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New UK Initiative - Make Science Easier

Zonk posted more than 7 years ago | from the all-those-equations-just-get-in-the-way-of-the-science dept.

Education 423

An anonymous reader writes "Examiners in the UK have been told to make science 'easier'. From next year 70% of the paper must consist of 'low demand' questions in the form of multiple choice or similar answers. Currently this type of question makes up some 55% of the test. When the recent A level results were announced, with even more students in the UK getting A grades than ever before, educators were congratulating themselves on improved teaching. 'Jim Sinclair, the Joint Council for Qualifications director, emphatically denied that the changes would lead to a rise in the number achieving grade C - the top grade in the foundation tier. Future results would depend on how the marks were allocated. Dr Sinclair added that the changes would help to stop children being turned off by science.' Even still, it's hard to see the benefit from future science students passing by guessing."

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Typical slashdot elitism. (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20396889)

I'm concerned about the narrowm view of the world IT people and engineers
have these days. I think the problem starts at college -
There's a culture that somehow science is more rational and usefull
then the humanitities. Lecturers encourage students to joke about arts
students, and humilaite them whenever possible. This encourages
eliteism, and I for one am sick of it.

Let's tell it like it is. 'science' is just as much about opinion as
the humanities. Research simply follows the fad of the day. Take
dieticians for example. These men and woman believe that just because
they have degree in medical science that they are all knowing. Why,
what they recommend one day may kill you the next! (see the DDT story
for more information.) Science is 95% opinion then facts, lets face
it. What about astrology, the most rediculious of the sciences! But I

Another example is music. We know what sounds good. Everyone aggreed
that Valves for instance sound great. But knowitall engineers use
trensastors with inferious sound quality just to save a few bucks.
They argue with numbers. Hey, I don't want to do maths just to listen
to music. I know what I like. You cannot apply objective reasoning to
a subject which is intristically subjective. But try telling those
recent grads with their useless piece of paper that and they go all

The problem with you technical guys are that you are all so eliteist.
Whilst you want to trun collage into a trade school with yore narrow
minded views that collage should be a job training centre, humanities
are focused on making you a well rounded person who is auctually
interesting to be with, not a boring focuesed geek. Really, it makes
me so mad when people say "oh, he's doing a humanities degree, that's
easy". I have to read *3* *books* *a* *week* on average. Not picture
books either I assue you. It is a lot of work, but the upshot is
improved grammer and spelling skills that are lacking in the
technical. As for those that say "you will be working at mcdonalds" ,
I'm going on to so a PhD in socialolgy where I'll be line for tenure
where I have a much more rewarding job then beeing a science freak or
an engineer. Anyways, all I have to do to be a engineer wold be to get
my MSCE and how hard couyld that be? techincal stuff is simply
whatever fad the market thinks is hot at the moment, but all great
things were done by humanities.

You technical types are far to narrow minded and cynsical. You should
learn to enjoy life.

Peace be to god, he transcends all.

Re:Typical slashdot elitism. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20396951)

You're a credit to your education. Learn to spell.

The UK is turning into an ignorant third world country and it's wishy-washy liberal attitudes like yours which exacerbate the situation.

Or perhaps you genuinely believe that math should be about what numbers 'feel' like?

capcha: urchin

Re:Typical slashdot elitism. (0, Offtopic)

jimstapleton (999106) | more than 7 years ago | (#20397043)

(1) that post was obvious troll - I've seen the same thing c&ped two or three times already.

(2) You can easily ask numbers how they feel. Ex. my account number is a happy number (yes those exist, check out Wikipedia)

Ok, 2 was a bad joke, but please don't feed the trolls.

Back on topic. (5, Insightful)

Corwn of Amber (802933) | more than 7 years ago | (#20397645)

Hey, science is easy. Dead easy. The problem is that science is taught as a religion. "Remember things" is all we've ever asked to do. In the eight years it took me to get out of Secondary School Hell, I've never been given the occasion to actually TEST by the Scientific Method any idea I've had. There were answers to all my questions already, but I just might have remembered SOMEthing if I'd discovered it myself!

But teaching Science in that way would make kids learn that there are effects and causes to everything, and maybe even that they can all be discovered and modelled. That is very near critical thinking, thus dangerous. Not going to happen at this point in this world. Maybe later, but I'm not counting on that...

The news is about "The UK is going to lower its requirements regarding what science facts kids have to know before they can get unemployed." Big deal.

I bow to the new master of Satur^W Satyr^W Satire (0, Offtopic)

Tipa (881911) | more than 7 years ago | (#20396965)

.... lol ....

I haven't laughed so hard all morning....

Re:Typical slashdot elitism. (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20397005)

I know it must have sucked wasting several years studying hypocritical pseudo-intellectual drivel and you can't admit it to yourself quite yet but you still shouldn't go out and make the kind of bullshit claims which you did.

Let's tell it like it is. 'science' is just as much about opinion as
the humanities.
Yeah that pesky gravitational pull keeping you from achieving transcendation while meditating is 'just an opinion' from some smuck elitist prick who managed ... aw fuck it.

Just re-read your dribble and realised its just a troll/flame by some bored loser. Honestly no one can really be that stupid.

Re:Typical slashdot elitism. (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20397019)

I have to read *3* *books* *a* *week* on average. Not picture books either I assue you. It is a lot of work, but the upshot is improved grammer and spelling skills that are lacking in the technical.
You might want to try reading four books a week.

Re:Typical slashdot elitism. (2, Funny)

edittard (805475) | more than 7 years ago | (#20397183)

Six munfs ago I cuddent even spel enjineer - and now I is one!

Re:Typical slashdot elitism. (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20397331)

"grammer"? "socialolgy"? Are any of those 3 weekly books in English?

Re:Typical slashdot elitism. (0, Offtopic)

olivercromwell (654085) | more than 7 years ago | (#20397401)

Wow, talk about painting with a wide brush. If you find that fellow students who study the sciences are elitist, and you dislike it when they take the pi** out of you, stop associating with them and focus on your own gaols. No sense bitching about something you have no control over. Furthermore, if you are actually attending a college, as opposed to a collage (and I imagine inserting yourself into a collage might be very difficult) I suggest you spend more attention to composition, grammar and spelling.

Re:Typical slashdot elitism. (0, Offtopic)

eddymoore (1149201) | more than 7 years ago | (#20397471)

A good engineer won't tell you x sounds better than y, but they'll strive to make what you hear sound just like what was originally played. A unity transfer function isn't 'mightier--then-thou', it's a unity transfer function. It's episteme. As for the rest of your diatribe, it's just guff. Enjoy your PhD, and maybe try working on some of those 'grammer and spelling skills that are lacking in the technical' before you secure tenure at which ever prestigious institution it is that'll have you.

Re:Typical slashdot elitism. (1)

francium de neobie (590783) | more than 7 years ago | (#20397715)

I stopped reading when you said astrology is a kind of science.

The Bit About... (2, Informative)

JamesRose (1062530) | more than 7 years ago | (#20396901)

Congratulating themselves for better teachings, that's bull, every year people get straight grades and you just get all the adults shouting that students are actually really stupid now and that the tests are just getting easier, trust me, at no point do they entertain the idea of the students being better taught.

Re:The Bit About... (2, Insightful)

jimstapleton (999106) | more than 7 years ago | (#20396999)


The grades aren't important, the learning is.

You want to make math and sciences easier, train your teachers to do a better job.

A simple rant. (3, Insightful)

COMON$ (806135) | more than 7 years ago | (#20397563)

You would think they would learn from the US educational system (Wait put your stones down people and let me finish). I have known a lot of teachers, son of a teacher here and graduated from a college of primarily education grads.

