Research Matters 20

This issue marks ten years of Research Matters - a period which has seen huge changes both in the qualifications landscape in England, and in international developments in assessment. Many thanks to all our contributors and reviewers over the last 10 years, and to all our readers for the ongoing support and feedback.

  • Research Matters 20 - Foreword

    Oates, T. (2015). Foreword. Research Matters: A Cambridge Assessment publication, 20, 1.

    This issue marks ten years of Research Matters - a period which has seen huge changes both in the qualifications landscape in England, and in international developments in assessment. Research Matters has played a key role in getting summaries of research out early into the public domain, enhancing debate and development in assessment. With an international circulation list of 1000+, we hope that it continues to support a rich, broad, and forensic discussion of key matters of method, analysis, equity and development.

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  • Research Matters 20 - Editorial

    Green, S. (2015). Editorial. Research Matters: A Cambridge Assessment publication, 20, 1.

    Following the recent launch of Cambridge Mathematics, most of the articles in this 10th anniversary issue focus on Mathematics in both UK and international contexts. Details of Cambridge Mathematics can be found at www.cambridgemaths.org

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  • Using generalised boosting models to evaluate the UCAS tariff

    Gill, T. (2015). Using generalised boosting models to evaluate the UCAS tariff. Research Matters: A Cambridge Assessment publication, 20, 2-6.

    The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) is a UK-based organisation providing the application process for almost all British universities. The UCAS tariff points system is used by universities to help select students for entry to their courses. Each grade in a qualification has a certain number of UCAS points allocated to it, which are then summed to provide an overall tariff points score for each student. The assumption made is that two students with the same UCAS tariff gained from different qualifications are of the same ability, or have the same potential to achieve at university. This article uses a statistical technique known as generalised boosting models (GBMs) to evaluate the use of the UCAS tariff as a predictor of degree outcome.

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  • Post-16 Mathematics qualifications: Differences between GCE A level, International A level, Cambridge Pre-U and Scottish examination questions

    Darlington, E. (2015). Post-16 Mathematics qualifications: Differences between GCE A level, International A level, Cambridge Pre-U and Scottish examination questions. Research Matters: A Cambridge Assessment publication, 20, 6-12.

    This article describes the application of a taxonomy in order to compare and contrast the mathematical skills required to answer examination questions from four different post-16 Mathematics qualifications taken by students both in the UK and overseas: A levels and Advanced Subsidiary (AS) levels, International A and AS levels, Cambridge Pre-U, and Scottish Highers and Advanced Highers. Though the precise content and structure of the different qualifications differ slightly, they are all qualifications which should provide students with a sound basis for university study in Mathematics. All UK universities accept these qualifications as prerequisites for their Mathematics courses. It is therefore of interest to establish whether the questions asked in the assessments of these qualifications require the same kinds of mathematical skills. If there are notable differences among the qualifications, this could suggest that there might be corresponding differences in how well prepared students are for studying Mathematics at university.

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  • Progressing to Higher Education in the UK: The effect of prior learning on institution and field of study

    Vidal Rodeiro, C. Sutch, T. and Zanini, N. (2015). Progressing to Higher Education in the UK: The effect of prior learning on institution and field of study. Research Matters: A Cambridge Assessment publication, 20, 13-21.

    Students applying to study a course in a Higher Education (HE) institution have to make two choices: what subject to study and at which institution. These decisions are influenced by a range of different factors, for example their personal interests, their socio-economic background and, in particular, their prior qualifications and performance. However, new qualifications that aim to prepare learners for study at university have been introduced quite recently, some qualifications have been withdrawn, and others are being comprehensively reformed. It is therefore crucial to better understand how current qualifications, both academic and vocational, are used by young people to progress to HE. The main aim of this work was to provide detailed quantitative evidence to shed light on this topic. Specifically, the research focused on the following issues: understanding the range of qualifications and combinations of qualifications held by learners aged 16-19 who progressed to different types of HE institutions to study different subjects, and identifying the HE destinations (both institutions and subjects) of learners holding different types of qualifications and of learners with a mixed economy of qualifications.

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  • Teachers’ and employers’ views on the transition from GCSE Mathematics to A level Mathematics or employment

    Rushton, N. and Wilson, F. (2015). Teachers’ and employers’ views on the transition from GCSE Mathematics to A level Mathematics or employment. Research Matters: A Cambridge Assessment publication, 20, 21-27.

