I've just got round to having a look at the specimen papers for the AQA IGCSE examination. These, by the way, are very good revision material for existing GCSE exams. Teachers could easily make use of the reading and listening papers, including audio files, with their classes.
At the moment we are being told that there will be no tiers in future, post 2016 exams. I hope this is not the case, but the AQA IGCSE papers are tiered, with overlap sections, just as we see with the traditional GCSE.
The four skills are equally weighted at 25% each. This is more sensible than the weightings for GCSE, but in my view, still allows too many marks for writing.
There are four general topic areas: Socialising, Travelling Abroad, Being Part of a Community and Making Choices. Each of these includes three sub-topics. The content is refreshingly simple and relevant, I would say. AQA provide a simple skeleton scheme of work, teaching guidance and sample oral tests.
As far as the specimen papers are concerned, the listening and reading material is very familiar in style and content. I won't dwell on this. Suffice it to say that there is the usual mix of matching, multi-choice and answers in English. Reading last 35 or 45 minutes depending on tier, whilst Listening last 30 or 40 minutes, plus reading time.
The speaking and writing material is what may interest teachers most, since this is where IGCSE departs from GCSE, given the absence of controlled assessment. The test last a maximum of 9 minutes plus 2 minutes preparation time.
The Speaking test (untiered) consists of a three minute photo section (based on a topic from the specification) where students have two minutes to study and a photo and one minute to answer a set of questions, including five compulsory starter ones which the teacher must ask from the card. After the photo section, there is general conversation based on two further topics from the specification.
This style of test requires more spontaneity on the part of pupils and will therefore be more taxing for the less able. Pupils with higher aptitude will be able to shine, just as they can with the traditional GCSE. Learned presentations are a thing of the past with this exam, although pupils will no doubt rehearse conversations as they have for many years. I would imagine the photo section will be the most challenging for weak students since unrehearsed answers will be required. I am not sure if students are allowed to write notes whilst preparing the photo; it would seem not given the brief time allowed for preparation.
The Writing exam is tiered with an overlap section.
At Foundation level there is a first section with guided answers from English prompts in the form: "Say what..." "Say how...". This is followed by a choice of two compositions (80-100 words) with brief glossaries of four words. There are 20 marks available with 12 allocated for content, the rest for Range/Accuracy. Given that pupils are likely to produce some very inaccurate language, the mark scheme is suitably forgiving. It will need to be.
At Higher Tier the choice of the same two short composition as at Foundation is available, followed by a choice of two longer compositions (150-200 words). At least two tenses are expected and the mark scheme is weighted in the same way as at Foundation. The structure of this Higher Tier paper looks like a return to the style of papers before the advent of controlled assessment. Students are likely to produce more inaccurate work, but the mark scheme should allow for this to produce a typical range of grades.
Overall, teachers may feel that the IGCSE paper will suit able pupils well, discourage rote memorisation of written and spoken chunks. They may be concerned that their weaker candidates will struggle with this greater spontaneity.
Is this a template for future exams post 2016? Quite possibly, though there may be some pressure to include elements from the latest National Curriculum, notably translation. I would be surprised and dismayed if we ended up seeing "set piece" translation sentences or paragraphs, but one writing task could, for example, be guided by bullet point sentences in English which would effectively require summary or translation. This might even suit the weakest candidates who often do not know what to write unless they are given a specific guide.