Eh, Levels?


Yesterday results of the UK’s Advanced Level (A-Level) exams were announced, prompting a blip of excitement among university-bound British students and my own sympathetic blip of curiosity.

In case I haven’t mentioned it before, the exam culture in the UK (and perhaps the rest of the world) is a bit more pronounced than in the US. A-levels are subject exams taken over the final two years of secondary school (“sixth form”). Further, these exams are really important: whereas final-year American students often get a case of `senioritis‘ after sending off college applications, UK university offers are conditional on A-level performance. That means a student hasn’t secured a place at a university until this time of year, just two months before the academic term begins.

This year’s exam had the highest number of top marks, with over a quarter of students getting A’s. Starting next year, a new A* grade will be introduced for students who score over 90% on an exam. But the rising number of top marks has led some to think about an A** grade in the near future. And yet somehow my UK friends still seem perplexed when I try to explain grade inflation to them.

Apparently this is the time of year when critics of the A-level system can have their voice heard, a good summary of the arguments can be found in today’s The Guardian. Of more direct interest to this blog, Channel 4 reports that the low number of students taking the physics (among other sciences) A-level should have UK academics worried. Part of an explanation may be found in reports that some UK (and Australian) schools are discouraging students from taking difficult subjects—like math and science—so that the school’s overall test scores are better.

Congrats on all who did well on their exams.


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