So what I hear a lot about is NOT teaching better but increasing grades and look where that has gotten the US. A generation of spoon fed kids who get pissed when they realize the college they are in tries to challenge them. I graduated HS back in '98 and the shift was well under way then, more benefits for the 'slow' kids, less for the gifted. If you are 'slow' (don't read handicapped here), you get special teachers and special dummed down classes for you, study hall breaks and whatnot, then you are rewarded for having a 3.5+ GPA. Then there are other people (not saying we are gifted) but worked our asses off taking advanced math and physics in high school. We get 3.5+ or higher but it doesn't matter because the curve is killed and weighted classes didn't exist. Luckily we have ACT and SAT to even things out just a little but because the classes were dummed down we are unprepared for the ACT/SAT. A good bright student can teach themselves how to take the entrance exams but then why did they go to HS in the first place?

As far as I can tell with our recent programs initiated, this has only gotten worse since I graduated and students have gotten lazier. I remember a prof of mine explaining comprehensive exams at the undergrad level. Piece of paper, write down what you learned in this class. I didn't take any test like that but you see the point. We teach kids now how to cram and get good grades, we don't teach them to have a passion for the material and explore their world. Personally my kids will go to private school, of my choosing where I can look and see what teaching methods are used and the kind of student that makes it through the system. You should learn something, not just feel good about yourself, a good teacher can help both but unfortunately even the best teacher can be beat down by bureaucracy. Perhaps if enough of us support private schools the State will figure out what a sucessful program is and start enforcing educational standards than Kansas idiocracy.

behold: "The Campaign for Real Education" (2, Interesting)

apodyopsis (1048476) | more than 7 years ago | (#20397421)

I refer you to the campaign for real education at [] .

A lot of concerned parents and education professionals. Their website is a mine of information and comparisons on this subject.

All the information you could want and only a click away.

Re:The Bit About... (1)

AGMW (594303) | more than 7 years ago | (#20397565)

Congratulating themselves for better teachings, that's bull, every year people get straight grades and you just get all the adults shouting that students are actually really stupid now and that the tests are just getting easier, trust me, at no point do they entertain the idea of the students being better taught.

I always thought that the point of examinations was to allow society to differentiate the more clever people from the less clever people. If everyone get's straight A's how do you know who's clever and who isn't? How are potential employers supposed to know who to hire? Why not scrap the exams and just award pupils with a certificate showing they turned up regularly for a few years at school?

In general, no one should EVER get 100% in an exam. The exam should be set in such a fashion as to produce a reasonable spread of grades from the pupils taking the exam - a bell curve. This does mean that for sciences where there is a "right" and "wrong" answer, the exam should contain some really quite difficult questions. Obviously, there are always going to be pupils who exceed expectations and they may well get 100%, but if all the numpties get 100% as well, what is the qualification worth? You'd actually be better off using the attendence record!

Re:The Bit About... (1)

jimicus (737525) | more than 7 years ago | (#20397717)

A large part of teaching involves drawing people into the subject and trying to make them interested.

If the exam boards reckon that it is necessary to have more multiple choice questions because there aren't enough people interested in science, I think it's reasonable to infer from that that the standard of teaching isn't actually that great.

Everest or a word-search, take your pick! (5, Interesting)

Ckwop (707653) | more than 7 years ago | (#20396905)

Dr Sinclair added that the changes would help to stop children being turned off by science.

I can't believe he would possibly think this would attract people to science! I very nearly didn't do Physics at A-Level because GCSE science was too easy. They watered down stuff so much that you couldn't possibly reason with it. You could only solve a limited range of problems with the mathematics available and none of them were remotely interesting.

I was sad to see the same was true in A-Level Chemistry. A-Level Chemistry isn't really science, it's more like religion. You learn an enormous table of facts with some spirtual-esc "electron cloud" explanation for it. There's no way to work through it from first principles - there is no understanding and a vague promise it would come some day.

I am convinced that the way to get people in to science is to get down to brass-tax much earlier on; get down to the real physics of what's going on. In my opinion, there is no reason that the bright kids could not be walked through a solution to the Schrodinger Equation's solution for the Hydrogen atom energy levels at sixteen. There is no reason you can't teach them basic calculus either. There's no reason why you can't walk them through how to derive the equations for circular motion.

You see, it's not the details of the mathematics really matters at this early stage but an appreciation how the solution is arrived at. It's seeing that we take a fundamental postulate, which they would establish by experiment in class, and run with it and here's the physics that we come up with. In short, it's showing them that with rigorous application of the scientific method and a few years of training on the mathematics, that all of this interesting stuff can be arrived at with nothing more than a pencil and paper.

That, my friends, is how you really inspire! You do not inspire anybody by making a intellectual Mount Everest in to a word-search.


No calculus? (2, Interesting)

Colin Smith (2679) | more than 7 years ago | (#20397033)

There is no reason you can't teach them basic calculus either.
No calculus??? I did calculus at 'O' grade in Scotland. Oh come on, it isn't even that hard.


Re:No calculus? (1)

xaxa (988988) | more than 7 years ago | (#20397141)

Nope, no calcules. At least, there wasn't in my GCSE in 2002

Re:No calculus? (1)

CmdrGravy (645153) | more than 7 years ago | (#20397317)

There's no calculus in GCSE's, at least not when I did them in '87. Instead we had to have extra lessons after school to learn calculus so we could go on to the A-Level maths course the next year.

Re:No calculus? (2, Interesting)

Tango42 (662363) | more than 7 years ago | (#20397627)

There was no calculus on the syllabus when I did GCSE Maths about 5 years ago. To get the top grades on the coursework, however, you had to include something that wasn't on the syllabus, so I did learn a little calculus in a one-on-one session with my teacher after school (just what I needed for that particular problem... derivatives of trig functions and the quotient rule, if memory serves).

While doing simple calculus is pretty easy, if it was taught at GCSE it would have to be taught as formulae (eg. d/dx(ax^n)=anx^(n-1)) which you learn by rote with little to no understanding of where it comes from (while the teachers might go through a basic derivation, it would only be for the sake of the top pupils, no-one else would understand it). I really don't see the point of learning it like that.

Re:Everest or a word-search, take your pick! (1)

ibwolf (126465) | more than 7 years ago | (#20397099)

I am convinced that the way to get people in to science is to get down to brass-tax much earlier on; get down to the real physics of what's going on.
You are right in that this would be a far more inspiring. The problem is that it would only really appeal to a part of the student body. Some people just aren't interested in science, period. They are however interested in getting good grades without much effort.

Well... (1)

SatanicPuppy (611928) | more than 7 years ago | (#20397249)

He's mainly speaking about people who are going to get frustrated and quit due to their lack of aptitude.

The problem is those people lack aptitude.

I myself have certain issues with regards to upper level science...Mainly, my capacity to understand theory is kickin but my math skills don't match. So, while I can hold my own in a discussion of theory, I don't have the staying power when it gets down to brass tacks.

I had to take a certain number of physics classes for my degree, and like these tests, there was a decent amount of multiple-choice (some were 100%). My math skills aren't top notch, but my multiple choice skills are through the roof, so I blew through 4 semesters of physics with an easy A average. It may reflect accurately my aptitude for theory, and multiple-choice elimination, but it does not reflect my ability to do the practical calculation that the tests were supposed to measure.

