Monday, 23 April 2012

A(nother) Level

I'm sitting at my desk, floundering away and writing this instead of revising. The interesting thing is that my mind is on work and grades and university and school and all of that an extremely large amount of the time, but that does not translate to revision particularly often.

Anyway, one thing I've been thinking about recently is the general perception and treatment of A levels. If you type 'a level grade inflation' into Google, some of the top articles talk about how the exams are apparently a joke and disgraceful, and this is a view that isn't just restricted to the press. When you meet people get the odd few sniggering about your A level choices; once I told someone I was going to study Philosophy, Politics and Economics and they burst out laughing about how I was doing a 'wishy-washy' degree and ought to study something 'useful.'

As for A levels as a whole, people feel justified in putting them down because the pass rate keeps on rising. In 2011 the pass rate was at a record 97.8%, an increase of 10.1% from 87.7%, just 14 years previously. The general argument that I've read is that modules and retakes make things a lot easier, there is more teaching to the exam, that sort of thing. However, I would argue that this doesn't necessarily make things easier for A level students. The new A* grade, for both GCSE and A Level, helps to differentiate candidates further, and lots of people hold offers that require them to achieve the new A* grade which they would not have had to achieve a few years ago. Importantly, as everyone who has taken A level modules will know, it's not as if an 80% in an exam suddenly guarantees you an A; how well you do is very much dependent on what other people achieve also, because of the standardised UMS marking scheme. For example, for Maths, one of my subjects, the raw mark that delivers 80 UMS, an A, can be up to around 65/75 - whereas for Philosophy it can be around 55/90. That's 87% in raw terms compared to 61%.

In this way, there is no such thing as an easy paper because you're judged in relation to your peers. My Economics teacher always likes to joke about how we should only start to panic in an exam if we're finding it ridiculously easy, because apparently that means everyone else will be as well (I'm not sure that I agree with him, but the point stands....). Then there's the issue of the various insults people like to throw at particular subjects. Critical Thinking, for example, an AS level I took, is one of the more maligned subjects, yet I spoke to an academic at the university where I hope to study next year who said it was actually an A level that allows people to learn extremely useful, important skills and it is hindered mostly by its lack of popularity (though of course his view may not necessarily be shared by other academics). Also, if a university sees a subject as weak, it has the option of giving you an offer and then specifying which subjects they want you to achieve the grades in, in case they see one as being irrelevant or perhaps easier (one of mine did this).

Basically, I feel like it's wrong to say people can just trot off merrily into the sunset with weak applications and weak qualifications and just get everything they want 'unjustly.' I have learnt that there are so many precautions and requirements that students have to satisfy when applying to university; from the varying offers, to the personal statements, to the extra qualifications, to the specifications of offers.

...I don't know. It's an interesting topic of discussion. I'm not an expert, just someone experiencing the system. However it's something I'm really interested in so if you have any thoughts, even if they are in strong disagreement with mine, please feel free to leave a comment below!

In the meantime, I should get back to my revision. I'm wondering, how many other people find it absolutely impossible to revise without listening to music? I definitely need to feel like I'm enjoying myself in some way, even if most of my focus is on the page in front of my that I've been reading for the last 5 minutes without taking in a word. It takes away some of the monotony! However, I know loads of people find it completely distracting, so I guess it might depend on what kind of mood you're in.

Anyway that's it from me for the moment! If you've enjoyed reading this or found it helpful, you can let UCAS know here! As always, if you feel like sharing any ideas, thoughts, feedback and all of that, just let rip in the comments and I'll get back to you!

Emma

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