iGCSE Examiner Report Analysis

In Summer 2015, a lot of schools suffered from what was a very sudden and unexpected shift in the way the Cambridge iGCSE English exam was marked. In September 2015 I wrote this analysis of the exam, using the examiner report from the June 2015 series plus what we could glean from some of the papers we recalled for our centre. Hopefully this is of use to other English departments in the next few weeks!

iGCSE Examiners Report – Analysis for teaching 2015/16

In the Summer 2015 series, there were significant changes in emphasis to the way in which the iGCSE English paper was marked.


Pupil responses were expected to be “tethered” to the source text, but were penalised if they stuck to it too closely in terms of structure, language or detail. Many students, particularly the weaker ones, wrote responses to Q1 which mirrored the original text in its chronology, but this has been criticised by the board, “tended to stick closely to the events and ideas in the passage, and to present them in the same order.” The suggestion is that stronger candidates were able to use the detail in the passage, but made sophisticated decisions in order to structure their response anew.

Weaker students generally failed to notice changes in tone or emphasis in the source text – we should expect in the next exam series that the text will shift in mood or tone part way through, and prepare students to identify these shifts. Students who do not recognise these moments of change wrote “rather limited response(s)”.

A greater emphasis was placed on students’ development of detail from the passage, “sustain use of supporting detail throughout the response, firmly tethering any development to details in the passage.” – Students are encouraged to take note of any minor details in the passage, and flesh these out in their own response.

As in previous years, emphasis is placed on even coverage of the three bullet points in the question.

A far greater importance is given to the style of writing in Q1 – student were heavily penalised for not writing with a sharp awareness of journalistic style, “unselective narrative retelling of the events of the meeting – without developing a journalistic stance. Such responses lacked a sense of purpose.” This task demanded a “discursive, investigative tone”.

Action points and teaching priorities for 2015/16:

  • Give students strategies for planning and structuring responses which build on details, but stand apart from the original text in structure.
  • Explicitly teach students to identify where texts change in tone or mood, and to reflect these changes in their writing.
  • Teach students how to develop textual detail in an appropriate way which is still “tethered” to the original text.
  • Continue to emphasise the importance of students covering all three bullet points equally.
  • Explicitly teach stylistic writing for a range of potential task types.



Students must write in continuous prose and not, as some centres have done, in a table format (this is not something we have ever done.)

Student responses should do three things –  (1) Identify interesting and effective words/phrases, (2) explain the meaning of the word/phrase within context, (3) Explore the effect of the word/phrase on the reader.

Quotations selected needed to be very specific, and show “precise focus at word level”. Some less successful candidates simply “lifted the whole paragraph and offered a general comment.”

Action points and teaching priorities for 2015/16:

  • Teach students to explain the meaning of words/phrases within their context, rather than simply giving a dictionary definition – this changed focus should ensure that students are able to move on to their exploration of effects with more assurance.
  • Consider adjusting our recommended timings for Q2 – for students to write analysis at the required level of sophistication, they perhaps need a little more time than the recommended 25 minutes.


Students did not get marks for any correct answers outside of the original 15 points they made (unless they had gone back and crossed out previous points)

Although the question asks for ‘brief notes’, students whose notes were too brief did not get the mark, even if the point was valid. Students needed to be very clear in their responses, e.g. if the response was “it was difficult to collect enough firewood”, students would NOT have got the mark for simply saying “difficult to find firewood” as this response is not grammatically complete, and misses the key verb “was”. Students also failed to get the marks in this section if they spelled key words incorrectly or made other careless slips in accuracy, e.g. incorrect plurals, tense etc.


Similar to the writing marks in Q1, responses to the summary in Q3b was criticised because they followed the structure of the original text too closely. Students who did well and achieved all 5 marks in this section were those who organised the points thematically or in some way other than following their chronological order in the original text.

Students are reminded that they MUST use their own words in this section, and that any words or phrases (apart from key terminology) which are lifted from the original text will be heavily penalised.

Some students in this section became a little confused between the summary skills required here and the development skills required in Q1 and, as a result, attempted to develop points, straying away from the core meaning of the text.

Action points and teaching priorities for 2015/16:

  • Stress the importance of giving only 15 points for Q3a, and of crossing out the least relevant or repeated answers if they have gone above 15.
  • Teach strategies for proof reading, and for writing whole, grammatically sound sentences for Q3a.
  • Ensure that student prepare their responses to Q3b by re-ordering their notes by some other method than their original order in the text.
  • Reiterate the differences between ‘summary’ and ‘development’ in Q1 and Q3b.

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