In short, I think it's a crappy idea, and it will result in a lot of people thinking that they have a level of skill that they do not possess, and result in a lot of professors having an incorrect understanding of the comprehension of their students. I know my limits, and I'm never going to be in a position where people are going to be risking their lives on my physics skills, but that is not true of everyone, and dumbing down that sort of science could have serious real world consequences.

Re:Everest or a word-search, take your pick! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20397357)

Are you mad?

What you suggest is utterly absurd. It would undermine the foundations of education and destroy everything that it is based on.

First and foremost College is based on Football. A bunch of prima-donnas that run around in a little box and throw a ball around while trying to pound each other into the dirt.

THAT is the future of the world. (yes USA=the world, the rest of you dont know it yet.)

Science and engineering and mathematics are useless. All we need to do is train better Football players and Business managers and lawyers. THAT IS IT. That is all we need.

You insane people with your science this, and physics that. GOD don't you understand the simplest basics about the world?

you try to tell me I am wrong, but your favorite college spends way more for the sports programs than ALL of the science programs in the campus. Therefore that is the most important part of college.

Re:Everest or a word-search, take your pick! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20397369)

I disagree.
Many teen students can use IM at this moment. Do you really think large numbers of these students will be interested in Ohm's law before using IM? The Sah-Noyce-Shockley diode equation requires calculus and is a fundamental step toward understanding the transistor (which is more complicated). An appreciation for quantum physics is needed to understand how a Zener diode works at the mathematical level. At the end of the day, though, the design of a web page has very little in common with the knowledge of how current flows through a CPU.

Sending an Email, writing a report, and surfing the Internet do not require in-depth science knowledge. Expecting all students to have a strong knowledge of the raw basic physics involved with everyday life is silly. Not everyone has a talent for it and not everyone will derive practical value from the knowledge. Besides, if everyone understood these basics, then Mythbusters would not be on the air!

Re:Everest or a word-search, take your pick! (1)

monk.e.boy (1077985) | more than 7 years ago | (#20397411)

science is to get down to brass-tax much earlier on; get dow...

Ouch! It's brass tacks. :-)


Re:Everest or a word-search, take your pick! (1)

gardyloo (512791) | more than 7 years ago | (#20397619)

Oh, you just have to take a more spiritual-eqsue view of things :-)

So now we know... (0, Offtopic)

jpellino (202698) | more than 7 years ago | (#20396915)

.. what W will be doing when he leaves office - moving to England to be closer to his buddy Tony, and being the figurehead for this effort.

Re:So now we know... (0, Offtopic)

JamesRose (1062530) | more than 7 years ago | (#20397009)

You do know "Tony" is actually now the NATO diplomat for middle eastern issues.

Re:So now we know... (0, Offtopic)

IBBoard (1128019) | more than 7 years ago | (#20397381)

Yeah, and I can't quite see Gordon being quite so friendly with Bush.

Bush: Religious, Christian, American, believes that makes him better than the English because America is a proud nation.
Brown: Religious (Presbitarian, IIRC), Christian (branch of - see previous), Scottish, believes that makes him better than the English because...well, just because he's Scottish, no other explanation needed.

See, no similarities at all :D

(Note: the above is an attempt at a joke based on the fact that both are religious and not English. I don't know their actual opinions of the English)

Re:So now we know... (0, Offtopic)

deKernel (65640) | more than 7 years ago | (#20397131)

I realize that your comment is just egging people on, but I will bite.

Lets see, you think 'W' is going to go over to England and spearhead this project even though he made an effort here in the US (and the only real effort to improve the educational system in quite some time) like the 'No Child Left Behind' Act to improve the educational system. Yeah, you are surely on-topic.

There's no such thing as a "UK" exam. (4, Interesting)

stevedcc (1000313) | more than 7 years ago | (#20396925)

Whilst the examiners in question may be living and working in the UK, there is no such thing as a "UK" exam: Scotland has a completely different examination system, run by a different exam board. Admittedly, the Times article just talks about GCSEs (exam standard in England and Wales at age 16) and never makes any comparison to the Scottish equivalent (fair and balanced reporting? the Times? Tories don't care about Scotland!)

Most people in England seem to wonder why so many Scots want independence.... but don't know the difference between UK (England, Scotland, Wales & Northern Ireland), Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales), and England (a catch all, that normally means whatever combination of the above countries happens to be convienient at the time).

Re:There's no such thing as a "UK" exam. (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20397129)

The "Times" is a Murdoch Media rag, do you really expect anything intelligent from that stable nowadays? Having said that, the report in the paper is quite clear, its talking about GCSEs to a local audience who know that this refers to examinations in England and Wales.

As for the Scots - they're an insular people with a massive chip on their shoulder, they've exported their politicians to England to fuck up the English system and gain independence through irritation and annoyance. The sooner the subsidies come off, the sooner the Scots will realise where the money for their Great Social Experiment has come from. I don't think the EEC will sub them as readily as England has.

Re:There's no such thing as a "UK" exam. (2, Informative)

stevedcc (1000313) | more than 7 years ago | (#20397567)

they've exported their politicians to England to fuck up the English system

Thank you for proving my point: there is no English parliamentary system, if you want one, go get one, but complaining about Scots in the UK parliament just demonstrates how distorted the use of the word "English" often is

Re:There's no such thing as a "UK" exam. (1)

Da Fokka (94074) | more than 7 years ago | (#20397631)

[...] don't know the difference between UK (England, Scotland, Wales & Northern Ireland), Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales), and England (a catch all, that normally means whatever combination of the above countries happens to be convienient at the time).

I guess you're not from England?

They lie - is this surprising ? (1)

OeLeWaPpErKe (412765) | more than 7 years ago | (#20396929)

The only politically correct way to improve science teaching.

Don't forget, if students fail, it's the school's fault ...

Re:They lie - is this surprising ? (1)

edittard (805475) | more than 7 years ago | (#20397113)

I like your idea but it needs a snappy slogan. I'll just pull something out of the air - how about "no child left behind"?

Re:They lie - is this surprising ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20397123)

I swear, this government is on a mission to make sure that every student obtains straight As, no matter how that's obtained. After all, if they are all getting the top grade, then Labour must have improved the education system, right?

Re:They lie - is this surprising ? (1)

Colin Smith (2679) | more than 7 years ago | (#20397251)

Well, if we increase the amount of money in the economy by 14% a year, everyone must be getting wealthier? no?

Labour like inflation. It fools the plebs.

i was hoping (2, Interesting)

harlemjoe (304815) | more than 7 years ago | (#20396939)

/.ers could guide me to some good resources for homeschooling.

I have an 11 year old sister who recently shocked me by being unable to divide by 12 (to convert inches to feet). She could perform the math operation trivially when she was 8 or 9. If anything, she's backsliding in regular school. With exams like this, I fear for her performance. Earlier today my mom and I had a bitter fight over whether we should just homeschool her until the XIth grade when hopefully she can take the IB.

Any thoughts? Feedback? Resources?

Re:i was hoping (1)

Loke the Dog (1054294) | more than 7 years ago | (#20397261)

Oh come on, she's 11. Her hormones have probably made her insecure, and thats why she claims to be unable to do something that she could do before. It has nothing to do with where she's schooled, and it's temporary.

Re:i was hoping (3, Informative)

everphilski (877346) | more than 7 years ago | (#20397291)

If both of your mom (and dad?) are not 110% into it, then it could be worse than just keeping her in school. Not only that, but your sister needs to be into it too. It takes a lot of hard work not to slack off when you are at home.

