Getting to grips with controlled assessments 2015
This update gives you quick links to key documents and FAQs to help you prepare for the GCSE controlled assessment submissions. It's based on an article written by senior examiner Janet Searle in 2011, but the support is still valid and it's been updated with new links.
You'll find the following important documents and podcast will help you prepare for the controlled assessments and related submissions:
- Teacher handbook: controlled assessments (speaking)
- Teacher handbook: controlled assessments (writing)
- Controlled assessments FAQs
You should consult this well in advance of your controlled assessments submissions. It includes, for example, an explanation of the difference between 2A and 2B - a crucial clarification when completing OPTEMs forms.
2A refers to tasks undertaken and recorded in your centre and from which the sample will be drawn. The 2A tasks must include a representative spread of the different task types used in the centre (for example, presentation and picture-based discussion). 2B simply relates to the other task (of the two required) for which you need to submit marks and for which no recording is formally required.
To help you, we have collated key controlled assessment FAQs from the administrative support guide and controlled assessment teacher support books and have provided quick links and relevant page references.
Positive aspects of controlled assessment
Controlled assessments allow teachers to decide what is best for their students in terms of timing, content and task. Students may be less fearful of the controlled assessment process and consequently may find it less stressful than traditional examinations. Because they can prepare the actual task for assessment, they can perform more proficiently and confidently, using more complex structures. In fact, some students have produced some quite sophisticated content and language in these assessments – some of which is more sophisticated than with the previous GCSE model. Students may carry out a different, refreshed controlled assessment task if things go less well than anticipated.
Controlled assessments can be taken at any time during the course - whenever best suits students, teachers and the school. They should be submitted for moderation/marking in early summer (15 May) at the end of the GCSE course. Each student must complete two different tasks for both speaking and writing, but they may do more, in which case you should submit their two best written assessments or the marks from their best two speaking assessments (in addition to the specified sample recordings).
It's a good idea to do a 'dry run' of a controlled assessment-type task in Year 10, so students will do a 'controlled assessment' in both speaking and writing which will not count for assessment. This way, your students will become familiar with the mechanics of the process and the requirements of the assessment criteria. They will also see what they need to improve (for example, strategies for revision and preparation).
The more students prepare and practise, the better they understand how to structure and develop their ideas to include points of view and so on. They improve their communication while at the same time improving their use of language. Preparing for and doing assessments throughout the course when students are ready* means they can learn more vocabulary and structures as they go along. Some students may prefer this to leaving everything until the end of Year 11, as happened with the previous GCSE. Students understand that they can directly shape their assessment outcomes and so will revise more - independently.
* Assessments must be submitted in May in the final year of the course (usually Year 11) but may take place at any time during the GCSE course.'
Make your choice
'You don’t necessarily need to cover every page in the textbook that you use. Of course, you'll need to cover the common topic areas for the listening and reading units, but you'll have a free choice of content for the controlled assessments in speaking and writing. Edexcel has identified four popular themes as listed in the specification, but these are just suggestions - if they don’t interest or suit your candidates, you can choose something else which does. Of course, the grammatical structures listed in the specification do need to be covered, especially for those aiming at the top grades.
This freedom of choice allows you to match the assessment content to real and current events in your students’ lives. For example, 'free time' might focus on a weekend at a music festival such as Glastonbury, a trip to a gig to see a favourite band, a shopping expedition for clothes or an online 'Mario Cart' games competition. 'School' might focus on the geography field trip, a GCSE history trip, the 'End of Year 11 prom', enrichment week and work experience. Year 11 students are considering post-KS4 study options and this is worth exploring in a controlled assessment. Choosing the assessment content can offer real opportunities for imagination and creativity.
The same theme can be used for both speaking tasks or for both writing tasks, for one speaking task and one writing task or indeed for all four tasks together. However, you must make sure there is no direct overlap of content between any of the tasks: so it would not be possible to talk and write about 'Glastonbury', as this would generally lead to the same language and content. Whether or not you decide to focus on one, two or more themes for the controlled assessments will depend on your students and your curriculum pattern.
