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The past decade has put pupils, teachers, parents and carers through the ringer. It seems that not a term has gone by without some big announcement of planned change.

Budgets have shrunk, the curriculum has been shaken up, and literacy has been placed under the spotlight.

By making GCSEs more demanding, more fulfilling, and more stretching we can give our young people the broad, deep and balanced education which will equip them to win in the global race.

So, for today’s subject we’re going to be digging into the topic of linear exams – explaining what they are, why the change was made and, most importantly of all, what it means for students and teachers alike.

This is the biggest change in a generation. [GCSEs] have been around for over 25 years but now we are seeing fresh content, a different structure, high-quality assessment coming in. It’s a significant change for students and for schools.

Linear exams – In a nutshell

Since 2009, students  have taken modular GCSEs. It was a concept quickly embraced, despite there being no research as to whether or not they would improve standards. This format saw GCSEs broken down into different units (or modules), with an exam undertaken come the end of the course.

In contrast, linear exams represent a return to the ‘old school’ – following a linear path of progression onto a final assessment, rather than intermittent testing and course work.

Teachers have had to move from teaching six-week, bite-sized, discrete chunks of knowledge – something that had become formulaic and predictable – to preparing their students for a single, exam.

Likewise, students faced a shift away from coursework completely, as well as no longer being able to undertake re-sits during the year (with the exception of completely re-taking English, English language and maths).

A return to a linear structure will help reduce the dangers of over-assessment of young people, give more time for teaching and increase the opportunities to teach whole subjects in a joined up way rather than in bite-sized chunks.

Alongside the change in assessment, came changes within the GCSEs material. Content has increased, while the grades have switched from A* to U, to 9 to U.

Linear = a straight path to more stress?

You might have heard the news – students are reporting feelings of stress and distress in record numbers. While online, tearful students are going viral, and a headteacher who advised his students to revise for 7 hours a day has also hit the headlines.

So will linear exams mean more stress?

Most certainly, the linear route of assessment has created tougher GCSEs. Prior to this year’s results, falls in attainment were expected across the board, and one study by Cambridge Assessment expected only 200 pupils to achieve a clean sweep of 9s across their subjects – a figure that would have represented a 90% fall. 

The 2018 results show that, in fact, 732 students achieved 9s across all their subjects

However, the psychological impact of the changes are a few years away from being fully understood, as we await research and reports from charities such as ChildLine as to what, if any, growth there has been in demand for mental health support because of the new linear exams.

Whatever the facts of the case, no matter what statistics may roll in, one thing’s for certain – linear exams are here to stay, and students, teachers and parents must all adapt, and adapt quickly.