My parents got 'homeschooling fever' when I hit high school, my siblings are all a lot younger. I did it through high school, they did it anywhere from first grade all the way through to the end of high school. It works if everyone is on board. At the start, I was not, but that's a long story. As a high schooler I taught myself more than my mom taught me. Which is good, you comprehend a lot more that way.

So long and short: it works, but make sure you are all on the same page and on board with the idea. It ain't cheap. The best math is probably Saxon Math. A lot of home schoolers go with the Abeka system of educational materials but there are others like Bob Jones and such. You may find yourself off better keeping her in school and tutoring her on the side.

The irony being (1)

Colin Smith (2679) | more than 7 years ago | (#20396955)

Science positions in the UK are particularly poorly paid. If the country needed more scientists, surely the high wages would indicate the problem.


Re:The irony being (1)

crgrace (220738) | more than 7 years ago | (#20397193)

Science may be somewhat underpaid, but engineering (which is in one definition the application of scientific principles) is not in the UK. We have design teams (I work for an American semiconductor manufacturer) in the UK that are quite talented and well paid. Of course they need to be well paid since they live in Kent.

That said, science is hard. It kicked my ass to get through engineering school. Physics, Maths, and Chemistry are what they are. You can't make them easier. If you want to be competent, you have to accept the pain associated with acquiring the needed skills and understanding (not so much "knowledge").

I suppose the fact that science positions in the UK are unpaid explains why I worked with so many good English and Scottish physicists in my first job at an American government laboratory.

US Scientific Pay (1)

xplenumx (703804) | more than 7 years ago | (#20397541)

Science positions in the UK are particularly poorly paid. If the country needed more scientists, surely the high wages would indicate the problem.

Amen. While I can't speak for the UK, as I have a PhD in Immunology I can certainly speak for the United States. People who are already interested in science are leaving the profession in droves. While an undergraduate in the 1990s, quite a few of my classmates who were graduating with a BS in Biochemistry left for non-science professions such as banking or consulting because the pay was much better. I attended a graduate program at a top university (the Immunology program is consistently ranked in the top ten), and of my 'class', ony two of nine (includes myself) continued on for a post-doc (some went into medical writing, others consulting, and some chose non-college level teaching). The problem isn't the love of science, the problem is pay. To put numbers behind what I'm saying, after 5.5 - 6 years of graduate school (the average length of a PhD program in the biological sciences), you have the option of leaving science, going onto industry as a glorified technician, or continuing on to a post-doc position (the good industry jobs require several years of post-doc experience as do academic positions). The salary at my institution are as follows:
Years of Experience - Salary
0 - $35000
1 - $36050
2 - $37131
3 - $38245
4 - $39392
5 - $40574
6 - "end" of post-doctoral training
(you either find a job, or continue on as an "instructor", doing the same job)

To put this in perspective, the median income in in the United States is $48000 [] . My university is on the upper end of the post-doc salary range. Our youngest graduate student are ~27 or so when they graduate. Several have 2 - 3 years of working experience before they join graduate school. So the people making the salaries listed above are ~28 - 34 (minimum), with a PhD. I might add, that the post-docs at my institution just started receiving retirement benefits three years ago.

Oh, but wait, it gets better. According to two recent Nature editorials (Nature is one of the top scientific magazines - More Biologists but Tenure Stays Static. Nature, 448:848-9; Indentured Labour. Nature 448:839-40) the percentage of post-docs receiving tenure track positions is now 30%. This certainly jives with what we're seeing here as most post-docs (the high quality post-docs, ignoring those who shouldn't move on) aren't able to find a job. Industry is saturated as well. If a post-doc is able to find a tenure track position, the pay (our University is at the high end) is ~$70,000 per year. After seven years, the individual undergoes review, and if they are granted tenure, the salary jumps to $120,000 per year (most people are >40 at this point - excpt for some of our foreign born faculty).

In contrast, my colleagues (at least the six I still keep in touch with) who left science after receiving their BS were all making over $100,000 per year before I finished with my PhD. Most of those who were in my graduate program and left science after their PhD are making over $100,000 per year. Those of us who stayed with science, most of us make well under 100k per year, and those that make more are all in industry.

Smart people don't join science. The hours are long, the pay is low, and our job prospects are highly uncertain. Those in government can change the scientific curriculum all they want in an effort to 'encourage future scientists', but they're all missing the point and addressing the wrong problem.

Euclid said it best... (5, Insightful)

FlyByPC (841016) | more than 7 years ago | (#20396963)

"There is no royal road to geometry." (Or science.)

Dumb science down, and you get dumb scientists. What we need is a way to make it more interesting -- and show students how, for example, conducting an experiment or programming a simulation on a computer can be fun. Once they're interested -- and the mathematics involved have a clear purpose rather than being just rote memorization of arcane formulae -- Science suddenly becomes something they *want* to do.

There may be no "royal road" to science -- but there's nothing saying that we can't make the trip more enjoyable, and encourage more travelers at the same time.

As a side benefit, science is a great way to teach critical thinking (which IMHO is the whole point of education).

Science doesn't need to be fun. (1)

Colin Smith (2679) | more than 7 years ago | (#20397207)

What we need is a way to make it more interesting -- and show students how, for example, conducting an experiment or programming a simulation on a computer can be fun
It needs to be relevant.

It's the biggest problem we have in education. Showing the students the context of the material. We take all this knowledge which exists out of it's context, transfer it to a classroom... And instantly make it utterly irrelevant.

WTF use is a quadratic equation in a book? Not much. But to calculate the potential yield of a field of produce it is useful.


Well said (1)

Anonymous Brave Guy (457657) | more than 7 years ago | (#20397209)

Dumb science down, and you get dumb scientists.

Well said.

Even when I was at school in the UK quite a few years ago now, the slide downhill was starting: people were moving away from the experimental basis and into rote learning of "science". Leaving aside the fact that teaching by rote is far less effective than teaching through practical experience, that step alone means a whole generation are growing up thinking that science is about an absolute truth, when in fact the whole point is that all you ever have is theories that are consistent with the experimental evidence so far, and which may be falsified by future experiments.

Every year in the UK, after 20 or so years of ever-increasing examination results for school kids, we repeat the same national "debate": government proclaims that standards are rising, parents say that others are just bitter that the kids of today are smarter than we were, school officials tell everyone how much better today's teaching methods are... and university and industry leaders look at the fact that effectively identical exam questions have now appeared on first-year university papers instead of A-levels* where they were a few years ago, or at A-level instead of GCSE*, and they the fact that examination results that used to distinguish the top 5% of the population now only identify the top 25% or more, and they see the reality as clear as crystal.

The rot started when O-levels were dropped in favour of GCSEs, and naturally progressed through a succession of "friendlier" study materials and examination systems that focus on things like "interpretation" and "analysis" — without actually teaching the underlying principles to do those things, nor giving sufficient exposure to basic knowledge to appreciate them. Now we are approaching the final insult: syllabus set by the politics of the day. For example, instead of studying physics and geography, pupils will learn about the perils of global warming. If we carry on this way, then instead of asking things like how global warming really works, what it's doing to our planet's ecosystems, and what if anything we should do about it, tomorrow's scientists are just going to be accepting that Global Warming Is A Fact(TM), and behaves however they were told it behaves in a classroom, and can be solved by political means alone. And this is just one example of a somewhat controversial area of science that is being undermined; it is by no means the only one.

We need to get back to teaching science in science classes, and we need to stop putting up with pathetic kids bleating about how it's too hard and they'd rather do media studies or home economics or some other subject that's regarded as an easier option. There is a place for all these things in education, but they are not interchangeable.

