Mathematics education uncovered and recovered

The true mess of A levels

It is once again that time of the year when students receive their A level results and learn the outcome of their university applications. If something doesn’t go according to plan, they have only a few days to make important decisions and act on them. Appeals, clearing and adjustment — everything is crammed in a short period of time, causing both students and their parents enormous stress and uncertainty. This chaos follows months of anxiety about offers of university places and weeks of exam pressure from which the students might not have yet recovered.

All this mess of the university admission process is the result of one peculiar problem: exam boards spending nearly two months marking and grading A level exam papers. If the grades were known earlier — say, mid-July — there would be no need for predicted grades, conditional offers, clearing and adjustment. The students would have enough time to apply to universities matching the grades obtained to entrance requirements, as it happens in other countries.

But then it would be too boring, wouldn’t it?