Almost 19,000 students sat the OCR biology A-level paper on Monday that contained an error. Photograph: Chris Radburn/PA
One of Englands main examination boards has been forced to issue an apology for the third time in a little over a fortnight after students and teachers spotted yet another error on one of its papers.
The mistake occurred on OCRs A-level biology paper, which was sat by almost 19,000 students on Monday. A question asked students to calculate a standard deviation but failed to provide the formula needed for the calculation, as required by the syllabus.
Pupils took to student forums and social media to express their anger about the error and worries about the possible impact on their overall grade. OCR apologised and said it would address any impact during marking and grading.
Exam watchdog Ofqual was also notified about an error in an AQA chemistry A-level, which 20,000 students took on Tuesday. A two-mark question included an incorrect equation, in which a 3 was printed instead of a 2, which made it unanswerable.
A spokesman for Ofqual said: We expect all papers to be error-free. When errors are not identified before the exam, we expect the exam boards to do everything they can to minimise the impact on students. That is our immediate priority, and we are monitoring their actions closely. Once results are issued, we will look carefully at the reasons for the errors that occurred and take action if appropriate.
Although there is not thought to be any increase in the overall number of errors this year, Ofqual is concerned about the potentially damaging cumulative effect of OCRs three errors.
Just over a fortnight ago OCR was forced to apologise for an error in its English literature GCSE paper in a question about the character Tybalt from Shakespeares Romeo and Juliet which implied he is a Montague when he is a Capulet.
Then last week OCR apologised for poorly wording an A-level psychology question. Students were confused by a question asking them to calculate the mean percentage of words.
After that error, the board was asked by Ofqual to go through all their remaining papers again to make sure there were no further errors.
Beth Holloway, 18, who sat Mondays OCR biology paper, was worried she would not now get the grades she needed for university. It was just really, really off-putting, she said.
She said the syllabus and teachers made it clear that students did not need to learn the formula by heart because, in the case of a question on standard deviation, the formula would be provided. When it wasnt included in the paper, Holloway said everyone panicked. I had done a lot of revision for biology. I really, really wanted to do well. I was supposed to get AAB to get to York University, but I dont think Im going to get that any more.
A spokeswoman at Beaumont School in St Albans, where Holloway is a pupil, confirmed that the school had raised the issue with the exam board. The school is concerned that maths students who sat the paper would have known the formula and therefore have an advantage.
Students on social media complained that the exam was particularly hard and a petition has been launched calling on OCR to cancel the paper or lower the grade boundaries, which has been signed by more than 4,000 people.
An OCR spokesman explained: For one question on OCRs A-level biology paper H420/01 (Question 20a, worth 3 marks out of a total of 100) the formula for standard deviation was not provided. Some of OCRs guidance to schools and teachers about the syllabus indicated that candidates would be provided with this. OCR apologises and will address any impact of this during marking and grading.
AQA said: This shouldnt have happened and were sorry it did. Each of our exam papers goes through a lot of checks but, unfortunately, errors can very occasionally slip through. When they do, we always make sure that students dont lose out - but one error is still one too many, so were carrying out a detailed investigation.
Malcolm Trobe, deputy general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, acknowledged there would always be a risk of human error, but added: We have a right to expect that enough checks and balances are in place so these sorts of things dont happen.
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