Edexcel GCSE History Assessment Review Update December 2023

29 November 2023

This update is to keep Edexcel GCSE History teachers informed with our progress in helping to improve the assessment experience for students.

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Post-series review

Following this Summer’s exam series, we have undertaken a thorough and comprehensive review of our assessments in order to provide students with a better exam experience. We sought the views of hundreds of students and teachers through our post-exam series surveys, and we are very grateful to everyone who has taken the time to provide us with valuable insight into our qualifications and assessments. We’ve also carried out detailed analysis into how our different question types have performed since 2018 to identify areas for improvement. At the beginning of the Autumn term, we committed to keeping you informed about our progress, and this is a summary of our findings and plans.

High quality assessments in Summer 2024

Our senior examiners and colleagues in the wider Pearson History team work very hard to ensure our assessments are error-free and we are very sorry for the issues that arose in this Summer's Medicine and Germany papers. Our key priority is to ensure that future question papers are free from error, and we have therefore carried out additional checks on all 17 of next Summer’s question papers to ensure this. We have brought in additional subject experts to carry out this work and where possible we have also reviewed the papers with a focus on the clarity of questions, use of stimulus points and use of dates in questions.

Improving the exam experience for students in Summer 2025 and beyond

The Summer 2023 exam series saw a return to the full GCSE History examination requirements for the first time since 2019 and we appreciate fully the hard work which students put into their studies and revision. GCSE History is a challenging qualification and whilst it can be incredibly rewarding for students, we do have to acknowledge that the current assessment model can also be daunting for some, particularly Paper 2. As a result of our research following this Summer’s series, we are intending to implement some small changes which we feel will benefit all students and improve the overall exam experience. In order to implement these changes as soon as possible we cannot make significant amendments to the structure of question papers or assessment types. Our intention is to minimise any potential disruption to teachers in how they teach the qualification. We also want to avoid any significant 'knock-on' issues arising with the published resources that schools have invested in. We are, however, confident that some minor changes can make a big difference and we are planning to review the following for first assessment Summer 2025:

  • Opening questions on Papers 1 and 2 (key features and consequences): Some teachers have said these opening questions are not consistently accessible to a wide range of students. This is something we are keen to address to improve the ‘ramping’ and accessibility of our papers.
  • Stimulus points: We have carefully researched how the stimulus have been performing since 2018 on all questions. We are aware that many students fail to attempt essay questions and we are reviewing the stimulus to ensure they are as helpful as possible to a wide range of students.
  • More time in exams: Student surveys have raised this as an issue to address. We sent out a survey recently which had c.900 responses and we are currently reviewing the responses to decide on the best approach. We know that students find the timing of Paper 2 particularly challenging, but we are also aware that some students need more reading time for sources and interpretations.
  • Paper 3 assessment: students are required to learn and revise a lot of content that is not assessed due to the skills-based enquiry focus of the assessment. We’d like to improve the overall balance of content assessed on this paper.
  • Choice of questions: we know students prefer a choice of questions and it can help improve the range of content being assessed. We also need to be mindful of keeping question papers clear and simple for students to navigate as possible.

We are now working with Ofqual on our proposals, and we expect to be able to update you on our progress in Spring 2024 where we hope to run a training event on any changes announced. If we are able to make amendments then we will ensure these are kept to a minimum and they will not change the way you teach your existing Year 10 students.

GCSE mark scheme amendment: Level 2 stimulus cap

In addition to the proposals above, we’d also like to remind teachers that we recently announced the removal of the Level 2 stimulus cap in the mark schemes which will apply for first assessment Summer 2024. This change means that Level 2 students can now achieve the top of the level without going beyond aspects prompted by the stimulus. It’s a relatively small adjustment but together with further changes planned we think it will help make a difference.

Feedback on the amount of content in GCSE History

We are aware that GCSE History teachers feel there is too much content, and we are listening! The 9-1 specifications were designed to be more demanding in terms of content and assessment and we cannot make any changes to the total number of topics being studied or narrow the date ranges of topics. Any significant content changes must wait until reform.

At present we are carrying out research with teachers on this issue to see if we can make minor amendments to topics to improve the way they can be taught. We did this successfully with the American West topic in 2021 and whilst the disruption caused was minimal, we have seen an improvement in the performance on this question paper as a result (see Summer 2023 Feedback materials). Together with the minor amendments to the assessments outlined above we believe this would be the most appropriate way of updating the specification ahead of reform. Any changes to specification content would be made for first teaching September 2024, first assessment Summer 2026 and we will update you on our content research in the Spring.

I hope you found this update useful, however please do contact me at teachinghistory@pearson.com if you require further information.

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