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A-level, the merits of..

evap 15 223 England
18 Aug 2005 5:42AM
This is an emotive subject as demonstrated by comments from students and teachers alike. And of course the press love these kind of topics.

This is my view on the whole situation - I would like to hear yours:

I took my A-Levels 8 years ago in Chemistry, Physics, Biology (and the completely useless General Studies). I got reasonable grades and went on to get a Masters in Chemistry.

From my experience I remember my A-levels being hard work, the hardest being physics because its was a couple of terminal exams where the others were modular. I also remember people taking less taxing subjects to boost their points tally for uni places.

I have heard it said from lecturers at uni that the level of knowledge they expect from an fresher is now less than 10-15 years ago. This points to one thing in my opinion, A-levels are not preparing student for university.

On the question of the difficulty perhaps a relative scale needs to be employed. If you were taught modern day GCSE's (almost certainly dumbed down) and then come up against modern A-levels perhaps it is as difficult as it was 25 years ago? This whole debate should not be perceived as a 'grown ups' vs. 'students' as it appears some are taking it.

I believe that all the whole education system has taken a slip backwards from GCSE to Degree - although universities do their best to keep the quality up - which can never be a good thing for the country. I think the attainment of targets set out by the government is a plague on the system, leading to lowering standards and students being taught to take exams.
digicammad 17 22.0k 39 United Kingdom
18 Aug 2005 5:47AM
The sooner they get rid of exams altogether and base qualifications upon course work the better. The only thing exams prove is how good you are at exams.

u08mcb 16 5.8k
18 Aug 2005 5:48AM
I think exams are probably getting easier. Thats no reflection on students and its not their fault. Sure students are advised to drop subjects they're likely to fail but I can't see that having enough impact for pass rates to increase year on year.

I think university exams also are getting easier. I lived with a mate who'd had to go through college before uni so when I was in my final year he was in his 1st; his essays and assignments were ridiculous, I could have done them in an hour.
kit-monster 17 3.7k 2 Singapore
18 Aug 2005 5:56AM
They've proved they are easier - 1986 'O' Level physics question set as a 1998 'A' Level physics question.
digicammad 17 22.0k 39 United Kingdom
18 Aug 2005 5:59AM
I feel sorry for the students who have knuckled down and worked hard, got straight A's and are then faced with people telling them they are worthless.
KatieR 16 6.2k 6
18 Aug 2005 6:04AM
This reaction isn't new, though - I did the first GCSEs and then some newish style A levels in 1990. There were nasty remarks made about those of us who did well. That's what some people get a kick out of, though, isn't it. As you say, the majority of people that get high grades have worked very hard and feel that they deserve them.
u08mcb 16 5.8k
18 Aug 2005 6:08AM
I think (or at least hope) there is a distinction between saying exams are getting easier and saying students are getting thicker.
csurry 18 9.2k 92
18 Aug 2005 6:08AM
Buy a degree off the internet and save all the costs of Uni. Plus it seems most employers don't bother to check validity anyway.

I think the problem started when they changed the rules for awarding grades. Originally the top x% got an A, then the next x% got a B and so on. That meant each year you could compare relatively one to the other within reason.

Then we got all namby pamby and like in sports where no one is allowed to lose, no one is allowed to fail. So we moved the goalposts and now so many get As it is ridiculous.

I know a lot do work really hard and deserve their grades. I also understand that as it is modular you can keep resubmitting parts to get the overall grade up. That just seems plain wrong. In real-life most times you get one crack and something. Failure is something we all have to learn at some point. Better sooner than later.

Yours failed 'O' level physics
Big Bri 19 16.6k United Kingdom
18 Aug 2005 6:12AM
I think they are "dumbing down" (awful phrase) because they want to get more people into University. And yet...

"Since 1997, we have closed 18 physics departments and 28 chemistry departments. As a result, we now produce only 3,000 Physics graduates a year. Compare that to an astonishing 15,000 psychologists!"

That quote is from James Dyson's [link=news.bbc.co.uk/1/shared/bsp/hi/pdfs/dyson_10_12_04.pdf]Richard Dimbleby Lecture[/link]

It makes for very interesting reading.
mlewis 16 1.5k United Kingdom
18 Aug 2005 6:19AM
Modular exams do not allow you to keep resubmitting parts to make up a grade. I did modular A-Levels and we were told that you could only resit each module once and the highest mark acheived would be the one used for the overall grade. When I was finishing my A-Levels this was changed so if you resat a module the mark you got in the resit was the one used for the overall grade even if it was lower the second time around.

Every year the media is full of people saying it was harder in the past. I think the people saying this loudly each year should do the current exams and exams from a few years ago and actually find out if it is true for themselves. They might also find out how much work is put in by people taking the exams and realise that the annual putting down is demoralising.

I finished my A-levels in 1997 so I do realise it is a bit different now.
KatieR 16 6.2k 6
18 Aug 2005 6:24AM
I found it strange - and I still do - that many unversities do not interview. There is a kind of automatic acceptance and then they have to keep their fingers crossed that enough people fail otherwise they're stuffed. I always thought it was silly, but then I realised that they are just after the money, not getting people on the right course for them to fufil their potential. They have to have an income, of course, but there are probably a lot of people who drop out because there was no one to point out to them that they might be applying for the wrong course at the wrong place. You still need guidance when you're only 17 or 18, I think. I did a lot of research and had lots of interviews and found the right place for me, but I know a lot of people made mistakes and have regrets about courses and places.
u08mcb 16 5.8k
18 Aug 2005 6:27AM
I disagree. My school was good at advising places to go for X or Y course, I'm not sure that's the job of the university.

Also it's pretty easy to switch course or even institute once you're at university.
KatieR 16 6.2k 6
18 Aug 2005 6:35AM
I think schools should certainly advise you, but some universities interview and others don't, so obviously some think it is their responsibility, others don't.
And yes, it is easy to switch courses at some places.
evap 15 223 England
18 Aug 2005 6:35AM
Universities are in it for the money, yes. But why? Because the pressure is on them from government to take as many students as possible - born out by the fact they are paid per student.

This is not the fault of the univeristies, I think they have to deal with the problems created down stream. Industry still wants a chemist that can function as a chemist when they walk out of the uni gates, not someone who is nearly there. Universities have the same 3 years they always have had, but they have more to teach.

As for producing 15,000 psychologists some would argue we are going to need them, when the country realises its economy has gone to pot because no-one wanted to study 'hard' subjects.
KatieR 16 6.2k 6
18 Aug 2005 6:44AM
Thinking about psychology, I know three people who studied it at university. One became a professional psychologist and I believe she still is. The second is a professional musician. The third is a primary school classroom teacher and part time music teacher.
I was one of a dozen, and apart from myself and one who went into teaching, the rest went into management consultancy or accountancy.
It is really interesting to see the degree subjects and the careers followed afterwards, I think.

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