visits, observation and so on). Students can be encouraged to do primary research where appropriate. It is not essential to carry out primary research.

The information collected should help the student answer their chosen question and give them the opportunity to be able to support judgments they make and the analysis they are giving.

Does the research outside the classroom have to be logged?

To help both students and teachers to keep track of the time spent both inside and outside the classroom, we suggest using a research log. This does not have to be submitted to the moderator with the student answer (and is not marked), but should be retained by the centre in case any query arises in relation to the length of time that the student has spent doing the research. It also helps the centre to monitor the student and take pre-emptive action if it is felt the regulations are being breached.

How much is supposed to be done in school as opposed to outside in their chosen business?

The choice is yours, depending on your particular circumstances. Some centres have a three hour: three hour split, while others have 4:2 or 1:5. It depends on the question the students have chosen.

Should students have less time in class researching if they do research outside of the classroom?

The total amount of time allocated to research is 6 hours; how that 6 hours is allocated between class and outside is entirely up to the centre and will depend on the type of research being carried out. If students have spent 1 hour doing an interview outside then they have 5 hours left.

A research pack

Is it acceptable to produce a research pack for the students?

A research pack should not be given to students for the live CA. Some centres have done this for students for the trial run so that the main teaching points can be covered on how to use and interpret the research. The centre must not carry out research for students.

Can we provide students with a bank of resources?

Students must not be given resources, have research carried out for them or be given help beyond general guidance.

What do you mean by 'general guidance'?

If a student says that they are intending to use B&Q or Tesco Extra as their business, the centre ought to advise against this. If a student intends to produce a large questionnaire targeted at 30 people, it is acceptable to suggest this may be too large, too time-consuming and lack focus and selectivity.

Can I give the students a copy of the mark scheme?

Yes. You may wish to discuss the assessment criteria when doing a trial run.

Can I give the students a list of useful websites?

No. You are not allowed to do research for the students. You can, however, give general guidance about appropriate research. If, for example, a student asked whether a particular website was appropriate you could say 'yes' or 'no'.

Can I give the students a suggested generic structure (for example: introduce business, define key terms, explain research, use research to address key ideas in question, evaluate, conclude, appendix)?

The sort of generic structure we have suggested is part of the published guidance.

There is no need to define key terms - explicit knowledge is not part of the assessment criteria. Explaining how they have done their research does not answer the question and is not required. The students must answer the question.  

Undertaking the research

Can I suggest the questions the students should use in their questionnaires?

If you give students questions for a questionnaire, you are doing the research for them, which is contrary to the requirements of CA. The purpose of the research is that students decide what information they need to gather to help them answer the question - the key is being selective (asking the right questions) and also being focused on the question they are required to answer.

Primary research is not compulsory - only if it helps answer the question. Helping students to understand what is and what is not acceptable research and how to use it can be done through a practice run using non-live questions. This is where key skills in relation to the CA can be covered.

Could two or three students interview a business together?

A small group of students can interview a business together; the thing to be careful of is that the research each individual has done is clearly identifiable and independent. If they all collect exactly the same information the chances are that their answers will be very similar.

Is it possible for the teacher to interview the business person themselves and then make the responses available for the students to access?

The emphasis is on trying to encourage students to develop the skills of research. It is definitely not acceptable for the teacher to conduct the research for the student.

In some of the tasks it would be much more difficult to use a range of research than in other tasks. Would students be penalised by this?

We are not awarding marks for how much research is carried out but the appropriateness of the research and how it is used to help the student answer the question. It is important to note that the criterion refers to the range of sources but also to the selectivity and focus of the research - in other words, has the student gathered research which is useful in helping them answer the question, and have they asked the right questions? Is the research focused on the question or does it adopt a scatter-gun approach?

To illustrate, in the 2010-11 tasks, one task asked students to consider the most important factor in why the person had started their own business. Clearly the main research for this investigation would come from an interview with the entrepreneur. There was no need for students to compare this business with another, or provide lots/any secondary research data, or compare to Richard Branson (!). Another task asked for the most important sources of added value. This investigation provided greater opportunities for research. The point here is that different tasks require different amounts and types of research.

