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Title: Perception of the level of difficulty by post-secondary Maltese students of the biology advanced level practical examination paper
Authors: Azzopardi, Marthese
Camilleri, Liberato
Keywords: Biology -- Study and teaching -- Malta
MATSEC (Educational test)
Biology -- Examinations
Biology -- Examinations, questions, etc.
Issue Date: 2016
Publisher: edizioni
Citation: Azzopardi, M., & Camilleri, L. (2016). Perception of the level of difficulty by post-secondary Maltese students of the biology advanced level practical examination paper. International Conference : the Future of Education 6th Edition, Florence. 631-637.
Abstract: Maltese students sit for the Matriculation and Secondary Education Certificate (MATSEC) Advanced-level biology exam at the end of a two-year ‘sixth form’ course as a requirement to pursue studies related to science at the University of Malta. The exam consists of four papers, where Paper 1 consists of compulsory structured questions, Paper 2 involves essay-writing, Paper 3 is based on practical work related to theory, and Paper 4 consists of a single experimental design question. A questionnaire based on a Likert five-point scale was administered to students (N=102) two months before they sat for the MATSEC examination. The aim was to investigate the level of difficulty that students encounter with each of the exam papers as well when answering ten typical questions presented in Paper 4. No significant difference in the difficulty rating evaluation for males and females for Paper 1, 2 and 3 was found; however females found Paper 4 significantly more difficult than males. When presented with a test at school modelled on Paper 4, males felt more confident than females however they felt equally nervous. On the other hand, females felt more panicky than males. There was no significant difference between the level of difficulty encountered in each paper and the grade obtained at ‘Ordinary’ level biology (the examination taken at the end of secondary school). Students that were repeating their ‘sixth form’ second year encountered the same level of difficulty in each paper as those who were not. The same questionnaire was administered to tutors (N=13) in order to investigate whether student and tutor perceptions differ. Students and tutors rated the level of difficulty of each paper differently. None of the tutors perceived Papers 2, 3 and 4 as ‘easy’ whereas students did. Another difference in perception was noted in Paper 1: students rated Paper 1 as ‘difficult’ while tutors did not. Students and tutors also differed in the rating of level of difficulty in Paper 4 questions. Students found the question about devising an experiment as presenting the highest level of difficulty while for tutors the most difficult was that concerned was stating the sources of error. Writing a null hypothesis presented the least difficulty for students whereas drawing graphs was rated as least difficult by tutors. These differences in perception imply that tutors may be dedicating more time preparing students for papers and questions they (the tutors) perceive as difficult and thus may not be meeting the real needs of the students.
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