Review 2018 Higher Level Paper

What a pleasant surprise! Opening the paper to find the question images in full colour. It seems like something that shouldn't be notable in 2018 but when you've been looking at black and white images (or no images at all) since the early 1980's, colour images make a real impact.

While the inclusion of question images has no doubt been a positive development, this change provides an opportunity for us to take a closer look at this innovation.

These images first appeared on the higher level paper in 2003 when their primary purpose was to provide visual interest.


It isn't until Q.10 2005 that it would be fair to say that the question couldn't have been answered without reference to the image. From this point on, most of the images fall into either of these two categories; visual interest or core part of the question.

In the 2010 paper the images were a core part of the question in 5 of the 11 questions on the paper. Looking through the papers, this is about typical: four of the questions on this year's paper were based on an image.

There are several positive points worth noting in relation to these images:

  1. they make the paper more visually interesting,
  2. they provide a useful stimulus/ support for the candidates,
  3. they help the candidates save time when selecting which questions to answer,
  4. they provide a guide for the type of sketch that is required to answer the question,
  5. they allow the examiner to specify the parameters of a question quite clearly (e.g. providing the dimensions of a room),
  6. they give the examiner an opportunity to 'set the agenda' (e.g. 2009 Q3 showing window frames should be insulated).

There are a few downsides though:

  1. they can be too leading (e.g. 2012 Q4 where the image is the solution),
  2. they can be too prescriptive (e.g. 2017 Q2 where the solution is already decided),
  3. the use of colour has to be carefully judged; the colouring should follow best practice and not be a distraction. For example, in questions (2018) 3, 6 & 10 the use of blue and pink in the floor plans is not helpful (especially when these colours are usually used to show supply and extract zones in ventilation drawings).

Clearly, the positives outweigh the negatives but there is a balance to be struck and careful consideration needs to be given to the function and effect of every image included.

Overall, this year's paper was very much in line with previous years. The examiner continued to emphasise sustainable low-energy design. It is great to see the continued emphasis on passive design and the use of sustainable materials. There was a good balance between architectural design questions and architectural detailing questions. Question 4 on rural design was a clever iteration of last year's question.

As teachers of Construction Studies, we have much to be thankful for; the examiner has over the last 15 years used the exam paper to guide teachers toward topics that are at the cutting edge of the industry while also keeping a firm eye on the core values of the subject (respect for the planet, respect for natural resources, respect for our rural and built heritage). The primacy of design in Construction Studies has been made evident in every paper. 

More than anything, the examiner has always provided a fair test that has allowed our students to show what they have learned.

Those of us who have soldiered in the trenches of the marking for many a summer will know that there is a 'changing of guard' afoot. It truly is the end of an era; I learned so much from Sean and I want thank him for his outstanding leadership and service. Bon voyage!

I expect it won't be long until we see the process to revise the now very old Construction Studies syllabus commence. Let's hope those involved won't lose sight of what we already have and that the future version of this subject retains the values and qualities we perhaps take somewhat for granted at present.