LC Pol Soc 2021 – “Known Unknowns” – DBQ Question ‘G’

(Click below to download the student handout that seeks to give my best guess as to what a solution to the problem I describe in this blog might look like… But please do read the thought process below to see how it might best be used with students Making Recommendations based on Data Sets)

One of the hardest parts of helping students to prepare for this year’s Leaving Cert Politics & Society exam is the fact that there’s a lot we DON’T KNOW.

I’ve been generally really pleased with how the SEC has reduced the scope of the upcoming exams in other subjects. I know that both English and History are a lot more accessible for students, particularly those who have had limited opportunity to access digital learning, or who have been impacted by Covid in any number of ways.

The best thing the SEC has done is to give clarity and certainty to students about what exactly will be examined. For example, knowing that all three ‘modes’ in the Comparative Study in English will be on the paper means that students and teachers can effectively side-line a significant portion of their revision. This makes it easier on everyone and, crucially, reduces student anxiety in the run up to the exams. The range of choice in History is equally good. Lots of choice = less stressed students!

Unfortunately, this is not the case in Pol Soc… (sad face emoji). What the SEC has done in our case is to remove one of the ‘Discursive’ essays, but leave the Data-Based Question intact (in terms of mark allocation). What does this mean in real terms? In theory, it looks great because the students will have more time to do the exam and have a good choice of essay topics – very important when we consider that the course is based on ‘Strands’ which are designed to interweave throughout the 2-year build up to the exam.

However, that means that the Data-Based Question becomes disproportionately important. And what other allowance did they HAVE to make on account of this? Well, in order to make sure that all students could attempt the final (50-mark) question in this section, they had two choice. Firstly, they could have stipulated exactly which topic would appear in this topic, giving students and teachers 6-8 weeks to make sure that that part of the course was covered, allowing them to continue the reasonably well-established practice of asking a longer question “based on their learning” throughout the two years. Secondly, they could have (as they have done) said that the 50-mark question will only be based on the information included in the documents themselves – an enforced requirement if some students hadn’t covered certain parts of the course and can’t be disadvantaged relative to their peers.

What’s the problem with this? Well, it means that they have removed a form of assessment that students have been preparing for and which most students are able to get their head around, and replaced it with a type of question that not only has never been asked, but a type of question whose phrasing we can only guess at (i.e. they have removed some certainty and replaced it with uncertainty, which I think is a big downside). Consulting any reasonably experienced Pol Soc teacher would have highlighted this issue almost immediately. A pity and a lost opportunity.

So, bear in mind that this handout (link at the top) is only my best guess (albeit an educated guess) as to how this question will be approached in the exam after a few years of trying to put together sample DBQs and mock exam papers. Students still need to be ‘expecting the unexpected’ and should use the guidelines I suggest as practice at approaching a new type of question, rather than as a prescriptive way to address the question that might be asked…

But as Donald Rumsfeld would say, at least we know that it’s a “Known Unknown”!!!

Anyway, I hope it helps teachers and students as they face into the final, final, final stretch…

JD – 10/5/21


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