Examinations for the GCE and the CSE largely served to place pupils in rank order of ability, and there has not been any clear expression of each individual's achievement in absolute terms. Examinations have tested mainly the recall of facts and have tended to minimize the ability to reason, to solve problems, and to demonstrate successfully both practical and oral skills.
Examinations are theoretically designed to test what has been learned. The view has frequently been expressed that there was a time when public examinations dictated the content of upper school syllabuses, teaching methods and the mode of assessment. The commonly-held belief that the examination boards, particularly those associated with the General Certificate of Education, were ivory towers surrounded protectively by university thinking prevailed until the introduction of the GCSE. The lobby of those associated with Technical and Vocational Education Initiative (TVEI) curriculum development has done much to bring about rapid changes in assessment and certification.
The Mode 3 facility, promoted strongly by the former CSE boards, has always emphasized active teacher participation in the design, implementation, assessment, and moderation of new courses suited to the needs of particular groups of pupils. This examination option is again being promoted vigorously within the GCSE, and has included significant developments in new curriculum areas, such as information technology and the introduction of modular schemes.
All courses within the GCSE include significant coursework components assessed by the teachers themselves according to prescribed criteria. This continuous assessment element of the GCSE has helped somewhat to correct the over-