5 worst blunders in the GCSE and A Level exams

GCSE and A Level past exam papers:
Exam boards made mistakes too. Source: Patrick Domingo/AFP

Mistakes are an inevitable part of life, and as a student, you’re bound to have made some yourself.

Unfortunately, examiners or “test authors” are not spared from making mistakes either. In fact, their mistakes have affected thousands of test-takers like yourself. Some of their mistakes have made headlines, and also include past exam papers for the national and international GCSE and A Level examinations.

To make you feel better about yourself, we’ve curated a list of five of the worst blunders found in recent and past exam papers, for both GCSEs and A Levels.

GCSE, A Levels: Major gaffes in recent and past exam papers

Incorrectly labelled countries in the GCSE Geography exam paper

In a recent GCSE Geography B paper, candidates came across a blunder made by the exam board Pearson Edexcel. The African country Gabon was mistakenly labelled as the Republic of the Congo when students were shown a diagram of countries in a continent that produce oil, said reports.

A Geography teacher expressed their discontent upon reviewing the exam paper, claiming that the “atrocious mistake” could damage the results of pupils.

In response to a post criticising the mistake, Pearson Geography was apologetic about the blunder, claiming that students will receive marks for referencing either country (Gabon or the Republic of the Congo), reported Metro UK.

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An incomplete A Level English Language and Literature paper

A Level candidates who took the recent English Language and Literature exam by the Welsh Joint Education Committee (WJEC) were “thrown off” and left “upset” after four pages were missing from the exam.

This included half or missing excerpts from three Shakespeare plays, reported the BBC. 

Due to the grave error made by the examination board, some candidates were forced to wait some 20 to 30 minutes into the exam before receiving a correct copy.

Speaking to The Independent, one student who took the exam said that their performance was severely affected by the delay of receiving the full copy, and because they were unable to redo a section with the missing excerpt.

“I don’t see how anyone could be given a fair result given that many were affected at different levels,” the student said.

WJEC has issued an apology, and said affected students would receive grades based on other questions they have answered on the paper, course work, and other papers sat for the exam.

GCSE students tested for a topic they were told not to revise

Imagine being told by your exam board not to revise for a particular topic for an exam, only to find that you were being tested on that very topic on exam day.

That is what happened to candidates who sat for the recent higher-tier AQA GCSE physics exam. Students were tested for a question on energy transfers and circuits despite it being a topic ruled out by the exam board.

As a result of the blunder, an AQA spokesperson confirmed that all students would be awarded full marks for the question, following backlash from students on social media.

A Level Law students tested on topics they were told not to revise

Besides the GCSE physics exam blunder, AQA had to bear the brunt of a similar issue when A Level Law exam candidates were faced with questions they were told not to revise for.

The question which appeared on the exam carried a value of almost a third of the entire paper’s marks.

An AQA spokesperson apologised for the confusion and stress it caused, adding that they would take necessary action to protect students’ performance upon marking it.

Remarking done by the same examiner

In 2019, AQA was slapped with its biggest fine to date, totalling over 1,000,000 British pounds by exam regulator Ofqual.

This was due to AQA failing to resume the responsibility of assigning a different examiner to remark GCSEs and A Level papers that have already been marked by another examiner. The exam watchdog estimates that over 53,000 exam scripts were affected by this breach.

AQA was ordered to pay £350,000 with an unprecedented £735,570 in compensation to schools and exam centres across the country.