'English A-level teaches the opposite of what is required for an English degree,' writes a university student

4th August 2015 at 10:01
English A-level

The transition from English A-level to studying English at university was one I anticipated eagerly. Yet, when I got to university, I realised that the training in essay writing I had been given in school was in fact the very opposite to what my university desired.

In sixth form, I had unlimited access to the advice and reading recommendations of my teachers and had been encouraged in my writing style – despite its dependence on flowery statements. I was also asked to target explicit marks that were generic in order for the examiner to give them credit.

This posed a stark contrast to the desired writing format I discovered at university, where an informed and intelligent response – created through individual research and unique interpretation – replaced the heavy reliance on my teachers’ advice and corrections in sixth form. Concise and structured arguments that offered personal takes on classic texts were encouraged and this is something that the A-level syllabus didn’t allow.

I was thrown in at the deep end. Not only does the way A-level English is structured make the transition to university harder, but I have come to realise that it stifles individual creativity.

I don’t blame my teachers – they gave me the confidence to apply for English in the first place and without their encouragement I definitely feel that I wouldn’t be where I am today. The problem is in the exams and the way they are constructed. The situation could easily be improved through a syllabus with a wider breadth of written skills. Similarly, willingness on behalf of the exam board to allow individual takes on a text and reward them would also vastly improve the current situation.

Finally, if greater communication between the two tiers of education to breach the gap can be achieved, I feel that the quality of writing from first-year university students could vastly increase.

Megan Ravenhall is in her second year studying English at the University of St Andrews 


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