A-Level Results

I'm not one who usually jumps on the band wagon of slagging off modern exams as being too easy, but having just read the reports in the Times of some students results I must confess to being a bit worried.

One young lady and another young man achieved eight A* at A-Level each.  This tells me that at least one of the following things is likely to be true:
  • They have chosen subjects that are very easy;
  • They have chosen difficult subjects that are hard but the content of the syllabus and exams are too easy;
  • They are in desperate need of a life; or
  • They are both geniuses and will one day rule us all... or attend Comic-Con regularly.
I note that the young man's haul includes "critical thinking" and "general studies" both or which are joke qualifications.  In fairness, almost everything else he studied sounds bloody difficult to me: chemistry, maths, further maths, economics and history.  The remaining one is business studies, which could be difficult or not depending on what you are studying I suppose.  I did a GCSE in it and it wasn't that hard.

The paper also reports on one 13-year-old (who co-incidentally goes to my girlfriend's old college) who scored an A* in physics and an A in chemistry but took just a single year rather than two to obtain these grades (presumably an academic year, so about 9 or 10 months instead of a real year).

Like I said at the start, I don't normally join in with this yearly obsession of doing down A-Levels, but when a child can clip through two in half the time it's supposed to take to do one and others are knocking down eight in a stride you have to ask yourself if these exams are still the gold standard in education. When I did mine 3 was standard, although a friend did do 4 proper courses plus general studies, which incidentally he got an A in without ever attending a lecture!  He also barely had a life for two-years and claimed afterwards that it had been a mistake as there simply wasn't enough time to devote to each subject.


  1. Before being allowed to join Uni, my younger sister had to do an A-level in General Studies, it had nothing to do with the degree course she wanted to join. I think it was a tick box exercise to give her the correct number of 'points'.

    I am studying Engineering part time at the moment, 5 years one day a week. Its a very difficult subject and requires more time studying outside of Uni than it does attending lectures.

    However, whilst working in industry I have met graduates who have very little ability to communicate using the writen word. Part of the criteria that I am marked on for coursework is the writen word upto 15% and the use of refences up to 10%. Potentenial I could lose 25% for poor communication skills, which would bar any ideas of a first, this in a subject that has its basis in numbers and theorum.

  2. To be fair I should qualify the above by saying I have met far more graduates who are smart, able to communicate and a credit to their subject.

  3. I like the sound of 'critical thinking', Could have done with that before going on to study literature and philosophy.

  4. I think that many unis do not accept General Studies as a qualifying A level for their courses. So when they ask for AAA, they have to be from other subjects. Uni of Sheffield does accept it though (or did when I applied in 2006). In the end I got in without GS, but still.

    I think GS is a missed opportunity; it could be a subject which gives students an understanding of the wider world, outside their specialisms. Effectively, it should be the equivalent of reading a broadsheet in class and having someone explain the issues behind each article. It should look at unrest in the Arab world, the economics behind the recession, the reforms to legal aid; topics which wouldn't be covered fully anywhere else in the syllabus of any other subject, because the textbooks haven't been written yet.


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