Dependence on rote learning costs Leaving Cert students marks, say State examiners
Leaving Cert candidates continue to rely on rote learning to get through exams rather than showing a necessary understanding of topics, according to reports from state examiners.
In some cases it is costing the students marks because they are not delivering "high quality" answers.
The problem is highlighted in analyses of student performance in last year's Leaving Cert accounting and applied maths exams, published by the State Examinations Commission (SEC) today.
The Chief Examiner's report on accounting details areas where students, at both levels, handled questions well, but also points to deficiencies.
One issue raised was a failure of higher level candidates to show that they could "distinguish" between two different methods of depreciation, rather than merely provide a definition of both.
The report also refers to two parts of a question on book-keeping, relating to the importance of keeping records of amounts taken out of a business as drawings and the importance of double-entry book-keeping.
According to the examiner, the latter is a fundamental concept of accounting and, yet, most students were "unable to provide good quality answers".
This was "despite the fact that they had successfully applied the relevant procedures to the previous part of the question. This is a cause for concern regarding learning for understanding".
In another question "candidates showed some evidence of the tendency to reproduce rote-learned information rather than apply their knowledge to the question asked".
In this case, the majority of candidates gave a list of the functions of an auditor rather than examining their role in relation to the protection of shareholders, as was required.
In a question about the purpose of a suspense account, students "struggled to provide high quality responses. Answers were superficial in nature and lacked the detail required to earn high marks".
Among the recommendations is that students "make sure they understand the meaning of command words and take time to provide detailed answers in response to question cues such as distinguish or explain, which require more development than instructions like state or outline".
The Chief Examiner's report on applied maths notes that students appeared to be very confident in certain areas of the course and demonstrated good knowledge of techniques.
But while it "was apparent that they had spent much time practising and perfecting these techniques", many appeared to have learned them "by repeated practise of similar questions and are less able to apply the same techniques in a different context".
It states that candidates should spend more time on the understanding of the concepts involved and considering how they might be broadly applied, rather than just concentrating on a particular application of the technique involved. This would leave them "better equipped to deal with questions that are not standard".
There is also concern that applied maths students are focussing on specific areas of the curriculum to the exclusion of others, which was evident from the distribution of questions attempted by groups of candidates in particular exam centres. Such an approach both limits their understanding of the subject and their choices in the exam.