UK: End-of-Course Exams to Make Comeback in A-Levels

Graeme Paton, The Daily Telegraph's Education Editor, reports that under the new plan to make A-levels tougher in Britain, end-of-course exams are going to be reintroduced. The students will sit these exams at the end of two years of study, and no tests will be given in the first 12 months.

The changes are aimed at making it easier for students to take three A-level courses and exams with a possible addition of a shorter AS-level in another subject. The redesign of the exams will be overseen by Ofqual, but representatives from the universities making up the elite Russell Group will be on hand to advise. It is expected that the first set of overhauled A-levels will be administered in the fall of 2015.

Subject specialists from top universities will carry out annual reviews of exams to make sure course content is being properly assessed, it was revealed. The move – to be announced on Wednesday by Michael Gove, the Education Secretary – is being billed as an attempt to restore academic rigour to qualifications sat by around 300,000 schoolchildren each year.

It is hoped that the new testing regime will make A-levels more difficult, which will make it easier for universities to judge whether students are prepared to tackle more advanced academic work. At the moment, there are complaints that the current system doesn't do much to either prepare students for university or allow universities to judge how prepared — or unprepared — they are.

Gove said as much in a letter to the head of Ofqual, pointing out that elite universities in Britain have simply lost faith in the A-levels.

"I am concerned that some natural science degrees have become four-year courses to compensate for problems with A-levels," he said.

"Linguists complain about the inadequacy of university entrants' foreign language skills. Mathematicians are concerned that current A-level questions are overly structured and encourage a formulaic approach, instead of using more open-ended questions that require advanced problem-solving… There is also growing concern that private schools routinely teach beyond A-levels, giving their pupils an advantage in the competition for university places."

The change to A-levels has been expected for a long time, as it was widely known that their overhaul was one of Gove's major educational priorities.

Ofqual has already weighed in after taking three months to develop its proposals for what A-levels of the future should look like. In addition to changing how and when the tests are administered, there will also be a strict limit on the number of times a student can retake the exam and scrap the January testing date altogether.

01 24, 2013
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