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Its the annual A-level debate

First of all I want to make it plain that this isnt saying 'A-levels are easier'.

With coming onto a 1/3rd of students getting A's at A-level, what is the future for it? Surely supply and demand works here just as anywhere, if there are more A's they are going to be worth less (that has nothing to do with effort or how hard the exams are).

So, what do we do? There is the option of giving set amounts of each band, the top 10% get an A for example, but that's potentially quite cruel and depends highly on the years intake.

Scrap the whole lot and start again?
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Comments

  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,323 The Mix Honorary Guru
    Well I wouldn't say A-Levels are getting easier. But it's obvious that students aren't getting that much better at subjects that quickly. Obviously, the ability to retake modules is a factor, but you've been able to do that for a while now, and results are still getting better.

    But obviously students are getting better at something, and to me, it's got to be passing exams. My year was the first year to do the whole AS/A2 exams, and I did one in media studies. Now the plan in the second year was that we would spend most of the first half of the year doing print media, and focus a bit more on film in the second half of the year. But after Christmas, our tutors came back from a meeting with the exam board, where they'd been given a "strong indication" that the exam would be on print media. And you'll never guess what happened. We didn't do any more film for the rest of the year, and spent every lesson from then until the exam on print media. That's not a rounded education in media studies, it's an education in passing a media studies exam. Coursework is supposed to prevent this sort of thing, but it seems to be worse than ever. In the same week that my cousin was awarded an A at A-Level English Language, she asked me to proof read a job application letter for her. Her grammar and spelling was all over the place, even with a spell checker. I have no doubt she worked really hard and did a great job in passing the exam. Whether the exam is a accurate reflection of your ability in that subject is another matter. Having said all that, there is no doubt that education has improved in the last ten years too, just not by that much imo.

    I don't agree with the idea of limiting the number of a particular grade to a certain percentage. If you've reached a certain standard in an exam, then you should be awarded the grade that that standard requires.

    Incidentally, I don't understand the whinging from the universities that they can't tell A-grade students apart. They're the only institutions that ever get to look at the individual module grades in full. If you can't judge between two candidates with that information, then you really shouldn't be in the business of picking applicants. Maybe this information should be on the A-Level certificates too?
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,323 The Mix Honorary Guru
    I dont see why they cant rank and use grades at the same time.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,323 The Mix Honorary Guru
    Whether A levels are getting easier or not is an interesting question.

    There are a couple of details that are hard to argue against like effectively reducing the content of Maths A level by 1/6 a couple of years ago. It's a little tricky to do that and then try and say it's not getting easier.

    I definitely agree that people are being taught to pass exams, the exams are so very similar year on year that you can know relatively little about a subject but do very well by being taught to answer the questions.

    Another thing that will push the grades up is the increase in 'new' subjects, A levels used to be very academic qualifications in traditional subjects. With the advent of the wide range of subjects including film and media studies there are suddenly a lot more A levels being taken in subjects that are accessible to far more people.

    A good teacher could teach a keen pupil to high grade in a lot of the 'studies' type subjects, whereas however good the teacher is and how keen the pupil is far more people will really struggle to do well in the traditional maths/english/sciences. To my mind this means that as a reasonably bright 6th form student you can get higher grades by taking more general 'studies' type subjects.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,323 The Mix Honorary Guru
    But obviously students are getting better at something, and to me, it's got to be passing exams.

    Incidentally, I don't understand the whinging from the universities that they can't tell A-grade students apart. They're the only institutions that ever get to look at the individual module grades in full. If you can't judge between two candidates with that information, then you really shouldn't be in the business of picking applicants. Maybe this information should be on the A-Level certificates too?

    I think that first point is pretty much the most important one in this debate, what are A-levels actually for? Are they just a stepping stone and there just to test how well you might function at university, or are they about imparting learning useful in (for want of a better phrase) 'real life'.

    Sounds like a good way forward, Ms. X got an A grade (85%) would allow for easier differentiation between students.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,323 The Mix Honorary Guru
    Another thing that will push the grades up is the increase in 'new' subjects, A levels used to be very academic qualifications in traditional subjects. With the advent of the wide range of subjects including film and media studies there are suddenly a lot more A levels being taken in subjects that are accessible to far more people.

    I think that individual A-Levels are becoming quite specialized tbh, and that's a double edged sword. On the one hand, having an A-Level in film studies allows universities to raise the standards of film studies degrees because it prepares students more thoroughly to study film. But on the other hand, it only prepares students to study film. The more specialized you get into a particular field (and film studies, media studies and English literature are all essentially teaching the same skills) the less useful it becomes in helping you in any other discipline imo. If you did media studies, film studies, and English literature, you would be learning exactly the same thing using three different mediums. And tbh, sociology and psychology don't exactly add much to this range of skills either. Which is why I think the structure of the International Baccalaureate is so impressive, because it maintains that variety of different learning methods, and requires students to do all of them.

