With only a few months of the school year left and 16-18 year olds frantically studying for A-level examinations – it seems like a good time to ask whether a-levels are becoming easier. A YouGov poll in 2013 found that younger people felt they were harder. But a majority of the British public feel that the exams are getting easier every year. Are they?
This question really depends upon the subject. ICT is an interesting subject to compare because of the way that our use of computers has changed as has the A-level. In the 1970s students would need to code onto paper tape and one tiny mistake could cost them dearly. Also the lack of computers in schools meant much of the work was theory based and essays formed an important part of exams. Nowadays though despite the technical and theoretical aspects changing, ICT is still a hard A-level to pursue. Only 10% of pupils taking it last year achieved an A or A* – this is the lowest percentage of pupils out of all subjects.
But this is just one subject that was traditionally very difficult and still is. Grades generally have been going up every year. In the 1970s less than 1% achieved three A grades but in 2014, more than one in eight managed this. 2014 was the year exam boards were forced to toughen up but despite this, more pupils achieved excellent grades than in their parents’ generation. How can this be explained?
It has been suggested that the ease of studying has helped children improve grades. Technology has played an important role in making learning and exam prep easier. In maths a standard deviation question in the 1970s would take around 20 minutes as pupils figured it out by writing it out. But now a question like this could take as little as two minutes thanks to the widespread availability of calculators and the ability to take these into exams. The internet too has played a massive part. Research for subjects like history is incredibly easy and available to everyone. Before pupils whose parents didn’t have the proper books like encyclopedias would struggle to get accurate facts. Technology has changed the way children study and made it easier for them to learn – which could explain their improved performance.
Pressure on University places could also explain the increase in performance over the years. With more and more students going to University every year, the pressure to get the grades needed for admission can be immense. Many students also view Uni admission and strong exam marks as being vital to getting the job they want. All of this means improvements in the number of pupils working hard to achieve top grades.
Do you think A-Levels are getting easier or are pupils working harder and using technology to do better? Let us know on our social media pages.