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Developing a Strategy for Linear Exams

In this latest blog post, Suzanne introduces you to the key concepts, ideas and questions that need to be considered and managed in your institution, with the changes from modular to linear assessment.


The Curriculum and Assessment Specialist for the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), Suzanne O’Farrell will be delivering a session on how to develop a school strategy that will best enable your students to achieve, at our Raising Achievement in Linear Examinations conference in London.


How to develop a strategy that will maximise achievement in linear exams


The way schools approach the transition from modular to linear will be a key factor in maximising their school’s success in the reformed GCSEs. Many of our teachers may only have taught and learnt themselves and in a modular way, so how can they be supported to ensure they can rise to this challenge successfully?

We know that the reformed GCSEs will be of an increased demand compared to the qualifications they are replacing but what does this actually mean? What is changing?  There are three aspects that are addressed by this – one is obviously the increased quantity and demand of the content, secondly the assessment structure and thirdly the item (question) difficulty.


What do we know about how the assessments for the reformed qualifications will be changing?
  • Examination questioning styles will be different
  • Increased synoptic assessments will require students to integrate different aspects of a topic
  • The assessments will test students test students’ enriched understanding of a subject
  • Assessments will gauge how well students can apply  knowledge to new and unfamiliar contexts


Schools may need to adapt their approaches to their assessment strategies in light of this.

The increased demand in the content of the reformed GCSEs also has implications for pedagogy. Schools will be wrestling with ensuring they teach what is essential for students to understand so that they can answer any question on any topic as historians, linguists, geographers  and mathematicians etc  as well as what is needed directly for the test. Not to mention ensuring they help their students prepare for the increased extended writing and problem solving demands that we have been told are features of the reformed examinations.

The way in which schools organise and structure their curriculum will be an important aspect of successful delivery of the reformed GCSES. Curriculum design will require a more holistic approach in terms of sequencing, spacing and interleaving content whilst ensuring a depth of understanding.


Key considerations for schools to address may be the following:-
  • How can teachers plan for long term retention?
  • Are teachers building in an opportunities to revisit and reteach core concepts?
  • Are teacher focussing on rapid progress as opposed to sustained progress?
  • What are the most effective strategies in my subject to enable students to store information in their long term memory?
  • How can I prepare students to think through questions and understand the core concepts behind them?
  • How can I support them integrating knowledge and applying it to new situations?
  • Are we maximising the potential of key stage 3?


These are some of the areas addressed in my upcoming session on managing the transition from modular to linear.

To find out more about the “Raising Achievement in Linear Examinations” conference, click here.


Suzanne O’Farrell

Suzanne O’Farrell is ASCL’s Curriculum and Assessment Specialist and prior to this role Suzanne was ASCL’s Inspections Specialist for 18 months. Before joining ASCL, Suzanne was headteacher of a large secondary school in Staffordshire for seven years.

Suzanne originally trained as a modern languages teacher and taught languages and English in a number of schools. Throughout her 27 year teaching career and prior to taking up her headship, Suzanne’s previous roles also include head of a large sixth form (offering the IB and A levels), deputy headteacher, local leader of education and part time Tutor Fellow at Keele University supporting the delivery of the modern languages PGCE programme.

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