All students can do a task on the same theme but, depending on the size and composition of the group, it might be possible for students to do a task on a different theme – one which is of special interest to them. Clearly, this may not be feasible with a larger group.'
Accommodating students of different needs and abilities
'One of the greatest advantages of controlled assessment is the amount of choice and potential that it offers. You can develop tasks suited to the strengths of our own candidates - giving them the opportunity to perform to the best of their ability. You can even set individualised tasks – that is, tasks that are appropriate to an individual candidate based on his or her prior knowledge and competences.
So you can devise tasks based on content, vocabulary and structures with which our students are confident, and you can differentiate tasks according to the candidate's level – a sort of 'made-to-measure' task. For the presentation and follow-on discussion and picture-based discussion task types in speaking and for the writing tasks, you can give precise, straightforward bullet points for those who need them and then more open-ended bullet points with sufficient complexity for the more able to allow them to fulfil the assessment criteria appropriate to their level.
The open interaction task type (speaking) is ideal for students of all abilities. You can provide more structure and detail in both stimulus and task for those who need more guidance, while leaving stimulus and task fairly open-ended for those whose greater competence in the language allows them to be more creative. Some students might have an open interaction task on a theme, while other students could have a presentation and discussion task on the same theme if the outcomes for the students will be better; some students may struggle to give a presentation of one minute (minimum) so the presentation and discussion task type would not be best suited to them.
Edexcel provides open interaction tasks and a range of writing tasks which we can use as they are presented or adapt to suit your students (both are accessible under the 'tasks' and 'controlled assessment' categories on the language-specific GCSE page). New tasks will be produced in September 2015. Equally, you're free to create your own tasks entirely, and it is possible, but not a requirement, to send such tasks to email@example.com for comment. You may also find that your textbooks or related assessment packs have some sample tasks that you can use/adapt.
All tasks (Edexcel ones and those created in school) must be refreshed every 2 years. This simply means that you need to change at least one significant bullet point.
For the controlled assessments in writing, different word counts cater for candidates of different ability. Candidates aiming for a grade between G and D should aim to produce at least 100 words of writing in each task. However, those working at grades E, F or G may produce two smaller pieces of around 50 words, both on the same theme, which would constitute one of the writing controlled assessments when combined. Those aiming at grades C to A* should produce around 200 words or more in each of the two pieces. The tasks set should reflect the number of words which candidates are aiming to produce.'
'It's important that you put controlled assessment in perspective. It does not have to be the principal objective of your teaching. It's not about teaching to the assessment, but about making the assessment reflect what you have been teaching and the students have been learning. You don’t need to assess every unit/module of the book as soon as you have covered it. You could set a task which brings together language covered in different units – and build reinforcement activities into your teaching. You can also do a practice task with your students ahead of each real assessment, and in this practice task you can revise, repeat and refresh things with them. The practice task would of course be distinctly different to the live task set, but could still be linked to the same aspect or sub-topic area.
The controlled assessments in both speaking and writing are just too long for students to memorise chunks of language specific to the task set. Doing so is likely to prove counterproductive in any case. Candidates aiming for the top bands for content and response in speaking, for example, need to demonstrate an ability to deal with spontaneous and unpredictable questions.
Spontaneity is about candidates using language (that they have covered and learnt as part of their ongoing learning) in different situations as the need arises rather than rote learning material for a specific assessment. So, they do need to have learnt that language at some point – all language has to be learnt somehow. This makes memory skills and memorisation techniques important, as these can help students to recall learnt language in response to an unpredictable or spontaneous question. By doing a 'dummy run’ in Year 10 as outlined earlier, students understand the pitfalls of learning everything off by heart and the advantages of drawing on what they know and understand and manipulating the target language.