* For our non-UK friends: A-levels are usually taken at 18, and GCSEs at 16. Most pupils would take perhaps 8–10 GCSEs and those who stay on post-16 would typically take 2–4 A-levels.

Re:Well said (1)

CmdrGravy (645153) | more than 7 years ago | (#20397699)

Quite right, I took GCSE's a couple of years after they were introduced and they were rubbish. Any subject which could get away with it was based as much as possible on 'course work' which you were supposed to do in your 'spare time' outside of school and a lot of the actual exams were multiple choice.

Course work is a horrible way of awarding grades, to start with I didn't really have that much spare time after school to be investigating the location of shoe shops in Redditch even if I hadn't have found the whole thing unutterably boring. Almost all my course work projects were knocked out in the last couple days before the deadlines and based on mixture of total nonsense and anything vaguely impressive looking any of my friends had done.

For example the Computer Science coursework called for us to write some sort of program and document it, I copied the games program which came with the computer labs RM Nimbus, changed the colours of the snake in Snake and added some sound effects to another game. Almost the entire class then copied this just with different colours and sound effects. In other classes the English teachers would actually rewrite peoples essays for them.

Despite the coursework being either complete crap or completely plagarised I was able to get pretty good grades ( all above a C and mostly A's and B's ) even for exams in subjects I hadn't even revised for since in many of papers it was possible to deduce answers to a lot of the questions based on information in the other questions and there being a lot of easy multiple choice sections.

Interestingly the only subject I did fail in was French where you did actually have to be able to speak some French for the exam.

In order to do maths A-Levels we had to do a lot of calculus etc after school in order to catch up on what had been left out of the O Levels.

I think it's pretty clear that exams across the board are getting easier and easier when almost 5 times as many people now manage to achieve the top grade as used to. I also don't think making the exams easier will especially help attract people to Science, not least because they probably wont be aware of the easier exams until they've been on the course for 2 years and take the exams. I'd be surprised if many kids analyse the relative likely grades they can expect from a particular subject and are more likely to simply pick subjects they are interested in.

One reason kids may not be picking science courses in England is that all the interesting parts, experiments and such like are being stripped out thanks to health and safety concerns and cost cutting. It may also be the case that the teachers in these subjects are doing a good enough job of interesting the students in the subject.

Multiple choice tests are the worst (1)

tkrotchko (124118) | more than 7 years ago | (#20396977)

The hardest science classes I took at a university, zoology, were all multiple choice tests, and they were wicked hard. Remember that a multiple choice test can be constructed in such a way to make sure you really understand the material. It just requires a professor who is knowledgeable and has a bit of a sadistic streak in him/her.

Thank you Professor Dietz, wherever you are.

Re:Multiple choice tests are the worst (1)

Anonymous Brave Guy (457657) | more than 7 years ago | (#20397307)

Perhaps multiple choice can be effective, but IME it usually isn't.

I'm reminded of a conversation with a friend a couple of years younger than me, back when we were learning to drive. When I took the test, it was all done in one practical session, and when you got back to the test centre at the end, the examiner would ask some questions to check the candidate's theoretical knowledge was OK. Shortly afterwards, they started running a separate theory exam, taken first, which is basically a multiple choice test.

As my friend was getting ready to take her theory test, she we were running through some of the sample questions with me. She read me one of the questions, and I told her the answer. And she said, "But I haven't told you the options yet!"

I just pointed out that in real life, no-one's going to give you a choice of three specific times to turn your lights on. You just have to understand, and know what to do.

Re:Multiple choice tests are the worst (1)

cnettel (836611) | more than 7 years ago | (#20397447)

On the other hand, the choices can be worded in such a way that it's really harder to choose the totally right one, than writing a free form answer that is seemingly right (because you don't expect an answer given in natural language to be totally complete and comprehensive without any logical loopholes). That is, you can test a higher level of knowledge by simplifying part of it through the inclusion of options.

One thing I really hated in school was essay questions where the teacher still had this strict template of what a "good" answer should include. It's applicable to some degree, but that requires imagination on the part of the teacher on how a student might interpret the question and what (s)he might choose to focus on, without even actively trying to misinterpret the question. In those cases, it could really hurt to have general knowledge and not only knowing the main points given in the textbook by heart.

Suppose... (1)

dingleberrie (545813) | more than 7 years ago | (#20396991)

> Even still, it's hard to see the benefit from future science students passing by guessing.

It's called a hypothesis!

New exam: (4, Funny)

styryx (952942) | more than 7 years ago | (#20397001)

Question 1) Schroedinger was famous for his:
a. Hat?
b. Cat?
c. Kat?

Re:New exam: (3, Funny)

faloi (738831) | more than 7 years ago | (#20397085)

That's an unfair question, what with the new easier spelling rules coming down the pipe. Either that or we have to allow for both b and c to be correct.

Re:New exam: (1)

MarkovianChained (1143957) | more than 7 years ago | (#20397093)

Bonus points for telling us if the Cat in the Hat is REALLY in the hat.

(Answer: He's both in and out of the hat until he takes it off....)

Re:New exam: (1)

Ajehals (947354) | more than 7 years ago | (#20397185)

kat - an evergreen shrub, Catha edulis, of Arabia and Africa, the leaves of which are used as a narcotic when chewed or made into a beverage.

Source: (

Although I have only ever seen it spelled as Qat in the UK (Handy for scrabble if you have a Q but no U).

Re:New exam: (4, Funny)

Riktov (632) | more than 7 years ago | (#20397255)

The correct answer is either a. or b. Or rather, it's BOTH a. and b., until the test actually gets graded. Before that, it's impossible to know.

Re:New exam: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20397263)

d. None of the above
e. All of the above.

Re:New exam: (1)

pscottdv (676889) | more than 7 years ago | (#20397333)

Question 2) Dirac was famous for his:
a. cat?
b. ket?
c. bra?

food for thought. (4, Interesting)

apodyopsis (1048476) | more than 7 years ago | (#20397027)

see the physics GCSE paper here: []

several comments (and food for thought):

1. multiple choice questions are proving popular for one reasons only - they can be marked by computer and are quicker and cheaper to process because of this.

2. unless you think that people are getting a lot more intelligent in a couple of generations then you must assume that either (a) the exams are easier or (b) that students are being thought only how to pass exams (this is the view held by several teacher friends of mine)

3. my first university course (which was a 3 year course in the late 80s) is now a 4 year course - this additional year is used as a remedial course to get students back up to the level they used to be at. universities certainly do not believe that more students are doing much better then they ever have previously.

4. schools are busy reducing the number of students doing maths (and further maths), chemistry and physics as much as possible as in general students get lower grades - in turn this lowers the performance of the school as a whole in the league tables. in other words it is hard to get people to do their jobs properly when their wages rely on them doing it badly.

5. employers have also been lamenting the quality of school leavers in many subjects - maths, spelling, english.

its a pretty dismal state of affairs in the UK, and it seems to be repeating itself in the EU and in the colonies.

i think much of the blame must be placed squarely on the shoulders of the government who seem to delight in meddling in the schools at every opportunity. with the international baccalaureates being introduced soon who knows what will happen next?

Re:food for thought. (1)

xaxa (988988) | more than 7 years ago | (#20397397)

1. Yes. One of my teachers was Chief Examiner for an exam board, he occasionally said "examines [setting the papers] only have 10 good multiple choice questions in them". They're really difficult to write in such a way that the answer isn't obvious and really makes the students think. Often, given four choices, at least one or maybe two can be eliminated immediately.

