Swear words can get you marks if spelt okay, says UK exams chief

June 30th, 2008 - 11:15 am ICT by IANS  

London, June 30 (IANS) Students penning swear words in their English answer papers are getting rewarded, it is now revealed. It is okay if they do not go wrong with the spelling and grammar, says the examination board chief. The Telegraph reports of some cases in an English paper for the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE).

In one case a pupil who wrote a two-word obscenity in answer to the question “Describe the room you’re sitting in”, on a 2006 GCSE paper was given two marks out of a possible 27 for the expletive. That translates to 3.5 in percentage.

It would have gone up to 11 percent had he punctuated it with an exclamation mark, says Peter Buckroyd, chief examiner of English for the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance (AQA), an examination board.

To gain minimum marks in English, students must demonstrate “some simple sequencing of ideas” and “some words in appropriate order”. The obscenity had achieved this, according to Mr Buckroyd.

The chief examiner, who is responsible for standards in exams taken by 780,000 candidates and for training for 3,000 examiners, said: “It would be wicked to give it zero, because it does show some very basic skills we are looking for - like conveying some meaning and some spelling.

“It’s better than someone that doesn’t write anything at all. It shows more skills than somebody who leaves the page blank.

The government’s examinations regulator, Ofqual, agrees with Buckroyd’s approach. The AQA board has, however, stipulated that markers should contact them if swear words were used in an inappropriate manner. A spokesperson for the body says: “AQA’s offices will advise them in accordance with Joint Council for Qualification guidelines. Expletives in a script would either be disregarded, or sanctioned.”

Nick Gibb, the Shadow Schools Secretary, says Mr Buckroyd’s strategy was “taking the desire for uniformity and consistency to absurd lengths.”

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