    Mathematics is one of the core GCSE subjects, and students are required to study the subject until the end of Key Stage 4 (KS4), when they are approximately aged 16. There is no requirement for students to take a qualification in Mathematics, but almost all students do. GCSE Mathematics is important because it represents the end of students' compulsory Mathematics learning. The current study aimed to identify the areas of Mathematics that were problematic for students who had just completed GCSE Mathematics. It also aimed to discover whether there was any overlap in the skills that were considered to be problematic as preparation for A level and those considered to be problematic as preparation for employment. It uses responses from a larger survey of teachers and employers to consider three research questions: 1. What areas of Mathematics are GCSE students well/poorly prepared in? 2. What teaching is needed to bring students up to the standard for starting A level Mathematics? 3. What Mathematics training do employers run for school leavers?

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  • Statistics and Mechanics: Comparing the Applied Mathematics of international Mathematics qualifications

    Munro, J. (2015). Statistics and Mechanics: Comparing the Applied Mathematics of international Mathematics qualifications. Research Matters: A Cambridge Assessment publication, 20, 27-34.

    This article reports on data collated as part of a large-scale study investigating how A level Mathematics and Further Mathematics prepare students for the mathematical demands of university study in a range of subjects. We investigate and compare the applied mathematical content (Mechanics and Statistics) in a range of international Mathematics qualifications and conclude that the A level has notable differences to similar qualifications in other jurisdictions. In particular, the existing modular structure at A level introduces significant variability into the mathematical backgrounds of students studying what is theoretically the same qualification. Although this problem will be rectified by the introduction of prescribed content from 2016, two other differences emerged during this investigation. First, whilst Mechanics content at A level is primarily studied in Mathematics and/or Further Mathematics, in nearly every other jurisdiction this content is studied within the Physics course. Secondly, there appears to be no international consensus about what statistical content is taught at this level. These findings may have implications for ongoing reform at A level, particularly with respect to the applied content in Further Mathematics, and may also prove interesting for employers and universities with a global reach who currently use Mathematics qualifications for admissions or recruitment purposes.

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  • The roles of teaching styles and curriculum in Mathematics achievement: Analysis of TIMSS 2011

    Zanini, N. and Benton, T. (2015). The roles of teaching styles and curriculum in Mathematics achievement: Analysis of TIMSS 2011. Research Matters: A Cambridge Assessment publication, 20, 35-44.

    This article provides empirical evidence about the link between Mathematics achievement, curriculum, teaching methods and resources used in the classroom. More specifically, this research explores common teaching styles and topics taught across countries with respect to their Mathematics achievement. In order to do so, we make use of the fifth TIMSS survey, which provides a rich set of information regarding aspects of the curriculum (e.g., the emphasis on problem solving and interpreting data sets), resources used by teachers in the classroom (e.g., calculators and textbooks) and teaching styles (e.g., how often students are asked to take written tests, to work out problems individually rather than with teachers' guidance), along with measures of achievement in Mathematics gathered in 2011. Although TIMSS is administered to students and their teachers in both Grades 4 and 8 (Years 5 and 9 respectively, within England), analysis in this research is restricted to the Grade 8 students (aged 14). When analysing data aggregated at jurisdictional level, this allows us to explore relationships in the Mathematics achievement of 15 year-olds as measured by PISA 2012.

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  • Research News

    Barden, K. (2015). Research News. Research Matters: A Cambridge Assessment publication, 20, 45-46.

    A summary of recent conferences and seminars, and research articles published since the last issue of Research Matters.

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  • Statistical Reports

    Gill, T. (2015). Statistical Reports. Research Matters: A Cambridge Assessment publication, 20, 47.

    The on-going Statistics Reports Series provides statistical summaries of various aspects of the English examination system, such as trends in pupil uptake and attainment, qualifications choice, subject combinations and subject provision at school. This article contains a summary of the most recent additions to this series.

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  • 10th Anniversary cover feature answers

    Barden, K. (2015). 10th Anniversary cover feature answers. Research Matters: A Cambridge Assessment publication, 20, 48.

    This 10th Anniversary issue coincides with the publication month of the very first issue of Research Matters which was published in September 2005. We have now published twenty standard issues and three Special Issues. Were you able to spot the issue numbers and publication dates from our commemorative cover feature? Here are the answers.

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Data bytes

A regular series of graphics from our research team, highlighting the latest research findings and trends in education and assessment.