Structuring Exam Questions

This guest post was written by Paul Dunn @pauldunn11.

Background (Honesty)

I will begin by stating that I never thought while training to be a PE teacher I would ever have to teach students to structure an extended answer in an exam. How times have changed!!! Anyway, when I became a curriculum leader and I looked at the breakdown of the performance of students on the summer exam when analysing results, I realised very quickly where the issues lay. The performance on the exam paper itself was not great and it showed how important the practical aspect was. Therefore, if we could maintain the high practical scores and improve the exam performance, then results would improve further.


However, as a department we began looking at these extended answers. We signed up for a webinar (I will leave the exam board anonymous) and between four male members of staff I think we realised there was a potential issue. The example of a 1-2 mark answer we awarded 5-6 marks and the example of 6 mark answer we awarded 2 marks. It made us laugh anyway!!! The next stage was to identify what to do next and Twitter, as always proved what a good CPD tool it is. While one member of staff was teaching his students how to structure these answers and student shouted out “that’s PEA, we do it in English”. Well that was our starting point. Department meetings with the English teachers followed but just like any student they could not transfer that acronym they apply in English to a PE lesson. So, back to Twitter… We found PEEL, DEER, DEAR, IDEA, PEE, PEA and the rest. We did not draw any out of a hat but we trialled a few different structures before we identified that D.E.E.R suited our students and students now associate this acronym with PE, so we have an identity. I am not saying this is the best acronym but if you as a department do not have one, I really recommend seeing if implementing one within your classes makes a difference.


D.E.E.R represents DESCRIBE or DEFINE, EXPLAIN, EXAMPLE and REINFORCE and REPEAT. Students have been taught and trained to follow this structure to answer 6 mark questions. This has been developed to colour code responses, which link to Level 1-3 responses. Some answers are easier than others but I have been able to teach students to just achieve 2 marks from 6 marks by describing each element of the question. I would rather they wrote less and achieved 2 marks than wrote a page and got none, because that was happening. It is then easier to show students how they could make greater progress and answer these questions better. One of the earlier papers focused around SMART targets. Therefore students are encouraged to introduce the answer before DESCRIBING Specific (D = Level 1), EXPLAINING the benefit of a specific SMART target (E = Level 2) before providing an example of a specific SMART target in relation to the questions (E = Level 3). They will then reinforce the statement before repeating the structure for MEASURABLE (R = Level 3) IMG_9655


Test, therapy and retest strategies work well. Following the initial attempt, students respond to marking and feedback and re-complete the question in the following lesson to demonstrate immediate progress. After each unit or chapter students complete Unit tests with questions made up and not directly used from the full papers. (Writing unit tests is a great way to develop your understanding of the course). Therefore students are regularly being tested against 6 mark questions. Highlighters are used to annotate where each level has been achieved. Therefore if a student has more PINK/RED highlighted work then the visual feedback (if you use the language well) indicates that the learner has not explained enough. Planning time is essential and students have used hours to plan what they will write. The challenge though comes from gradually reducing the time spent on these answers to improve their efficiency to answer these well. Once students are well drilled and can follow the structure well, provide students with a mark scheme and allow them to self assess their own responses but what worked even better was peer assessment. Students can access answers of a similar standard or completely different standard and provide feedback to improve.


I feel embarrassed that I did not think like this 3-4 years ago in hindsight, but I can honestly say that I have seen a huge improvement in the quality of 6 marks answers with my current class during the two and half years I have been teaching them with their exam coming up. Evidence within the department clearly shows the difference in results between those students who followed a structure and those who did not. Therefore, what clearer evidence could you wish for to make sure that it now becomes a department policy? Students clearly now understand how to structure their response but it has taken a lot of time which will hopefully see improved results again this summer. I just need to hope they know what they are talking about. This visual may help your students in answering 6 mark questions.


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