Coursework seems to be a concept that people who never encounter it (e.g. USAians) have a lot of trouble understanding. The British schools node is pretty obligatory for understanding this one.

From what I gather from the media, people who live in the USA are graded solely on a big huge final exam. This is not the same in the UK, a teacher once told me that big huge final exams favour girls over boys, but either way, this isn't how it is done over here.

At the end of year 9 the teenagers are given options about what subjects they want to study. The children then report back to their parents, where either of the following things happen:

  • The parent doesn't care, the student gets to decide.
  • The parent does that thing that only parents know how to do, pressure the child into taking the subjects the parent desires the child to take. But without anyone else but the child being able to tell that this is happening.

So thus, after the summer holidays the student finds themselves with (usually) between 8 and 11 different subjects to juggle. At the end of (usually) two years, the student has completed the subjects, and is given the brown envelope with their grades in for each subject.

The students are assessed on both exams and coursework. There can be many exams spread throughout the two years, but there is usually one large one at the end.

Now I finally get to the point.

Coursework is an assignment teachers give you, and you get marked on it, which goes towards your final grade. The teachers are given something called a markscheme, which details what they're allowed and not allowed to give you marks for.

This is mostly okay, an essay here and there for English doesn't hurt that much. But then you get those ubermonsterous courseworks. Like in ICT for example, you'd think it'd be a practical subject. But no, you get three courseworks in the entire course, called project 1a, project 1b, and project 2.

They aren't practical, oh no, for project 1b you don't even hand your finished product in. You just write, in excruciating detail, about how you're making it. We had to analyse the problem we were going to solve, research it, design it, then make it (screenshotting every god damned step we made), then test it, then write user documentation, then evaluate it.

But no, that's not it you see, because then you hand it in, and you find out what a hierarchical markscheme is.

A hierarchical markscheme is a long list of criteria your work has to satisfy to get certain marks. But, and this is the best bit, if you fit all the criteria, except the one that gets you the first mark...

You get nothing, zero, zilch.

You don't even get a G grade for 0, they give you a Un, which stands for ungraded, your work isn't even worth a grade.

So your work is handed back with suggestions given by the teacher, along with an apologetic smile if they are human, after all, they didn't make the markscheme.

After the 12th time you hand it in the teacher says "Okay.. you've got enough marks now to get an A, if you want to get an A* you'll have to..."
"NOO!!" you scream, as if someone had just said that Armin Meiwes was on the phone and he was just asking if you wanted to come round for dinner.

Then, left a husk of a human being, you're asked to do the same again, except with a different focus, and then after that you're asked to do another project, which is the same as both the previous projects combined

And remember... this is only one subject, you have numerous smaller courseworks given more often from other subjects, and (for me at least) two other subjects which give you similarly sized projects.

Combine all this with a predisposition to procrastination, and you are in for a final six months of agony, depression, and cyclic avoidance of work.

However, at least in my case, it is finishable, I had done about 1/4 of two of my hugest projects, and I did the rest in the two week Easter holidays, and I met around the 15th extension that I'd been given, got decent grades considering.

As a epilogue, I sometimes talk to sixth formers about this, I often hear the words 'GCSEs are easy compared to A levels, seriously'. Oh god...

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