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What we need to know from the New GAT Examiners' Report

June 01, 2023 by Doug McCurry from BooBook Education

It has been remarkable that the VCAA has not produced examiners' reports for the 28 versions of the old GAT.

This anomaly was perhaps justified on the basis that the GAT was a low stakes assessment for students. The situation has changed with the new GAT.

Section A of the new GAT is a high stakes test for individuals in that, unlike the exams, they are assessed to be either below standard, at standard or above standard in reading, writing and numeracy. There may be times in the future when students are asked to declare their GAT Section A assessment results, and it will be most undesirable to be below standard and desirable to be above standard. This assessment may in the future be more important than any subject score, particularly when there is widespread concern about the literacy and numeracy standards of young people. Given the literacy and numeracy testing of teachers for graduation, it is not unlikely that in the future tertiary institutions will start to ask applicants for their GAT Section A results in admission procedures.

The stakes for composite Section A and B has also gone up significantly as the result will be reported as a standardized score out of 50, as with the exams. The grading out of 50 will be to the curve, as they say.

Standardised Score







Proportion of students on or above this position (approximate)







Standardised Score as grades







Proportion of students in each grade (approximate)







These standarised scores tell readers of the report where the student stands in the group.

Three such scores will be given for Numeracy and reasoning in maths, science and technology, for Reading and reasoning in the humanities, arts and social sciences and for Writing and Written communication.

Given the high stakes of the GAT Section A and B there should be feedback to students and teachers from the assessment. And the feedback would need to be significantly more informative than the feedback from current English courses.

I wrote examiners' reports for VISE in the 1980s, and have written an examiners reports for VCAA Extended Investigation Test for the decade 2012 to 2021. My experiences of the 1980s and 2000s were quite different. The VCAA processes of the 2000s (I have recently read all the English reports of this century) offer little definitive commentary on exams, offer no sample answers other than a few exemplary snippets, and positively discourage discussion of weaknesses in student work in examiners' reports.

Having recently come back to thinking about advising students on how to deal with the English exam, I find that there is next to no information available about how the exam is marked. It seems that the only way to find out about the way markers are briefed is to review what happens to one's students for a decade or so, or, more definitely, become a marker to see how markers are briefed and what markers are told to do. As the new GAT is new and different, there is a real need for feedback from the test to teachers.

What do we need to know about the aims and the assessment of the new GAT writing tests?

What is the rationale for the design of the different tasks?
What are the criteria for assessment of both parts?
What are the characteristics of the different levels of performance?
Are the two parts assessed on the same or different levels or standards?
To what extent are the tests literacy tests that give primacy to control of language?
What is the relationship between quality of language and quality of thought in the writing assessments?
To what extent is complexity of language taken to be quality of thought in assessing writing?
To what extent is Section A writing a test of spelling, punctuation and grammar?
To what extent is Section A writing a test of reasoning and critical thinking?
To what extent is the quality of writing taken to be a matter of appropriateness and effectiveness of language in terms of purpose, audience and context, as in the English study?

We currently know nothing about these matters, and it should not be the case that the only way to find out about them is to become a marker of the tests.

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