2. I was taught how to pass the exams. I went to a private school (i.e. my parents paid), some of the teachers made it clear when they were teaching 'how to pass the exam'. For instance, the Chief Examiner teacher would sometimes say "yes, you're right, but you don't need that for the exam, the simple explanation is sufficient" -- we'd then discuss the less-simple stuff but write down the easy explanation (for exam revision). He said the complicated, more accurate explanation might not be on the answer sheet. That didn't matter if someone who knew was marking it, but if the marker didn't really know the subject there was a risk it might be marked incorrect.

3. I (at one of the best universities in Europe) had a course that was more-or-less A-level further maths in the first term of 1st year. I'm pretty sure everyone on the course would have done further maths if they'd been offered it at school, then the time could have been better spent. (In fact, if you /can/ do FM at school but choose not to, you're unlikely to get a place on my course).

4. My mum (teacher) told me her school was celebrating good GCSE results this week. But she found that GNVQs at 'pass' or above count for 4 GCSEs! So a weak student who managed a C in Geography at GCSE, some more GCSEs worse than C, but a GNVQ in IT, counts for the "5 GCSEs A*-C" rate in the league table. I think she said this was changing next year, when English and Maths GCSE would have to be counted.

Seen at the Reading festival at the weekend "Lets get nayked!" written on 4 people's backs *sigh*.

Re:food for thought. (2, Insightful)

mdwh2 (535323) | more than 7 years ago | (#20397489)

2. unless you think that people are getting a lot more intelligent in a couple of generations then you must assume that either (a) the exams are easier or (b) that students are being thought only how to pass exams (this is the view held by several teacher friends of mine)

Or it could be they're being taught better generally. But actually there's another possibility - the rates are only an average for all GCSEs, and one possibility is that people are switching to easier subjects. So it's not that any given exam is easier, but that some subjects are easier to get an A.

In fact, The proportion of students gaining five good (A*-C) GCSEs including English, maths, science and a language, has fallen from 61 per cent in 1996 to 44 per cent last year. []

Obviously it's still bad if some subjects are easier than others, but it's wrong to assume that all subjects are getting easier, and in fact, science seems to be one of the hard subjects. So ironically, making science easier may help to address the problem.

(Though I do love the way that when exam grades in those subjects are falling, people assume it must be due to students getting stupider or teaching standards falling - why aren't all the moaners complaining that English, Maths and Science exams are getting harder?)

Re:food for thought. (1)

roman_mir (125474) | more than 7 years ago | (#20397743)

Saw it, took a few minutes to answer the questions in the paper. It is ridiculous. Also maybe I am wrong, but the following questions seem to be answered incorrectly in the article attached to it (bottom of the page.) []

23 is logically D not B
27 is D not C
30 none of the answers make sense.
34 (6370/10) * 2 is not 56000s - but who knows, maybe I am wrong with my understanding of this question.

More crap from Britain (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20397031)

A nation of spineless cowards, pant-shitters, CCTV worshippers and now ignorants. I shit on them.

Managing Expectations - Recipe for Disaster (1)

Double Entendre (1123719) | more than 7 years ago | (#20397039)

I predict that these band-aid solutions to try and motivate students will backfire when (and if) they continue their education. I remember when I was back in school and the prospect of taking AP courses was supposed to be the pinnacle in difficulty - that they were almost equivalent to the types of courses you would find in first-year university. When I got through them, I was expecting that university would be a simple continuation of that, perhaps somewhat alleviated by the fact that I had learned more than is normally required at that level.

I'll never forget the day when I sat in one of my fist physics classes at university. The professor calmly remarked that 40% was the passing grade. Having done quite well even through the AP programme, I looked at one of my friends with disbelief. I thought, how could they possibly set such a low bar? Needless to say, that overconfident smirk got cleanly wiped off my face when the prospect of hitting well below that threshold became a very real possibility.

But back to my original point. Sure, you can lower the grades today and it *might* garner some additional interest, but it's certainly conveying the wrong message: school isn't supposed to be easy. Nothing worth doing is. Since when are we trying to teach people that if they do something badly enough the system will just be made easier for them to coast through?

Moreover, it'll just make the fallout worse when they get into higher education and get absolutely trounced by material that is no longer dumbed down for the masses - but curved against the best and brightest. Unless, of course, that system is "improved" too.

Re:Managing Expectations - Recipe for Disaster (1)

hobbesmaster (592205) | more than 7 years ago | (#20397339)

40% is roughly the pass percentage on the AP Physics test too. ;)

Testing reasoning (not memory) w/ multiple choice (5, Interesting)

G4from128k (686170) | more than 7 years ago | (#20397045)

I had a Biology professor that could make multiple choice science tests that actually tested scientific reasoning skills (not just memory skills). He'd present the results of a single experiment and then offer a multiple statements that might (or might not) be derivable from the outcome of the experiment. The devilish part (and the part that tested reasoning versus memory) was that many of the statements would be true, but NOT derivable from the experiment. Students that memorized facts and picked the true statements based on their memory of those facts would get the answer wrong.

Of course, I suspect that the Brits want to turn science into a set of dumb facts, and that would be a shame because it misses the entire point of science.

It's the right way. (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20397059)

Or maybe not exactly the right way, but relatively right. It's not good that students in less demanding fields get good grades with little effort while bright young people who choose science are discouraged by harsh grading. Changing grade schemes of course doesn't make science any easier, and the teaching could often be improved dramatically, but why should students not get good grades for the same effort and relative achievement compared to other majors?

Re:It's the right way. (1)

faloi (738831) | more than 7 years ago | (#20397305)

why should students not get good grades for the same effort and relative achievement compared to other majors?

Because when a student goes up against other students for a job in a scientific field, they're not competing with students from a less demanding field. I couldn't care less if everybody that went into Communications got an "A" since I'm not competing with them. As the scientific tests get made easier, it will be more difficult for future employers to use their grades as some indicator of where they actually stand (whether they should or not is arguable). And that doesn't even touch the fact that they may be getting taught in a way that discourages critical thinking and encourages rote memorization.

Re:It's the right way. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20397759)

I would expect the average to be the same in every major, particularly because the graduates are not competing across fields. That would very likely still mean that a science major had to work harder to get the same grade as an arts major, but at least an average achievement in science won't result in a worse looking grade than an average achievement in arts.

Re:It's the right way. (1)

kobatan (1103577) | more than 7 years ago | (#20397387)

Or the bar could be raised for the "less demanding subjects", but that would make the politicians look bad.

Time to bring in... (1)

EricR86 (1144023) | more than 7 years ago | (#20397107)

Bill Nye, The Science Guy.

But will they offset... (1)

thanatos_x (1086171) | more than 7 years ago | (#20397139)

It's entirely possible to make multiple choice tests considerably more difficult and telling than the average one, just take off 1/4-1/3 a point for each wrong guess. That way it's only profitable to guess if the student can eliminate 1-2 answers, or has a good feeling about a particular one.

Or you could be like my one professor and simply make all four answers synonyms of each other, or make two obviously wrong answers and two that seem equally right... Though I suppose that really just pisses off students and favors guessing as much as a little (but not a large) amount of knowledge.

Of course this won't be done, and is yet another example of just how weak society is becoming. But hey, on the bright side it looks like Europe is following the same path as the US...

They've been dumbing down exams in England for yea (1, Informative)

crivens (112213) | more than 7 years ago | (#20397157)

They've been dumbing down exams in England for years. I was at school when they switched from O levels to GCSEs, so I did both. I saw one of the lower level GCSE maths exams and it was a joke; given an advert for a cooker with a numerical cost, the student was asked to write the price in words. Huh??

