For the past 14 years, if you sat A-levels, your final grade was based on a number of exams taken at different points across your two years of study. If you did badly at one, you could resit. Beyond giving more opportunities for improving grades, this process had two other advantages. First, universities could see the grades so far achieved by a student when they applied for a place. And second, students could drop subjects at the halfway point while still receiving a formal (AS) qualification.
From next September, however, the government has decreed that A-levels will return to being a two-year qualification. Exams will all be taken, just once, at the end of the two years’ study. The mid-point AS exams will be stripped out and offered as a standalone qualification.
At first, this doesn’t sound too much of a debacle. Won’t sixth forms just offer the standalone AS levels first and then have students sit the full A-level in their second year? Well, no. Because, in its wisdom, the government asked exam boards to make sure the materials don’t easily overlap. Ministers want students to either do the AS or the A-level, but not both.
So which do you take? No one knows. Cue debacle. Government sentiment is that the new A-levels are more “rigorous” and universities prefer them. Though given that almost all degree courses are modular, I expect “universities” is more likely to be ministerial shorthand for “my mates who are professors at a couple of Oxbridge colleges”.
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