The greatest single source of avoidable lost credit is candidates’ failure to provide clear evidence of 'checking and evaluation' of their work. In the worst possible case failure to 'check and evaluate' could lose 10% of the total available credit.
The Functional Skills Criteria lists within the standards 'use appropriate checking procedures and evaluate their effectiveness'. Evidence of genuine, relevant checking tends to be somewhat thin. Writing 'checked' beside an answer gains no credit and checking routine calculations with multiple reverse calculations can only gain partial credit.
Indications of true reflection by candidates on either their calculation results or the methods they use are extremely rare. Candidates should pause to reflect, question and check the validity of working that gives a cup of tea costing £25, gas bills of £100,000 or room areas of thousands of square metres. Such errors may be attributed to slips in decimal conversions of the units. These usually produce answers which are two or more orders of magnitude too big or too small, which in many cases could be corrected if candidates themselves took a few moments to reflect on and challenge the reasonableness of such answers. This would result in greater credit overall.
One possible strategy to improve the present situation would be to encourage learners to practice sample/specimen tasks but with the additional feature of marking each other’s work using the official marking guidance. Experience has shown that using 'real' marking guidance makes learners more aware of how to avoid losing marks needlessly.
In addition, discussion of what is an 'appropriate/sensible' answer should improve matters. Real situations and quantities are used wherever possible in tasks. This should allow learners to use life-experiences as an aid to evaluate the reasonableness of their answers. Developing this critical faculty is an area that needs continual practice in order for it to become second nature.
Practising these techniques could involve using and looking at tasks at a level lower than the one the candidate is working towards – easier mathematically but still requiring the scrutiny of answers and part answers.
In an ideal world learners would look critically at the reasonableness of every response or part-response. They should also have in their checking 'tool box', not only reverse calculation but approximation, solution by another route (if feasible) and other means of checking. Learners need to realise that the method of checking is very much dependent on the calculation and/or the scenario in which the calculation is set.
Finally, candidates should be reminded that credit can only be given for 'checking and evaluation' if clear, unambiguous evidence, is presented within their work.
Bob Hartman - Chief Examiner for OCR
Bob Hartman is the Chief Examiner for Level 2 Functional Skills Mathematics. He has been involved with the assessment of Functional Skills mathematics for the last ten years, beginning with the experimental GCSE. During this time he has co-authored two text books focusing on Functional Skills mathematics. Bob has always had a very keen interest in the application aspects of mathematics and was involved as Principal Examiner for an experimental AS in mathematical modelling and the Foundation Tier applications papers for the linked pair of GCSEs.