    Interestingly though, the student who does biology, physics, chemistry and maths has exactly the same problem, but is rarely criticised in the same way. I reckon everyone who does science should also be forced to do philosophy. :p
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,323 The Mix Honorary Guru
    You see I'd beg to differ.

    While Maths supports Physics/Chemistry they are essentially very different subjects.

    I suspect if you gave an english/media/film studies student a course book, a couple of hours to read it and then asked them to take a media/film exam they'd do ok.

    There's no way that would work with Maths/Physics/Chemistry/Biology.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,323 The Mix Honorary Guru
    That's more down to requiring specialist knowledge though. The basic principles of scientific process are the same in all of them though (maybe slightly less so in maths). There is specialist knowledge in film too. An English student wouldn't know what to look for in a scene they are required to study. The point though, is that they would know the method of examining and studying a piece of art or media, which should prepare them for a degree in any similar area. But like I said, perhaps the amount of specialization does result in a higher standard of degree.

    I agree science is slightly odd though. It goes:

    Math > physics > chemistry > biology.

    And each one can be helped by the ones preceding it, but not so much the other way around. It's not so much whether you can sit someone from one discipline in an exam and expect them to pass, it's more about how easily someone can adapt from learning one discipline to another. Someone who has learned maths will adapt to physics fairly easily, in the same way that someone who's done English Lit will adapt to media studies easily.

    I guess the fundamental question is when should to rounded education stop, and students be required to go down a particular path?
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,323 The Mix Honorary Guru
    Well I think alot of it is to do with different subjects being at different levels of difficulty. Subjects like English Lit and Sociology (which i've just done) are very skills based. You have to have a reasonable amount of knowledge but it's your ability to use the info you're given and to do whatever you need to do with it effectively and succinctly. Which is something I'm better at. I also did biology (i heard it's the hardest of the sciences) which was very hard, I only scraped a D. You need to be able to remember alot of things in alot of detail to be able to answer specific questions and then be able to answer an essay question that could be on anything from over the 2 years. Which i did crap on. My memory isn't great so I struggle more on those kind of subjects - even though I find biology really interesting. And because you can choose your subjects, students usually go for the subjects they know they're likely to do better in. The people who did geography said it was really easy and not much different to GCSE, whereas the sciences are alot harder. If the easier subjects were made harder then that might change things. But it's also different on each exam board. It'll be interesting to see what happens when the new A* grade comes in.
    I do know AQA Psychology has been made easier, because I was one of the last to do the current one (AS) and it wasn't all that difficult. You get asked the same questions each year but just about different topics of study. I remember my tutors saying the new one was stupidly easy.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,323 The Mix Honorary Guru
    At the risk of sounding very old and conservative (note the small c) what do people who have done media or film studies at either A-level or as a degree go on to do? Surly there cant be that many jobs being a critic.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,323 The Mix Honorary Guru
    I guess the fundamental question is when should to rounded education stop, and students be required to go down a particular path?

    I think 6th form is a reasonable point to forcing people to do a broad spectrum.

    I did Maths, F Maths, Physics, Chemistry and Latin at some point during 6th form and alongside my other activities that has given me a well rounded education. I got far more out of debating than I would have done from being taught english or philosophy or the like.

    That said I was taught Physics and Chemistry by people who were passionate about their subject and who were teaching me the subject, rather than how to pass the exam.

    Getting high grades at A level is getting easier, because the exams are getting more predictable and people are taught to a formula to pass them. The level of the exam may not be easier, but it'sa damn site easier to get the marks if you have a good idea of what the questions are going to be.

    I did some A level maths tutoring for someone, who I'll say now knew naff all about mechanics but in 6 hours tutoring and doing some practise papers got the module mark up from a U to a B and that was because I knew that there were 7 questions on the paper, which would be one of 9 scenarios. Learn to recipe to solve each of those 9 and voila, lots of marks.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,323 The Mix Honorary Guru
    budda wrote: »
    At the risk of sounding very old and conservative (note the small c) what do people who have done media or film studies at either A-level or as a degree go on to do? Surly there cant be that many jobs being a critic.

    And are they better qualified to do so than someone with a qualification in a more traditional subject and experience? It might just be the stuff I come across but a lot of journo type jobs seem to favour English Degrees over media type ones.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,323 The Mix Honorary Guru
    And are they better qualified to do so than someone with a qualification in a more traditional subject and experience? It might just be the stuff I come across but a lot of journo type jobs seem to favour English Degrees over media type ones.

    Maybe it is just me, but the more traditional subjects like History or English give the person a wider range of experience.

    I understand that media studies probably helps with critical thinking, but it does seem a little limiting.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,323 The Mix Honorary Guru
    budda wrote: »
    At the risk of sounding very old and conservative (note the small c) what do people who have done media or film studies at either A-level or as a degree go on to do? Surly there cant be that many jobs being a critic.

    What does history do - there's not many jobs as historians either.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,323 The Mix Honorary Guru
    What does history do - there's not many jobs as historians either.

