Exams Special

Are exams getting easier to write about?

by our education correspondent Barbara Ruttler.

In 1951 a mere 2 percent of newspaper column inches were devoted to covering exams. In those days most news space was devoted to the impending Suez crisis, the decline of the once glorious British Empire, and the game of cricket. Yet in August 2007, an unprecedented 97% of newspaper space was devoted to idle speculation about A Level and GCSE exams.

This has prompted widespread concern. Are exams simply getting easier to write about? Professor John Puyo, Senior Lecturer in Media at the University of Westminster, certainly thinks so. ‘Once, newspaper editors, reporters and so on, had to actively look for news stories, to uncover things that were in the public interest, to find innovative angles on situations. For the last ten years or so, simply the existence of these exams is now considered to be an acceptable story.’

The rapid growth in journalists successfully writing about exams has created a problem, as Professor Puyo explains. ‘With more and more journalists writing exams stories, it becomes harder to distinguish between exceptionally talented journalists, and merely very able journalists.’

Not everyone agrees that the increase in exam reporting is a negative thing. Andy Guile, Education Reporter at the BBC points to the diversity and ingenuity in exam reporting compared to journalism in the 50’s. ‘Fifty years ago, newspapers would provided the reader with a page of dense print about Mr. Eden’s speech, with perhaps the odd picture. The creativity and imagination that goes into today’s reports and exams shows how far journalism has advanced over this time period. When you break down a single report into it’s complex parts, you really begin to get a feel for the amount of ideas it contains, i.e. the obligatory clip of a hysterical overdressed teenager and the rent-a-quote academic who is prepared to go on the record that arts subjects are intrinsically worthless compared to the sciences.

Are exams getting easier to write about? The answer is unclear, but if the amount of exam reporting continues to rise, this debate looks set continue for many years to come.

More articles from the special report on exams:

Should A-levels be awarded to scum?

Paul Morley writes about how he got his A-levels