I was in the last year group to do the old style A levels, before AS levels became so common. Back then the norm was to do 3 and only very motivated/academic people did 4. With the new system, 3.5-4 became more common.
University offers are made on the basis of predicted grades, but they are only conditional offers i.e. if you don't get those grades there is no guarantee that your offer will still stand.
The A* grade hasn't yet been brought in (AFAIK) but it does seem to be on the cards. I think there is a place for it - the range of marks that can give you an A is quite broad and I think there is room for subclassification.
I did science and maths A levels which I think were a good preparation for uni, but that was partly because of the way my sixth form college taught them (we were encouraged to do a lot more self-directed learning in science than one might have done in a school). I think A level maths on its own is probably inadequate preparation for a degree in maths - ideally one should do 2 maths A levels, but I think this has always been the case.
I think there may be a very very small fraction of truth in media claims. However, I think the exams are just different now than they were. Its no more about geography meaning you learn all the countries and their rivers lol - its about learning how to critically evaluate and use more of the skills you need at uni. I honestly think more people are getting better grades because they know how to take an exam. I know my dad was shocked when I told him not to bother 'getting the books out' when he wanted to teach me about history. If it wasn't on the syllabus I didn't want to know - and you can work out which parts of the syllabus will be examined and from there revise only concentrated parts of the subject. Basically the whole 2 years is a cramming session for several sections of the exam which is why people come out with great grades - but probably KNOW less about the subject (unless it stays in their short term memory more than 5 mins after exam!)
Most of the media talk is a load of daily mail rubbish - my mother in law listens to london talk radio with Nick Ferrari - god is it a load of tosh! They were trying to get all irate the other day saying 30% of children CAN'T READ!!!! - by the end of his show the figure had gone up to about 90% and he was proposing that they should be caned lol
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The Scottish Highers system has quite a lot going for it in terms of breadth of coverage. It's possible to cover a much broader range of subjects than at A Levels, allowing pupils to pursue more interests and not specialise so quickly. It's a tradition that's followed in the first year at Scottish universities (out of a 4 year degree) where breadth is still the name of the game. I was glad I could study both arts/humanities and science subjects at Higher level for example, though I was being pushed very much towards the science line. I took 5 Highers in my 5th year and another in my 6th. It's also nice to get firm university offers (not provisional) on the basis of the Highers results, allowing another year if wanted to study other subjects flexibly, either at CSYS (Certificate of Sixth Year Studies) or more Highers or whatever levels. On the downside Highers aren't quite as in-depth as A Levels, but I think that's a price worth paying for greater breadth and flexibility.
When I did my A levels - all science subjects, we had to do about a third of the syllabus for each subject on our own in our own time, for example in chemistry we had to do the entire inorganic section on our own - and one of the compulsory questions on the exam paper involved a huge grid where they asked you an awful lot about all of it, so there was no picking and choosing which bits to do - but this was simply because there was not enough time to fit it all in. We also did a lot of practical work. Now there is less practical work, and whereas we did at least one titration every week, now they do about half a dozen at the most. Also, since they have increased the width of the subjects - or so it seems- how can they manage to keep the depth? Is that why I have people in my dept who can't dilute sulphuric acid without me checking to see they know how to do it, have no idea when you need to use a fume cupboard when making solutions etc. and think that by having a degree you become immune to harmful materials? The system seems to have gone for less root and more branch, great for most I suppose, but not good enough for those needing a more solid base. So easier in one respect, but as hard in another I suppose. Times change.
However I can't see the need for A* they used to make sure that every year only a certain percentage got each grade, and adjusted the pass mark to produce this, they could do the same now I suppose?
A* does seem to be a bit 'this one goes all the way to 11' - Spinal Tap lol.
Hmmm, I think highers are good in the sense that you can take more of them, but then the Scottish degrees tend to take an extra year which seems to be making up for the fact that people with highers haven't covered the same depth of material as people with A-levels, although they have more breadth. I took A-levels and went to Edinburgh Uni and was offered the chance to go straight into second year because I had four good A-levels and the first year of the degree (in Biology) was basically to make sure that people with highers and A-levels were up to the same standard. I don't know if this is the same for all subjects at the uni or not. I turned down the offer of going straight into second year because I fancied a nice chilled out year (!) but this meant I could basically take whatever modules I wanted in my first year (only 2 out of the 6 modules I took were actually related to my degree title!) which was quite nice. I ended up taking 2 outside modules in Psychology, really enjoyed them and part way through second year decided to leave my biology degree to do clinical psychology at a different uni so their system kind of backfired on them a little! And here I am, PhD-ing in clinical psychology still. Very glad I took those outside modules! KB
I'm actually in favour of the extra year, though for cost reasons it isn't so good. I was offered the chance to go straight into second year at uni too for my computing degree, on the basis of my Highers and CSYS exams (the latter taking things at least to A Level standard and possibly a bit beyond). But I wanted the first year to find my feet at the uni, and the chance to study more subjects in breadth. Economically not so good of course.
I got a D and two E's for my A Levels 8-)
I'm always thankful that I decided to go into work instead of to University - 8 years later and the guilt of doing so badly at my A Levels and being so very very bored of work mean that I'm looking at a 2:1 generally, and a first if I get my ass into gear.
Age does wonders for the work ethic! (As well as the fact that A Level grades are disregarded when you're a mature student... *phew*)
Great thread, I remember my A-levels in 2003, i got AABB (+ D for general studies, never used to go to lessons). This was quite a significant improvement on GCSEs (4 A's and 6 B's. remember A stars were available) and went on to get a 1st, and here I am, at a 60's modern Uni, hopefully handing in at Christmas, if i can control my procrastination and my boss gets her act together and reads my thesis.
GCSE's can be a very deceptive thing in my opinion. When i look around at those who considerably outperformed me, a large number went on to struggle with A-levels and degree, although they do also all have jobs and a steady career by now.........
My biggest recollection from schooldays was being pigeonholed as gifted but lazy, because I was gifted, I think I was mostly left alone to do as I pleased, whilst teachers concentrated on the other kids, so I was never really pushed. Moving to a new sixth form did a lot for me, I left my comfort zone, old friends, and bad habits behind.
Anyway, great thread, my message is move sixth form after year 11, or at least dare to leave your comfort zones to understand your true abilities
Ah, memories... My A level result were a pretty big let-down (BBD when I needed ABC), but it was in the process of grovelling to my Uni asking if they'd still take me that I switched to a joint honours degree, which was the best thing that could have happened. I was a pretty average 2:2 student in my main subject - the one I'd been planning to study for a single honours degree - but did well enough in my subsidiary subject that I managed to get a 2:1 overall. I've since gone on to get an MA distinction in my subsid subject and am about to start a funded PhD. Funny how things work out... if I'd got better A Level results I reckon there's a real chance I'd have sleepwalked through a single-honours degree in a subject I didn't really enjoy studying (or have any real aptitude for) at that level, collected my 2:2, and that would have been that.
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