Friday, August 17, 2007

Are British A Levels Getting Easier?

Well, yes and no. - Just the answer you would expect from an Economist...

The % of grades As seems to increase remorslessly every year - for the past 25 years, to be exact. We now have a situation where 25% of A levels get the top grade A, compared to about 12% 25 years ago. The problem is that it is getting increasingly difficult for university's and employers to distinguish between the top candidates.

Within the 25% of candidates who get a grade A, there is a big difference between the top grade A's and those that just squeeze through the A grade boundary. The A level system is now failing to discriminate amongst students. If this continues to occur, Universities will have to look to other means to select candidates.

Are standards slipping or getting better?

The increase in % of grade A's, is not because British students have doubled their intelligence, nor is it because they are working harder. It is simply that the boundaries have been lowered. The fault lies with the government and the QCA. They simply want more people to get grade A's by lowering the grade boundaries and / or encouraging questions which can be given more marks. If necessary A grade boundaries can be lowered to 50% or less. (This is of course hidden by the UMS system, which is a way of hiding the true "raw" mark.)

It is my belief that the standards have not fallen but nor have they got much better. A Levels still pose an intellectual challenge, the subject material is not easier than 25 years ago. Syllabuses have changed - some things have been left out, but also, other things have been tested more. Overall, the only thing that has been changed is that exam boards have been encouraged to give a higher % of candidates the top grades. We cannot blame the exam boards, they are merely following government advice.


  • A Levels still require a similar standard of understanding and application as in the past.
  • Standards are not slipping, but nor can we say with confidence they are rising. The % of candidates getting an A, is next to useless for determining the overall quality of education.
  • What has changed is that it is easier for a candidates to get a higher grade.
  • A system which gives 25% of candidates an A is failing the outstanding candidates. There should be greater discrimination at the top of the spectrum.
  • They will not reduce the % of candidates getting an A, therefore, they should introduce the A*. This will reward the very good candidates and make it easier for universities to get the best candidates.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You got your wish with the A* :)