What does an "A" symbol in physical sciences represent about a learner's skills and knowledge in the subject? : a study of the cognitive demand of the National Senior Certificate physical sciences examination question papers.
In this study, I report on the cognitive demand of the South African National Senior Certificate (NSC) final public physical sciences examination question papers from 2008 to 2013. A cognitive demand taxonomy was developed and strengthened by me together with the assistance of four subject experts. The raters’ analysis for the November 2012 physics and chemistry papers was found to be reliable. I have analysed six physics and six chemistry examination papers. On average, my study analysis found that the NSC Physical Sciences papers from 2008 to 2013 tested 94% lower order thinking skills of “retrieval”, “basic comprehension” and “routine execution” while 6% comprised of “application” type skills. No higher order skills on “analysis and reasoning” were tested in the NSC papers. The physics and chemistry papers were both over-represented with the combined “routine execution” and “application” type questions, with the chemistry papers also over-represented with the “recall” type questions. Both physics and chemistry papers were under-represented in “evaluation” and “synthesis” type questions when compared to the recommendations made in the National Curriculum Statement. Studies reviewed have indicated that teaching higher order thinking fused into everyday learning may lead to better performances and economic productivity. The findings of this study may be useful to physical science teachers, curriculum specialists, academics, assessment experts, quality assurance specialists, education officials, employers and other stakeholders in the field of science and technology. The study makes recommendations on the use of taxonomies to analyse question papers to ensure tests and examinations are keeping with recommended weightings regarding cognitive demands. The study addresses the problem of the quality of a symbol awarded to a learner in terms of cognitive skills and knowledge tested in the physical sciences NSC examination.