What counts as a ‘source of research’?

If a student takes a paragraph from a textbook, conducts a small survey, gets some background data on the business from its website and interviews a customer, this would count as four sources. If a student got information from five different websites, this would count as five sources, not one.

Does the research log at the back of the assignment have to be hand-written or can it be typed up?

The research log is simply a form suggested to help the student and teacher to keep the amount of research carried out under control. It could be hand-written or typed (a template has been provided in various media) and does not have to be submitted with the write-up to the moderator. It is there for the centre to use as a guide. It should not be marked.

If a student has used an interview, menu and business website, is that one source (the business) or three sources?

If a candidate has looked at a business website, has identified a quote from a news article and taken some basic knowledge from a textbook then that counts as three sources - three different bits of information. The important point is to consider how focused the research has been on the question and how useful it is for the student in helping answer the question.

Are the students to be in absolute silence during the research session (that is, exam conditions)?

The research phase is subject to 'light control', which means that it can be carried out outside the class as well as inside, as noted above. If a student is doing research outside the class then clearly it is not appropriate for them to be in silence. There is nothing in the rules to state that the write-up must be done under 'exam conditions' other than it has to be strictly supervised (that is, no cheating, no work done for them by someone else) but most centres are operating in that way because it helps students to focus more obviously. The JCQ instructions state: “Candidates must complete all work independently and must not communicate with each other” (section 4.1 of the JCQ Instructions for conducting controlled assessments).

The research folder

Does the research folder contribute to marks?

The research folder should not be marked. The emphasis is on how the research is used to answer the question. In itself, it commands no marks.

Can students bring in material on, for example, a memory stick or emails - such as photographs/images?

Students can bring in material they have collected during their research into school to put in their research folders. This could be on a memory stick or as an email that they can retrieve during a designated research lesson.

The research folder might be saved on a memory stick, but the teacher should keep the folder securely and will be able to check that it only contains the research students have collected during allocated research time. Students can scan materials into their research folder or simply include the hard-copy materials as a hard-copy file - thus having a combination of an electronic and a hard-copy research folder.

Students must not bring a memory stick or have access to the internet during the actual write-up time.

If my students decide to research small businesses known to them personally, and they conduct an interview, can their written account of this interview be added to the research folder?

The interview will form part of the research and is what would be added to the research folder. Remember, you are not marking the research folder but how students use the research to answer the question they are tackling.

Do we need the secure login during the research stage as well as for the write-up?

The research stage has to be conducted under light supervision. This means that students can do research inside and outside the classroom subject to the six-hour time limit. It is good practice to have a secure area in which to keep the research; most centres are setting up a research file electronically and network administrators are making this area secure so that students can only access it at set times - that is, when research is being done in lessons. If research is done outside the class then that can be brought into the lesson and put into the research folder.

If you do not have a secure login for the research file, then it is possible that students could access this at any time - from home, or outside designated class research time - and so the teacher would have no control over what the student is doing with that research. This is not allowed.

Do we need to print off the research folder for use in the write-up?

You do not need to print off the research prior to the write-up. Many centres have set up a secure write-up file alongside the research file, both of which can only be accessed during the write-up period (the internet is also disabled at this time). Students can then do the write-up and refer to their research, copy across graphs, charts and so on if appropriate (or simply refer to the relevant item in the research through the use of appendices) as they address the question in the write-up.

Are the pupils allowed to annotate the research documents in their research time?

Students must not annotate their research in a way that can be interpreted as being an attempt to answer the question or provide notes which they can then use in the write-up to answer the question. What they take into the write-up should just be the research. They can produce graphs of questionnaires, if carried out, which they can then cut and paste into their write-up or copy across as the case may be, but should not attempt to begin to analyse the graphs at this stage. This is to be done in the write-up.

Do all plans and notes for the research folder have to be handwritten on Edexcel forms?

No. Students may carry out their research creating a hard-copy handwritten file, have an electronic research file in a secure area on the school's network, or a combination of the two. The recommendation is that students label their research as appendices so that they can either refer to the particular appendix or pull it across from their file or both in their eventual write-up.

