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Saturday, 21 February 2009

Exams, Exams, Exams

Exams , exams, exams. In this post I will be discussing about national exams. I will also be talking about school admissions tests in the future.

In the UK, a student is expected to take at least their GCSEs. If they wish to progress to University, they must also take their A-levels. Some top UK private schools have started to use the IGCSE, which I will explain later on.

Whether the student is at a state school or at a private school, they all take GCSEs and A-levels. However the way the state and private schools prepare students for these exams make all the difference.

GCSEs (General Certificate of Secondary Education)

This exam is taken at age 15/16. All students are expected to take these subjects: Biology, Physics, Chemistry, Maths and English(Language and/or Literature). The student may also choose to take another 4 or 5 subjects such as History, Geography, Foreign Languages. A full list can be found here. However not all schools offer all these subjects, most schools only offer the most popular ones.

Some top schools (and International schools) have started to offer the IGCSE or International GCSE. These exams examines the student more thoroughly and provide a more in depth knowledge of the subject. Schools believe that the IGCSE is more challenging and thus stretches the pupil and also prepares them better for the sixth form.

The GCSEs are provided under many different exam boards, such as Edexcel, AQA, OCR, CIE, Edexcel International. All exam boards have different syllabuses for their subjects and schools prepare students for a subject especially for that exam board.

The importance of GCSEs cannot be emphasised enough. Top UK universities (Oxford, Cambridge...) look for students with excellent GCSEs. If a student attends a top private school, admissions tutors will expect them to have at least 6 A* at GCSE. So please do not think that GCSEs are not as important as A-levels. When admissions tutors select students for interviews, they will almost definitely use GCSE results.

A-Levels and AS-Levels

The A-Level (Advanced Level) is a two year course, however students take AS-Levels (Advanced Subsidiary Level) during their first year. Usually students take 3 or 4 subjects. Each subject is split into different units and are taken over the year. Universities require A-Levels for admissions to their courses, however, they do not have the students' A-level results when offering conditional offers. Therefore they rely on As-Levels and predictions when making decisions. The UK government has introduced the new A* grade, previously students could only receive A, B, C, D etc. This was a move to distinguish the best of the best. In order to gain the A* grade, excellent grades will be required in both A and AS level. Choosing the correct A-level to study is crucial, for example if you wish to study economics at university, certain A-levels must be taken (Maths).

1 comment:

  1. You don't need economics A-level to study economics at university. I studied economics at LSE, and many of my fellow students didn't study it at A-level.

    Due to its very mathematical nature studying economics at degree level, particularly at a top tier university, is very different from the A-level so gives you no particular advantage over those who have studied it.


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