I took O, AO and A level maths and they were hard. But by god I worked for them thanks (in College anyway) to an amazing maths teacher. I didn't get great grade but I earned them.

Since then the emphasis has been on getting as many students to pass with high grades as possible, education be damned. They don't care about making students think; maybe that explains the state of British society.

Thank god I emigrated years ago.

Re:They've been dumbing down exams in England for (1)

hsqueak (1068014) | more than 7 years ago | (#20397465)

IIRC, the lower level maths and science exams were for students who would be totally unmotivated when they saw the real ones. I think the highest possible grade for those exams was a C, and they'd need fairly much 90% to get that. Most students were expected to get a D, which would show that they had some basic understanding but no real grasp of the subject, as it should. (The alternative, at the time, being no maths qualification at all and therefore no maths teaching.)

Re:They've been dumbing down exams in England for (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20397491)

UK Teachers are too afraid to teach anymore. The moment they attempt to enforce classroom discipline they are accused of being paedophiles or murdered by immigrant children. (Who are later refused deporation under the human rights act and are thus provided for at the taxpayer's expense.)

capcha: acquire

Subtle Point of order (1)

eddymoore (1149201) | more than 7 years ago | (#20397165)

Whilst not condoning it, I think it should be clarified (as the summary seems a little unclear) that this is for the lower tier exam, which is the one that you can only score the maximum of a'C'-grade in, and as such probably wouldn't be taken by the sort of person persuing a particularly scientific or numerate A-level or career. I think the logic (flawed or otherwise) is to try and only slightly alienate the non-scientists, rather than completely elienate them. This measure doesn't apply to the bulk of more able students.

Good students losing out (3, Insightful)

seniorcoder (586717) | more than 7 years ago | (#20397179)

Just hand out a pass or a fail. Don't give grades. That's my theory. If you really are going to give grades, please don't dumb down the tests. Keep the tests real but adjust the scores upwards so that the median gives the students encouragement. One major difference between the UK and the USA is that, in the UK, above 50% is considered OK. In the USA, anything below 80% is starting to look not so good. So I dumbed down my tests in the USA to increase the scores instead of merely adjusting the scores upwards by a fixed percentage. In retrospect, I think this was the wrong thing to do. Anyway, the problem with dumbing down the tests or merely upping the scores is that the really good students shine less.

Re:Good students losing out (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20397737)

"Anyway, the problem with dumbing down the tests or merely upping the scores is that the really good students shine less."

Trust me, in the UK, that's the intention.

Engineers of the future. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20397219)

Seriously, why do science and math need to be dumbed down? This development will soon also spread to university education (so that people don't experience too large a gap when they graduate from high school), such that tomorrow's MSc or maybe even PhD will be today's BSc.

And these "dumbed-down" scientists and engineers will design the machinery we entrust our lives with day in day out.

I, for one, am not comfortable with sitting in a plane designed by someone who thinks "drag" is "some fruitcake in a dress."

Science education (and education in general)... (1)

blahplusplus (757119) | more than 7 years ago | (#20397273)

... flawed to begin with. I can go around asking nurses and Dr's questions in my highschool math and science textbooks they can't answer. This whole idea they are going to remember much of anything they do not DIRECTLY use or is relevant is pretty stupid to begin with. As far as I'm concerned if you're not using it or were insanely interested in it when you were learning it you're not going to remember much, period.

The average IQ is for many populations is roughly ~100, not exactly stellar. The truth is many schools just don't have the high quality students to do many of the harder classes, so they make harder classes easier to digest for kids who are slower or cannot cope with remembering loads of information (provided they are even that interested to begin with).

IMHO education is totally fucked up, the whole rote learning thing while useful for basics sucks for advanced stuff, advanced stuff you have to USE or you'll lose it. Lastly most kids should be learning what they are actually INTERESTED in, instead of stuff they aren't going to even remember 5-10 years down the line. After 5-10 years what was the point in the beginning? I'd really like to know.

I'd really like to see adults 3,6,8 years out of highschool or college re-tested (without any studying allowed) and see how much they 'remember' that is not directly related to their jobs, I mean seriuosly. We'd save a lot of money and time instead of just filling slots and teachers and administrators pockets with money at both primary and post-secondary education.

That's so dumb (1)

xgr3gx (1068984) | more than 7 years ago | (#20397275)

That would be like a car company wanting to improve acceleration and efficiency in it's cars by testing them all on a downhill slope.

Test isn't just easy: it's wrong (3, Insightful)

Eivind (15695) | more than 7 years ago | (#20397281)

The example test given is horribly stupid. It is a mixup of easy trivial answers, with a few where arguably more than one answer is correct, and some are outrigth wrong.

for example, you're asked what kind of radiation will damage eyes and cause skin-cancer. Now obviously they want UV as the "rigth" answer, but infact xray will *also* cause that in the rigth dosis. so both are correct.

Or how about this gem: (question 19)

What is the advantage of using digital signals in radio-broadcast ?
a) digital signals travel quicker than analogue.
b) digital signals carry more information than analogue.
c) analogue signals travel more quickly than digital.
d) analogue signals can carry more information than digital.

The "correct" answer is a), digital signals travel quicker. Which is complete bullshit. A analogue or digital signal sent down say an electrical cable will both travel at the speed of C in that material, simple as that. Boggles the mind.

If this shows the competence of the teachers, no wonder the pupils end up ignorant of science....

Re:Test isn't just easy: it's wrong (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20397419)

What is this "rigth" you keep speaking of?

Re:Test isn't just easy: it's wrong (4, Informative)

xaxa (988988) | more than 7 years ago | (#20397593)

Maybe that's showing the incompetence of the journalist? The correct answer is B.

The next question is worse, question 20:

Digital technologies, such as CD and DVD players, have increased
A) the speed at which sound travels
B) the quality of sound you can hear
C) the range of frequencies you can hear
D) the loudness of sound which can be produced
Apparently the answer is B, but C and D are also correct (at least, compared to vinyl, which is what CDs replaced).

Look at 23!
Assume the orbits of Pluto and Earth are circular. Earth is 150 million km from the sun. Pluto is 5913 million km from the sun. What is the smallest distance between Pluto and Earth in million km?
A) 5913 + 150
B) 5913 - 150
C) 5913 x 150
D) 5913 / 150
Apparently they don't think 16 year olds can count any more!

The rest of the paper (the higher tier bit) isn't so bad. It's a shame it's still multiple choice though.

Way to get ahead, guys (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20397299)

You know, some countries still have school education syllabi which aim to stretch the minds of the average and above-average students. These countries understand the importance of doing so. The role of education is NOT to have everybody pass. Just because you hand out more A grades does NOT mean the teaching has improved! If you aim your education level low and present hardly any challenging material and tests, you've catered for the lowest common denominator at the expense of the smart or hard-working kids.

Now, I'm not about to suggest to the next generation to learn Mandarin, but UK kids are falling well behind developing countries - of this I have a truckload of first-hand experience.

technology (1)

thatskinnyguy (1129515) | more than 7 years ago | (#20397323)

It's the technology that's making our kids stupider. The boobtube has done its damage.

I know, I know... Get off my lawn!!

The problem with teaching science today (1)

voislav98 (1004117) | more than 7 years ago | (#20397365)

is that the standards are set by "educators" who had trouble with it to start with. I'm sure if you ask any science teacher they'll tell you that they're fine with most of the class getting crappy grades as long as they get a good education. Nowdays it's all about huggy-feely brigade saying "Gosh, I felt so bad failing math, why should my kids go through the same experience". In my day, which wasn't so long ago, there were 5 A students in the class of 40, and it's the way it should be.

