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Friday, 15 June, 2001, 11:26 GMT 12:26 UK
Exam question omits crucial information
It was impossible for students to answer the question
An inquiry has been launched after crucial information was left out of an A-level physics exam paper, leaving candidates unable to answer a question.

Up to 3,000 candidates, sitting the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance (AQA) paper, were asked to make a calculation about the orbit of a spacecraft around the Moon.

We had one girl in tears after half an hour and we had to take her out and calm her down

Fraser Robinson
To do this they needed the distance from the centre of the planet to the ship, but were only given the distance from the surface.

Head of science at Newman Catholic School in Carlisle, Cumbria, Fraser Robinson, said the question involved a standard calculation which his students had practised.

Pupils in tears

"The kids sat down, looked at question one thinking great I can do this, but of course they couldn't do it.

"We had one girl in tears after half an hour and we had to take her out and calm her down.

"But of course, we're not allowed to say anything to them," Mr Robinson said.

George Turnbull
George Turnbull says it was down to human error
Spurred on by the fact that his own son was sitting the same exam in a different school, Mr Robinson rang the exam board to complain.

"As a parent I thought I'm not going to take this lightly."

But he was disappointed by the AQA's response that some account would be taken of the error when marking papers.

"They'll probably decide to ignore question 1, but it affected the whole exam - some students spent an hour on it, some were very distressed and some would have been oblivious there was anything wrong.

"But they won't tell anyone what they're doing until they've done it," Mr Robinson said.

Human error

But George Turnbull from AQA said the question was divided into three parts and that two thirds could have been answered without a problem.

Pupils don't expect that sort of error and we do apologise for this mistake

George Turnbull
Most students would have been familiar enough with exam papers to move on quickly without dwelling on this particular element, he said.

"We understand that the majority of students were unfazed by this one mark element.

"But if they were upset then exam centres know the procedures for reporting that," Mr Turnbull said.


He promised a thorough investigation into the matter, which came down to human error.

"Whenever people are producing printed material - whether for exams or anything else - there is always an opportunity for error.

"It's not a major blunder in itself and does happen due to human error and examiners are as susceptible to that as people in commerce or whatever.

"But pupils don't expect that sort of error and we do apologise for this mistake," Mr Turnbull said.

The mistake came to light as the police were called in to investigate how an A-level maths paper from the Edexcel board came to be leaked.

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See also:

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