    Critical thinking, evaluating sources, report writing, communicating ideas...etc.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,323 The Mix Honorary Guru
    budda wrote: »
    At the risk of sounding very old and conservative (note the small c) what do people who have done media or film studies at either A-level or as a degree go on to do? Surly there cant be that many jobs being a critic.

    3 working on Doctor Who, 1 working on X Factor, 1 working on some celebrity programme. ;) They're just the people I've heard about.

    Oh, and 3 including myself, teaching English to foreigners. :p
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,323 The Mix Honorary Guru
    3 working on Doctor Who, 1 working on X Factor, 1 working on some celebrity programme. ;) They're just the people I've heard about.

    Oh, and 3 including myself, teaching English to foreigners. :p

    Fair enough I suppose, all of these sorts of A-levels were largely brought in after me so I dont know what they cover. I still think History or English are more proper subjects though.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,323 The Mix Honorary Guru
    What do history and english graduates do incidentally? History students always seemed to spend about 4 hours a week in lectures and the rest of the time in the library*.

    *Pub.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,323 The Mix Honorary Guru
    What do history and english graduates do incidentally? History students always seemed to spend about 4 hours a week in lectures and the rest of the time in the library*.

    *Pub.

    That's why History is a serious a proper subject, you're not spoon fed, you have to do most of the work yourself.

    Any number of things, editing journals or other publications, working in the educational sector, teaching, administration - granted not many positions are as exciting as working for Dr Who.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,323 The Mix Honorary Guru
    What do history and english graduates do incidentally? History students always seemed to spend about 4 hours a week in lectures and the rest of the time in the library*.

    *Pub.

    Pretty much sums up my degree in History. :thumb:
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,323 The Mix Honorary Guru
    budda wrote: »
    That's why History is a serious a proper subject, you're not spoon fed, you have to do most of the work yourself.
    Is that a nice way of saying the lecturers are lazy bastards?
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,323 The Mix Honorary Guru
    Is that a nice way of saying the lecturers are lazy bastards?

    Well I wouldnt put it like that. Its more to do with an old fashioned and very English way of teaching, in the US History degrees are far less open and based a lot less on individual study.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,323 The Mix Honorary Guru
    I think the media (as usual) is being extremely misleading. It says 97.2% of people passed their a-levels. I'm sorry, but E's and D's are barely a pass, more should be made of the students who got C or above. And how does anyone know they're getting easier....? it's entirely subjective.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,323 The Mix Honorary Guru
    Whowhere wrote: »
    I think the media (as usual) is being extremely misleading. It says 97.2% of people passed their a-levels. I'm sorry, but E's and D's are barely a pass, more should be made of the students who got C or above. And how does anyone know they're getting easier....? it's entirely subjective.

    Whether they are getting harder or easier isnt really the point, when 35.4% of NI students get an A they are worth less.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,323 The Mix Honorary Guru
    budda wrote: »
    Critical thinking, evaluating sources, report writing, communicating ideas...etc.

    But won't film studies teach you many of these things as well?
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,323 The Mix Honorary Guru
    budda wrote: »
    Whether they are getting harder or easier isnt really the point, when 35.4% of NI students get an A they are worth less.

    Doesn't that just say we Northern Irish are brighter than you English :p
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,323 The Mix Honorary Guru
    Whowhere wrote: »
    And how does anyone know they're getting easier....? it's entirely subjective.

    Well Maths got easier about 3 years ago, they reduced the content by 1/6. That's not really subjective.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,323 The Mix Honorary Guru
    But won't film studies teach you many of these things as well?

    I suppose it might, but sitting about and watching films doesnt give you the geo-political breadth of knowledge that History will.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,323 The Mix Honorary Guru
    budda wrote: »
    I suppose it might, but sitting about and watching films doesnt give you the geo-political breadth of knowledge that History will.

    I love history but I can't think of one time I've ever had to use my knowledge of how chivarly and religion banded together in medieval warfare.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,323 The Mix Honorary Guru
    Whowhere wrote: »
    I think the media (as usual) is being extremely misleading. It says 97.2% of people passed their a-levels. I'm sorry, but E's and D's are barely a pass, more should be made of the students who got C or above. And how does anyone know they're getting easier....? it's entirely subjective.

    You still need 40% for a pass (E), which is alot higher than at GCSE.
  • Former MemberFormer Member Posts: 1,876,323 The Mix Honorary Guru
    budda wrote: »
    I suppose it might, but sitting about and watching films doesnt give you the geo-political breadth of knowledge that History will.

    Of course it doesn't. That's precisely what you are studying in history, so why would film studies have you studying it in the same detail? If I was to study the use of propaganda in 20th century history on a film studies course, there would be a hell of a lot of detail in the film studies course that wouldn't be present in the history course and vice-versa. The geo-political background of the situation isn't massively important in the film studies essay, but would probably form a bigger part of the history essay. The artistic choices, media control and research into affects on audiences would come to the fore in the film studies essay, but probably wouldn't even be present in the history essay (with the possible exception of media control).
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