Northern Ireland

GCSE biology: Why drunk rats and teenage drinking caused tears

Examination sign
Image caption St Comhghall's College says it will lodge a complaint

A GCSE biology paper featuring questions on drunk rats and teenage drinking has left some County Fermanagh pupils in tears.

They said the examination did not cover the subject areas that they had been taught.

Instead, they were asked questions about teenagers and alcohol, and testing drugs on drunk rats.

St Comhghall's College in Lisnaskea says it is going to complain to the AQA examination board.

Kirsty McDermott is studying double-award science. After weeks of revision, she was left shocked by some of the questions in the exam.

"It makes me very anxious," she said.

"We're scared that all our exams are going to be like this, are we going to fail?

"I know my coursework is very important, but if I don't do well in my tests I'm not going to pass my science and I need to pass my science.

"Science opens so many doors for young people, it's very essential."

Image copyright Julian Fowler

Thousands of pupils have complained about the AQA biology GCSE exam on social media.

Questions on a survey about alcohol consumption by 15-year-olds have been described as "inappropriate".

Another question asked what is meant by an independent company, which some said should have been in a business studies paper.

Kirsty McDermott said: "The questions themselves were asked in a very inappropriate manner, especially the fact that it referenced teenage drinking preferences, like that's promoting teenage alcoholism and that's not a good thing. They shouldn't be doing that.

"We've spent months studying complex processes such as the female hormone cycle and adult cell cloning only to be asked questions such as independent companies, and on drinking teens, it's ridiculous."

'Very disillusioned'

Sinead Rogers, head of science at St Comhghall's, said she had "never seen such specific content being asked in a paper from AQA".

She said pupils had been left lacking confidence about their next exams.

"I feel that they were very disillusioned as a result of this test. It did not reflect what they knew and it put them in a very poor stance for the next exam."

She said the questions covered less than 25% of the biology course content and was targeted at the brightest pupils.

"I can't say that it is not on the specification but, what I do feel is that, each question is so specific that it is catering more to target the A or A* pupil."

Image caption Gary Kelly says the paper 'de-motivated' pupils

The school's principal, Gary Kelly, intends to make a complaint.

"We are going to make a complaint to AQA about the content of the paper

"We have never done that before. We have never complained about the content of any paper ever in St Comhghall's but we feel this one is different than the rest.

"We understand that exams have to stretch, challenge pupils, but this one was so narrow and so specific it actually did the absolute opposite. It de-motivated them, it put them off and it made them scared of science."

A spokesperson for the AQA exam board said: "Exams are not meant to be easy and students are obviously going to tweet about that.

"But there was nothing wrong with this paper. We wish everyone the best of luck with the rest of their exams."

Most Northern Ireland pupils take the qualification set by Northern Ireland's CCEA exam board.

It is thought about 500 pupils may have taken the AQA biology paper.

St Comhghall's was considering changing to a different exam board for science from next year and is now more likely to make that change.

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