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Are A* grades still the holy grail?



If you have teenage children who have aspirations to go on to university when they’ve completed their secondary education, the road to success is via getting good exam grades.


GCSEs have changed their grading system.  Now some subjects have grades that are numbered, whilst others still use letters – talk about confusing!


Is an A grade the same as a grade 1?  No, because 1 is the lowest grade, not the highest, and the equivalent of an A* or A grade is likely to be somewhere between 7 and 9.


In 2017, the numeric system only applied to English (Language and Literature) and Maths, but there’s no direct correlation so teachers are having to do quite a bit of guess-work when predicting a child’s potential mark.  It’s not surprising if students and parents are totally confused.  In 2018 more subjects will use this system too.


Then it’s on to A-levels – and that all-important uni place is offered based on a minimum set of grades.  If your teen needs two As and a B to get into their first choice and then ends up with only one A and two Bs, it can seem like the end of the world.


The new A-level grading system depends purely on the student’s performance in an examination situation.  If they’re having a bad day, that’s tough.  There are no intermediate AS exams to underpin the student’s previous performance.


However, there are more complications to add to the mix with the new grading system and approach.


The universities are taking action.  Some of the top universities ask candidates to sit an entrance exam and more universities are following suit.  This seems to imply that the higher echelons of academia aren’t confident that the new-style A-level qualifications provide a reliable indication of a student’s ability.


Now LSE, Warwick and Durham are also demanding that candidates sit additional pre-qualification tests – and they’re just the latest in a string of universities who no longer rely on A-level results alone.


Some universities maintain that there are so many students with high grades that their entrance exam helps to identify the cream of the crop.  Whether this is a comment on the high level of academic achievement generally or their lack of confidence in the marking system isn’t clear.


If your child is preparing to apply for University it’s important to find out if they’ll be expected to sit additional tests as part of their application – it all adds to the pressure of their final years at school, but may be the defining factor when it comes to getting into the university they want.  There is more information on admissions tests here.


The more they know about the admissions tests, the better – the school should have information on these, although as more universities add them to their application process, some will be uncharted territory.


It will often depend on the subject they’re applying to study as to what form the test will take.  If you have friends with older children who have experience of these it could be useful to pick their brains to help reassure your teen.