A-levels ignore real knowledge

1st September 2006 at 01:00
Having just received my A-level grades, I feel that the debate about them seems to be missing the point.

The real problem is rigidity. You have constantly to second-guess what is in the examiner's head. The only way to achieve good grades in, for example, biology or chemistry is by in-depth study of past exam questions and mark schemes to determine what type of answer is deemed correct.

The effect of this is that the entire two-year syllabus is taught to the exams. My chemistry class excelled at chemistry exams, but most knew very little about chemistry as a subject.

Adding an A* grade to differentiate one type of student from another would not therefore help the universities, since all that A-level exams test at the moment is memory and exam skills. There is absolutely no reward for background knowledge, wider understanding or love of the subject.

And yet there is an exam which would function like a genuine A* and it puzzles me why it is never mentioned in the debates: the Advanced Extension Award. I took this in biology and found it to be the only place in the entire two years where I could breathe. Why do universities ignore it?

A-levels do need an overhaul, but it is too simplistic to just make them more difficult.The syllabus needs opening out to allow genuine knowledge a look-in. Sort this out and the difficulty issue will take care of itself.

David Jones

Downlands

3 Down Lane

Braunton, Devon

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