If you’re thinking about taking A-levels as your next step up the educational ladder, watch out for the changes in the way you’ll be tested and marked.
The biggest single change to the way A-levels are graded is that the modular system introduced in 2000, which your older brothers and sisters would have studied under, is to be scrapped. The Government’s new system for A-levels means that instead of taking exams every six months, students will sit just one set of papers at the end of their two-year course. The idea is that instead of being able to cram for each six-monthly set of exams, students will need to draw on what they’ve learned from the entire two years of study. They’ll also have to demonstrate a full understanding of the subject as a whole in order to pass.
It is not only how the A-levels are being tested that is changing but also the actual focus of the exams, to make them better resemble university final year exams. Rather than just expecting students to regurgitate facts, there will be an increased focus on improving their analytical skills, enabling them to present a comprehensive, detailed argument and show that they have in-depth knowledge of each subject as a whole.
The hope is that by pushing the exams to the end of the two year A-level course it will remove the ‘retake culture’ of students who end up resitting exams for separate modules over and over again, and offering a better understanding of a subject, rather than simply learning facts off by heart.
What does this mean for AS levels?
The changes mean that AS marks will no longer count towards final A-level grades, and it looks fairly likely that AS levels will be phased out sooner rather than later. The downside is that poor marks in early AS levels exams were often used as a wake-up call to motivate underperforming students but with these no longer available, some students may find a nasty surprise when it comes to receiving their A-level results! However, if teachers are proactive in picking up struggling students, this shouldn’t be such a big problem.
How about coursework for A-levels?
The changes also mean that there will be less coursework, with a greater emphasis placed on the final exams. However, there will be exceptions, depending on which subjects you study. Final grades for Art and Design A-level, for example, will be assessed by accumulated marks gained through submitting regular coursework. In academic subjects, such as in science, practical work will still play an important part in the syllabus but marks for practical experiments won’t count towards final A-level grades.
Will course content for A-levels change?
There have been no great changes made to the content of most A level syllabuses – although there may have been a few tweaks here and there. Dr. Steven Evans, head of general qualifications reform at exam board OCR, revealed, “For example, history is moving beyond the old ‘Hitler and the Henries’ approach, with new topics such as the Anglo-Saxons, African kingdoms, and 19th and 20th century China.”
The one subject set for significant change is maths, which will now have a totally mandatory syllabus to ensure that core content isn’t missed. There will also be greater mathematical content in the syllabus for each of the sciences.
When will changes to A-levels happen?
The new A-levels are being introduced slowly. Some students who are studying subjects like English, history, economics, and science are already being tested using the new system (as of September 2015). Other subjects, including geography, modern foreign languages, P.E., and R.S., will adopt the new system from September 2016. To fully complete the cycle of change, all the remaining subjects including maths, will be tested using the new system from September 2017.
What will be the impact of the changes to A-levels be on students?
The hope is that the new system of A-levels will be a better way to prepare students for university, where studies become increasingly analytical in nature, with more emphasis on independent thinking and original ideas and less emphasis on rote learning.
However, there is an element of irony in the changes, which have been introduced at the behest of universities. When it comes to admissions, the lack of AS level grades means that universities may have to rely on the less-reliable predicted grades and GCSE results to determine provisional offers for the next few years, until the new system settles down.