The pitfalls and positives of pop comparability
The media debate about standards in public examinations has become an August ritual. The debate tends to be polarised with reports of 'slipping standards' at odds with those claiming that educational prowess has increased. Some organisations have taken matters into their own hands, and have carried out their own studies investigating this. Some of these are similar to academic papers; others are closer in nature to a media campaign. In the same way as 'pop psychology' is a term used to describe psychological concepts which attain popularity amongst the wider public, so 'pop comparability' can be used to describe the evolution of a lay-person's view of comparability. Studies, articles or programmes which influence this wider view fall into this category and are often accessed by a much larger audience than academic papers. In this article, five of these studies are considered: Series 1 of the televised social experiment "That'll Teach 'em"; The Royal Society of Chemistry's Five-Decade Challenge; the Guardian's and the Times' journalists (re)sitting examinations to experience their difficulty; a feature by the BBC Radio 4 programme, 'Today' (2009), where students discussed exam papers from 1936; and a book of O level past papers and an associated newspaper article which described students' experiences of sitting the O level exams.