Friday 25 July 2014

A Levels - A View from Afar

So, I'm aware that there are thousands of British kids waiting for  O (sorry, GCSE*) and A level results. Oh, I remember that time - not very well, since it was so long ago, but the "life-hanging-in-the-balance" period. You don't know which A levels you should take till your O level results come out, and when waiting for A level results, you don't really know what the next three years is going to look like. And isn't it sod's law that they always come out when you're on your long-awaited holidays? For American readers, I must add that these results don't come out till mid-August. Universities don't start till early October, but it's still very late in the day to be hanging around not quite knowing, in my opinion.

I remember when my A level results came out. I was working in a bread factory (oh, the memories and the smells are flooding back). This was before the days of computers and mobile phones (oh yes), so one friend went into school, where the A level results were all up on a large poster. She wrote down all our group of friend's results, went home, then we all phoned her to get the news. Did we have the grades to go to our top choice university? I was OK, I thought, having achieved one better grade than my uni had asked for, one bang on and one lower. If they were going on a point system, I would be OK; and I was. One friend had done a lot worse on one subject so there was much angst in the lunch room that day, followed by her having to take a day off to get herself a place through "clearing". Ugh, the panic.

Over here, it's much more civilized and most kids know where they're going well before the end of the school year (end of May-early June). Entrance to uni is based primarily on the GPA (grade point average) which is an average of your grades over the last few years. A lot of colleges also want a test score, which is either the ACT or the SAT. This is a three hour exam which tests a range of subjects, although nothing like subject-specific A levels. More like an IQ test or the 11+ but harder. The good thing is you can take these tests more than once and send your best score to your colleges of choice. Colleges here also take much more than academics into consideration, which makes for a stressful application period. They want to know what you did outside of school which teams you played on, and why. They also ask for one or more teacher recommendations, and of course at least one personal essay. The application process itself is a lot more complicated than the British version, especially as many kids apply to 5-10 colleges. But as I said, it's all over before they leave school, unless they really tank their last set of grades.

So, good luck to everyone waiting for results in the UK. Wouldn't want to be doing that again.

* - Since it rolls off the tongue, I'll just say "O" level instead of GCSE.


  1. Just to note: many universities start earlier now--having a more semester-like set-up. So, you're basically at uni a month after you get your results. More unis are therefore guaranteeing places to students who are predicted certain marks, but the students don't absolutely have to commit, so the universities have no idea who's showing up either. It's a crazy system.

  2. Thanks Lynne. So - if the students don't get the predicted grades what happens to the guarantee? Can the uni rescind the offer? (You can see I know now a lot more about the US system.)
    They should try for a lock-em-in approach like the US universities do. You have till May 1 to commit otherwise they assume you're declining your offer. And most won't let you defer - they want you there as soon as possible.

  3. I can just see a picture of my daughter seeing how she had done in her GCSE results. I can hear still vividly her hear a squeal of delight when she found she her results exceeded her expectations by a mile, even getting a A for dreaded maths.

    But more memorable was a shriek of disgust by her friend, a near genius, when she expressed her disappointment by getting only an A in one subject whilst attaining A stars in all 10 others. lol
    She is now an astro physicist!! and my daughter is a teacher at her old school. :) Eddie

  4. We are in this A level limbo. Results come out August 14th and, if all goes well, Uni starts around about September 13th. The application process for UCAS seemed far more complicated than in our day. Apply for five choices but you can only accept one, plus one in reserve. Plus you need to include personal statement (which took ages) and references etc.
    I hate this waiting time.

  5. Trish, I remember only being able to hold two offers at any one time, and certain universities not even making an offer even to strong students if they didn't list that uni as their number 1 choice from the get-go.
    I was at a theatre summer camp so there was much drama over our results ;-) I failed English, which I'd been planning to study along with French, but I got an A in French so my first choice simply accepted me for French only rather than a dual degree.


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