A scary thing? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20397383)

TFA references a sample exam paper: []

Check out questions 6 and 7, on page 3 - but I'll type them below:
  • 6. Anne looks in the mirror at her eye. Which part is used to help identify her?
  • 7. People's eyes are used as personal identification: in hospitals, at airports, at school, and/or at home.
Am I the only one who feels a little perturbed by 16-year olds being introduced to iris scanning in such a relaxed, everyday, and as-if-it's-infallible manner?

I simply think it's odd because that form of identification is not common in the UK at all - sure, it's used on entry to the US via airports (I believe) but not on this end, and not really anywhere else I can think of.

Posted as AC as I only ever read, not write. Been reading for years but never felt the need to point something out.

Misleading summary (1)

GalfWender (889552) | more than 7 years ago | (#20397443)

"When the recent A level results were announced, with even more students in the UK getting A grades than ever before, educators were congratulating themselves on improved teaching."

What does this have to do with the article? The increase from ~55 to 70% "low demand" questions refers to GCSE exams, not A Level.

Make it *harder*, to make it more popular (2, Interesting)

Richard_J_N (631241) | more than 7 years ago | (#20397481)

Even when I did GCSE's 12 years ago, the science exam was trivially easy. Admittedly I'm quite a good scientist, but I found the paper simple to the point of being insulting - having worked for 3 years for it, I objected to being asked stupid questions such as "Here is a picture of some plastic water pipes. Why are they made of plastic?". It seems to me that:

1)In order to make science "more interesting", we should make it more rigorous, and more challenging. At the moment, it's just dull (unless the teachers can ignore the syllabus and not focus on the exams). Health and safety mania doesn't help. [I was lucky: my teachers had a healthy contempt for the more idiotic rules - we were always sensible, but didn't treat 0.1 molar acids as being more dangerous in the lab than in the kitchen]

2)We shouldn't worry so much about less able students being put off science; we should care about the bright ones being put off.

3)A C is not a decent pass grade - it's the lowest grade that isn't a "fail". D,E,F grades are worthless. Likewise, it's simply absurd to consider doing A-level physics without also doing maths.

4)You can't run before you can walk. The current approach is to supplant the "dry" things like mechanics by "sexy" things such as Fusion,Quantum,etc. But the "hot topics" are too hard, so they get covered at a very simplistic level. That just isn't satisfying - there's none of the excitement that comes from suddenly *understanding* how (part of) the real world works.

Currently, in a vain attempt to make everyone aware of the basics of science, we're denying our brightest pupils the ability to actually *do* real science. And by dumbing it down (either by making it very easy, or only covering the "sexy" stuff), there's no thrill of actual discovery left.

Need general and specialised exams (1)

timftbf (48204) | more than 7 years ago | (#20397493)

In fairness, the 'telescope' question (oops, spoiler!) that's getting all the headlines is probably the dumbest question on the paper. I'm not adverse to having a question on any exam paper that pretty much anyone who has sat the course can answer.

The problem, in my opinion, is not so much the dumbing down of science for non-scientists - it's the removal of a challenging and worthwhile option for the scientists (or potential scientists). 'Combined Science' (or just 'Science') is pretty much the only GCSE (first set of formal exams, sat at 16) option in the vast majority of state schools, and it *does* seem to provide a good grounding for students whose primary focus is arts, humanities, etc. I think this much compulsory (and relatively approachable) science is a good thing - in the same way that science students should be taking some small degree of foreign languages, humanities, etc, at least up to this first level.

Science students, though, would have to be very lucky (or have parents prepared to pay) to study GCSEs specifically in Physics, Chemistry or Biology. The shallow background from a combined science course is not challenging enough for those with a real interest in one or more of the sciences, and is not enough preparation for A-level (exams at 18) where students pick a much smaller number of subjects to study in more depth, and the sciences are seperated. (Typically it's 10 subjects at GCSE, of which combined science can sometimes count as two, but three subjects (possibly with a fourth or even fifth specialisation, such as Maths, Further Maths and Statistics) at A-level). Certainly when I was at school, one of the last years of readily-available individual science GCSEs, those students who joined the A-level classes with only Science GCSEs really struggled in comparison to students with similar abilities but GCSEs in the relevent individual disciplines.

From talking to people - both staff and students - since, it seems that this bottle-neck is moving up the chain. A-levels only have a fixed 2-year window to teach, and so with having to start from a lower level to accommodate the majority of students with no prior specialisation, the level at the end of the two years is lower. This means people are coming into degree courses in Physics with the same good Physics A-level grades, but less knowledge - and so we're seeing the stretch out to 4-year courses that other posters have mentioned.

We don't 'water down' history by forcing everyone to *only* learn it in a broad-but-shallow bundle with geography, economics and sociology, or French with German, Spanish and Italian, so why is science treated in this way?

Note that I'm quite in favour of these broad-but-shallow options for 'secondary' subjects, but the opportunity should be there for students who have the aptitude and the direction to be challenged in their chosen field.

Goddamn (1)

FoolsGold (1139759) | more than 7 years ago | (#20397497)

This is so fucking stupid. Can't say much more really.

The core of the problem. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#20397569)

The real problem is not that science and math are scary, but that society has hyped all the wrong alternatives to engineering and science careers.

Instead of praising these jobs as the elemental building blocks of modern society and civilization, they are poked fun at or regarded and regarded as jobs for people with a lacking social life and no ambition. Math and science is depicted as extremely difficult, and the payoff as inadequate, especially in this society where the individual is extremely important, where payoff for the society in general has no worth. "What do I care if it does not benefit me and me alone?" Science and engineering for the sake of truth, knowledge and society is passé.

What is hyped instead are certain molds for the youth of today.

"Hey girls, be like Paris Hilton! By being a stupid spoiled whore who has not contributed anything to society, ever, you will be popular with all the guys! Just periodically leak porn videos of yourself on the internet and watch your bank account grow and the crowds cheer!"

"Hey boys, become a generic popstar! You too can become famous and rich with no work besides being a capricious, insufferable asshat who is known mostly for violent outbursts and sex escapades with underage girls!"

That the opposite works, that you can also hype engineering rolls like that, was proven when Silicon Valley began to boom and had its own "superstars" emerge, prompting many young people to pursue an engineering career.

Time to take the politicians out of education... (1)

Colin Smith (2679) | more than 7 years ago | (#20397629)

I strongly suggest that any parents out there with kids in school actively remove them from the public education system and look at an internationally recognised qualification, independent of political control:

The International Baccalaureate. []


Tiered exams (1)

Tango42 (662363) | more than 7 years ago | (#20397753)

"Students taking GCSE scienc[sic] have a choice of two tiers, or papers. The foundation tier assesses grades G to C and the higher tier assesses grades D to A*.

The Government claims that exams are structured in this way to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to show what they are capable of without being thrown off course by questions that are too hard or too easy. However, many experts believe that this approach to science leaves some students poorly prepared to pursue the subject at A level."

That's nonsense. Yes, people studying for the lower tier exam won't know the stuff they need to know for the A-level. That's not a problem, since people studying for lower tiers are people who are expected to get an E or lower (or at least, have a significant chance of getting that low). Such people aren't going to be carrying the subject on to A-level, are they?

You can dumb down the exams (1)

the eric conspiracy (20178) | more than 7 years ago | (#20397765)

But in end that makes the results worthless. The universe does not make itself easy in order to accommodate those who live in it. Progress comes from the long and hard work needed to wrest the subtle secrets from nature's hidden glory.

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