Frankenstein Exams: Why you shouldn’t fall apart because of a botched exam paper

Has your child fallen victim to a Frankenstein exam? If so, they might need help putting themselves, and their exams mindset, back together.

In this article you'll find out:

  • What a Frankenstein exam is
  • What's the problem with Frankenstein exams?
  • Why students get disappointing grades in Frankenstein exams
  • How to put your child's study and exams mindset back together if they've fallen victim to a Frankenstein exam

What is a Frankenstein Exam?

A Frankenstein exam is an exam paper that teachers have put together from various disparate sources. They do this when they need a fresh exam paper that students haven't seen before but all the complete past exam papers are available on exam board websites for anyone, including their students, to see and practice on.

Teachers put Frankenstein exams together by:

  • Writing their own exam questions
  • Taking questions from papers from other exam boards
  • Looking at old AS papers

What's the problem with Frankenstein exam papers?

Creating past papers in this way is relatively easy and problem free for essay based subjects like English and History. This is because you can take the generic mark scheme used by your exam board and mark any question about the text you're studying in English, or the period of history you're studying, using that mark scheme.

A generic mark scheme is the set of criteria an examiner will use to decide what mark to give an answer. It focuses on skills such as how well a student has used subject specific vocabulary, how well they've structured their answer and whether they've demonstrated skills like analysis and evaluation. The generic mark scheme can be used for any question of this type and will often be used alongside a question specific mark scheme that suggests the subject knowledge that examiners are looking for in the answer.

However, when it comes to subjects like biology, chemistry and physics things get a little bit trickier. Although the content of these subjects is identical across the exam boards at A-Level, different exam boards have subtlely different ways of allocating marks.

Science papers are also very carefully written and calibrated to cover the correct range of subject content and examine the right range of skills. They're skillfully written so that the cohort of candidates will get a normal distribution of marks – most students getting marks somewhere in the middle with smaller numbers getting higher and lower marks.

Why students get disappointing grades in Frankenstein exams

When teachers create an exam paper by bringing together questions they've written themselves with old AS questions and questions from other exam boards, the careful calibration of actual exam papers is lost. And, students are marked against a subtlely different set of criteria which is not what they're used to from the past papers from their exam board they've practiced on in their revision.

This means that very talented students can get disappointing results when they sit Frankenstein exams as their mocks. We've seen a trend of this happening amongst the year 13 1:1 academic coaching students that we work with over the last couple of years. Great students who are aiming for top grades get Bs, Cs or Ds because the exam paper wasn't a good test of their knowledge and skills. We've also heard that it can really knock their teachers who don't really understand why their star pupils are getting disappointing results.

The thing is, a science paper will have a careful balance between short answer questions and longer questions; questions that are designed to test knowledge and understanding and questions that are designed to test application, analysis and evaluation. If too much emphasis is placed on the harder application, analysis and evaluation questions students will find it more difficult to access the highest marks.

How to put your child's study and exams mindset back together if they've fallen victim to a Frankenstein exam

If your child has worked really hard for a mock exam but still got a disappointing result the first thing to understand is whether they've sat a Frankenstein paper.

If they have, you probably don't have to look much further so long as they've been revising in the right ways.

If your child has had this experience, show them this blog post so that they understand what's happened to them, let them grieve it a bit and then encourage them to get back to work and focus on getting a great grade on the kinds of papers that they're actually going to sit in their final exams.

Do you need more help with this?

If your child is struggling to understand their mock results or needs help to get revising in the right way, we can help through 1:1 academic coaching or if you join The Extraordinaries Club. Recently, we've helped 1:1 clients identify that they've fallen victim to Frankenstein papers, talk to their teachers constructively about what's happened and put it down to experience so they can move on in a positive way. We also have masterclasses on How to Revise A-Level Chemistry, How to Revise A-Level Biology and How to Revise A-Level Physics to give all students subject specific revision techniques – these are inside The Extraordinaries Club which all 1:1 academic coaching clients also have access to.

Click here to find out how to work with us.

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