New Perspectives in Science Education

Edition 12

Accepted Abstracts

The ‘Currency’ of Coursework in National Examinations: Sec Physics as a Case Study

Martin Musumeci, Department of Mathematics, Science and Technical Education, Faculty of Education, University of Malta School of Education, Durham University (Malta)

Dario Pirotta, Department of Mathematics, Science and Technical Education, Faculty of Education, University of Malta (Malta)


Assessment is intended to ‘measure’ a candidate’s level of knowledge and/or skills. It is presumed that assessment instruments provide objective measures of achievement. There may be concerns about reliability, validity and fairness of examinations. Since 1994, in Malta, school-based assessment (SBA) became an integral part of the 16+ Secondary Education Certificate (SEC) examinations (in some subjects). Thus, a wider range of skills, apart from those tested by written exams, were included into this 16+ certification. The SEC Physics exam by the MATSEC Examinations Board includes an SBA component that includes work done and corrected at school. The views about SBA are contrasting. It is claimed that coursework is beneficial for the learner, an efficient assessment tool and a resource in assessment-for-learning. Others affirm that “. . . it is a licence for pupils to present other people's work” and there are concerns about the validity and reliability of SBA.


This research focused on the objectives of SBA as part of the SEC Physics exam and the extent to which they are being fulfilled. Both qualitative and quantitative research methods were implemented. A representative sample of around 250 candidates (c. 5% of the exam population) coming from all school categories (public and private) was considered. A comparative study between the marks offered as SBA for the SEC exam and the performance in a ‘mini investigation’ test (based on the same criteria in the syllabus) administered to these candidates was carried out.


It was observed that, tendentially, candidates had a high mark for the SBA component, while a similar level of achievement was not manifested in the ‘mini investigations’. Thus, having practical work as part of an examination does not necessary imply that students have acquired the relevant skills. No significant gender differences were observed in overall performance, while differences in specific aspects were noted. There were weak correlations for the SEC SBA score and the actual paper-examination marks, but stronger correlation was noted between the ‘investigation’ and the exam marks.

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