A placement student’s tale

Into the world of work: a year in CERP.

Female working at computerWalking into CERP on my first day was like walking into a blizzard, except instead of snow whirling around me, there were letters. As their name suggests, the people of CERP speak their own acronym language. When my predecessor handed me AQA’s glossary of terms, it became my bible for the year.

Finally fluent in CERPish, it was time to start checking. For every exam series, meetings are held for each specification to decide the grade boundaries. These meetings generate a large amount of paperwork and the principal role of the student placement is to ensure that this paperwork is filled in correctly; in short, to check it. In order to properly check the paperwork, I first had to understand the process behind it. This gave me a valuable insight into what goes on behind the scenes at AQA to make sure we all get the grades we deserve.

Aside from my checking responsibilities, I was also given an individual project to work on throughout the year. My task was to investigate cloning. There were no sheep involved here though; I wanted to clone exam questions. By taking the bare structure of an exam question and altering the numerical values, it is possible to create infinitely many similar, yet different, questions. For example, this question manipulates fractions where a, b, c and d are integers:

By changing the values of a, b, c and d we can create different questions. Access to a large question bank would decrease the time needed to create questions, minimising costs and increasing the efficiency of the process of writing exams. Before discussing the practicalities of cloning, I first had to try and actually do it. With only a little programming experience, I started with the basics. Creating random fractions led to polynomials and soon I was generating and solving differential equations.

After trialling my codes in several programming languages, it was time to write up my findings. The cloning, I then realised, had been the easy bit. As a mathematician whose vocabulary had dwindled to ‘therefore’, ‘thus’ and ‘hence’, the prospect of writing a research paper was daunting to say the least. With the help of my manager I set up the skeleton of my report and gradually the paragraphs started to take shape.

Two months down the line and I am awaiting feedback from my final review. This has been a huge personal achievement for me and the increased confidence I have in my report writing abilities is one of the major benefits I’ve gained from this year.

Doing a placement in CERP has enabled me to work with a wide range of people on projects I’d never expected to be involved in. In a few weeks time, we’ll be welcoming the next placement student. I’ll be sure to give them that glossary.

Sarah Joyner

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