22 February 2012
New undergraduate students arriving to study physics at the University of Bristol from 1975 onwards have all taken the same test of their knowledge and understanding of physics and mathematics. Prof Peter Barham's analysis of these test results since 1975 has been published in
The data clearly show that the ability of our incoming students to answer questions that are in the A-level syllabus they studied declined significantly in the 1990s, with average scores falling from around 75 per cent up to 1990, to below 50 per cent after 2000. This occurred at the same time as our incoming students achieved higher A-level grades in Physics and Maths. Prof Barham suggests that changes in teaching and examination methods in schools may have caused students to be less able to carry out multi-stage calculations. Could the introduction of modular examinations encourage a culture where students tend to forget material learnt in previous modules?