It is important that you conduct orals that facilitates a ‘natural’ conversation, with evidence of interaction and spontaneity, to allow your better candidates to fulfil the criteria in the top bands and so achieve their best. It is not in the spirit of the controlled assessments for you to go through the same question sequence for all students, irrespective of their ability. You need to take the individual student’s answer into account and tailor your questions to this answer, as well as, of course, to the ability of the student. Following a set list of questions will not get the best performance out of either less or more able students.
Remember that to reach the highest mark bands, students will need to be able to express and justify opinions and use a range of tenses, complex structures and lexis.'
Teaching before task setting
'The best approach is to maximise the amount of teaching time that you have available before the 'live' assessment and to minimise the time spent on the assessment itself so that students have really mastered the language needed for the task. Of course, you should keep your eye on the assessment criteria to inform what you teach and which skills you practise with your students.
Some of the most important activities during teaching and learning (phase 1) are those which can lead to providing students with accurate reference materials for the 'real thing'. These reference materials can be produced throughout this phase on an ongoing basis or they can be undertaken in direct response to a practice task. (Naturally, the practice task will be different from the real task, but could be related.)
For speaking, students could prepare short paragraphs which they record on digital recorders (or possibly on their mobile phones depending on school rules), or for writing they could produce a paragraph in response to open-ended bullet points. You can mark these so that your students have a correct version and, using the assessment criteria, you can offer tips for improving performance and so on. This work can be done in their exercise books. In this way, students have exemplar work which is perfect, which then becomes a useful reference resource in the live task stage when they are expected to engage in independent work.
Students can both peer and self-assess a piece of writing, using the assessment criteria, to help them understand what they need to do to meet these criteria.
If they produce these reference materials on an ongoing basis, you can then work through the practice task together to help students develop the confidence to go back to them and, drawing on their reserves of other learnt language, adapt material to fit the task. This experience will then enable them to work independently on the live task.'
'The allowed preparation time of six hours over two weeks is an absolute maximum and can be shortened to suit your students and curriculum plan. During this task-specific preparation stage, students should work independently, but not necessarily in silence. You must not help them, nor can your foreign language assistant - but they may have access to all their resources and, indeed, they may take the live task and all their notes prepared during the phase 1 stage home to help them revise.
Although it is possible for students to do some background preparation/research at home, teachers must be able to confirm that the final assessed product is the candidate's own work. (Teachers and students will need to sign CM2 and CM4 forms that confirm this.) Students should not, therefore, be expected to produce full drafts of writing tasks, for example, at home.'
'During both speaking and writing assessments, students are allowed access to a pro forma (CA2 for speaking and CA4 for writing) with up to 30 words (or 50 Chinese characters) of notes and five small drawings. These notes must be in a format which helps them – a long list of discrete words may not be the most useful aid in this context. Bullet points or a spider-diagram, whereby each bullet or 'leg' represents a concept, generally work well. If the notes are in the target language, conjugated verbs are allowed and what might work best could be a couple of examples of, for example, tenses or modal verbs to jog the memory. Students have access to the task, of course, and for writing the students can have access to a dictionary, ideally restricted to checking spellings or genders.
The writing controlled assessments can be taken in the classroom, although you must ensure that any wall displays which may help students are covered up. Nevertheless, this is a much less intimidating setting than a school exams hall. The speaking tests could be conducted in the classroom as well, but most students prefer one-on-one privacy. In both cases, they know they have been able to prepare well for what is coming, and therefore they should feel more confident about what they can achieve.
It is possible to undertake the writing controlled assessments using a computer so long as access to online translators is disabled. GCSE Chinese candidates may only word-process one of their writing controlled assessments.'
Moderation: speaking assessments
'If you are the only teacher of the TL in your school, then you do not need to worry about moderation, as it is assumed that you have marked all work consistently over the GCSE course. However, if you have a colleague who has also been conducting controlled assessments in speaking with the same year group, you will need to standardise, as Edexcel moderators will moderate the marking across the centre as a whole. They may, if appropriate, make adjustments to the marks of some or all of the candidates based on how well the marking has been applied to the work in the prescribed sample.'