Can students prepare graphs, charts and data in their research time?

Yes, this is fine and expected of students. The write-up time can then be devoted to drawing conclusions and making sense of their body of evidence. There is no requirement that charts be produced electronically. Hand-written charts and diagrams are fine.

How should a student present a pie chart (or other piece of data)?

In a paper-based piece of work, a student might refer to a pie chart and then write ‘(see appendix X)’, or the chart could be cut out and stuck in.

In an ICT-based piece of work, the pie chart could be copied from the online research folder or referred to in an appendix as above.

Assessing research

What does the research marking criterion assess?

Appropriate rather than voluminous research: quality not quantity. You are not marking the research folder – you are marking how the research has been used to answer the question, support judgements and so on in the write-up.

The marks are awarded according to the criteria. The first thing to consider is what evidence exists that there is a range of sources. This could be more than one - it will depend to an extent on the question the student is tackling. They may have just one, such as an interview with an entrepreneur. We would expect candidates to look at some other sources - perhaps the website of the business or a textbook. If there is evidence of a range of sources then this means that the mark will be a minimum of 4.

The next thing to decide is the extent to which the sources have been used with selectivity and focus. Did they ask the right questions, did they look for information which would help them answer the question, is the research focused on the question being tackled? This is really what determines the remaining marks.

If the candidate has gathered research which is very useful in helping answer the question, and if it can be used to support the analysis and evaluation provided, then it is likely to be in the 10-12 mark range. If it is weak, in that questions were asked in an interview that had nothing to do with the CA question, or if material has been collected which is of little relevance to the question, for example, then it might be in the 4-6 range.

Do students need to reference all the sources of their research?

In the write-up, students will be using their research to help support the points they are making. As a result, we would expect them to acknowledge the source of information. For example, the student might say '60 per cent of the people I interviewed said they thought X was the most important reason why they shop at Y (see appendix A). This is further supported by a quote from a local magazine (see appendix B) which suggested trade has increased at the store by 50 per cent over the last year.'

It is good practice to encourage students to understand the importance of proper referencing when conducting research. When you are marking the work, you are not marking the research file itself but how the student has used the research in answering the question. If they have not copied across the web address for a chart they have extracted, that is not vital as you are not marking the research itself. Some students copy across paragraphs from a web source and do nothing with them, or carry on their write-up without acknowledging the source. For the marker or moderator, it is then not clear whether the student is attempting to interpret the paragraph or if they are simply plagiarising.

Teacher/markers have a duty to be vigilant when marking work to spot evidence of plagiarism and act upon it. If moderators spot evidence of plagiarism, they are instructed to send the work to Edexcel’s Malpractice Unit for investigation. The candidate can risk disqualification and the centre will also be held responsible for failure to adequately monitor and adhere to regulations.

In research, what is the difference between 7-9 marks stating a 'range' of sources, and 10-12 marks stating a 'wide range' of sources? Am I correct in assuming that 'range' means three sources and 'wide range' means four sources or more?

It depends on the quality and type of research carried out. For example, a student carrying out an interview with an entrepreneur might get some incredibly rich data as a result which almost answers their entire question. We would hope that they do look at some other sources, such as the business website (if appropriate) or maybe a textbook (if appropriate), but we are not saying there has to be a set number of sources which constitute a range.

If the criteria specified ‘range’ and ‘wide range’ in terms of a specified number of resources, we would have to expect that every centre would ensure that all their candidates had utilised that set number of sources in order to give maximum marks! Clearly this would be inappropriate. As a result, the different levels relate to how research has been used and how well organised it is in helping answering the question.

Does the mark scheme assume that the higher the number of sources, the better the selectivity?

The marking criteria have to be viewed as a whole and not as discrete pieces of information. A student who uses a small number of sources very well in order to answer the question is better than one who tries to do too much research but makes no use of it.

If you have any questions on the research phase which have not been covered here, you can email the Chair of Examiners or Chief Examiner using our Ask the Expert service.



Colin Leith, Business and Economics subject advisor
Colin LeithBusiness and Economics
UK: 020 7010 2182
Intl: + 44 (0)20 7010 2182
What do you think?