A Levels v GCSEs....

(52 Posts)
BaconAndAvocado Thu 27-Feb-14 20:54:01

DS1 currently in Year 11 with a view to study 4 A levels next year.

There seems to be lots of talk about how much harder they are than GCSEs and I wanted to know...in what way?

DS1 is doing very well, works hard and is motivated.....has he got lots to worry about?


AtiaoftheJulii Thu 27-Feb-14 21:24:43

I'm sure other people will have more to say, but from observing my dd1 (y12) it's not that it's necessarily harder but there's a lot of it, there's not much time for settling in and getting used to it, and everything's marked at A level standard straightaway. So it feels tougher, and there's really not much time between September and May when the AS's starts.

DwellsUndertheSink Thu 27-Feb-14 21:28:16

my DD got 4A*s and 7 As at GCSE

She failed a physics test today, really badly, and physics was a subject she got an A* in.

So yes, it is a lot harder as there is not as much spoon feeding.

There is more thinking for yourself, more intellectual rigour. I found it a bit of a jump in 1989, especially in Maths & Chemistry.

BaconAndAvocado Thu 27-Feb-14 21:32:26

Crikey dwells that sounds scary!

DS is doing well at GCSE but certainly not as well as your daughter!

If there isn't as much spoon feeding, does that mean that students are expected to get on with their own research/study?

DS1 will be moving schools to do his A levels so will have that aspect to deal with too.........

BaconAndAvocado Thu 27-Feb-14 21:34:50

DS1 will be doing Chemistry, Physics, Maths and Further Maths.

Lots of,people have commented on how much harder Chemistry is!

Floralnomad Thu 27-Feb-14 21:35:49

From observing my very lazy DS doing both I would say that whereas at GCSE you can do them whether you are interested in the subject or not at A level you do need to be interested in the subject or it will be a hard slog .

wanderings Thu 27-Feb-14 21:42:31

Applying one's own critical thinking is essential in A-levels.

In GCSE physics, it's possible to get by with memorising facts and formulae; this simply won't work at A-level. You have to explain things, and be confident about how everything fits together. And don't rely on the formula sheet. You often have to use two formulae to answer a question, instead of one as in GCSE.

In A-level maths, again, critical thinking is crucial. In exams, not only do you have to know how to do the maths, you have to recognise which sort of maths is needed; a question will often present an unfamiliar situation, to test the candidate's ability to work out their own strategy.

WhoWasThatMaskedWoman Thu 27-Feb-14 21:42:49

GCSEs are an inclusive exam designed for almost everybody to be able to take them and achieve something. That's not the case for A Levels, they're designed so that only people who are interested in and fairly good at the subject will even start the course. But it doesn't mean that your DS will do badly, only that he'll have to work a lot harder than he was used to, and won't be able to coast.

BaconAndAvocado Thu 27-Feb-14 21:43:55

DS1 is definitely interested in the subjects and is extremely motivated (at the time of writing!) about studying.

I wasn't sure how much harder the content is?

BoJolly Thu 27-Feb-14 21:45:06

DS1 took A Level Maths, Further Maths, Physics and Electronics (?)

I definitely remember him having a wobble in the first month, but I don't think that was due to the jump in work but a different way of learning.
I agree with the poster saying it has to be something they enjoy. He loves doing maths and ended up with 4 A*s at A Level.

BaconAndAvocado Thu 27-Feb-14 21:48:56

Wow bo that's amazing.

Yes, he loves all this subjects and already knows that he wants to study Chemical Engineering at Uni so he is focused.

BaconAndAvocado Thu 27-Feb-14 21:51:14

That's interesting wanderings DS1 is extremely good at learning formula, facts etc. but I'm not sure if he's had to use any critical thinking yet!

IamInvisible Thu 27-Feb-14 21:57:26

DS2 is in Yr12. He is doing much better at A level than I thought he would after seeing DS1 go through it.

Yes, they are harder, but if you are interested in the subject and good at it you can cope. DS2 is doing Chemistry, it was his weakest science at GCSE, he still got an A, and it was a toss up between that and Physics. He's doing Biology too. He loves Chemistry now, is getting lots of As in the exams and tests, it is hard but not too hard and he really seems to get it. It amazes just how much he knows and remembers, tbh.

morethanpotatoprints Thu 27-Feb-14 22:14:48

A levels are regurgitating information mainly from a text book in most cases.
If they are prepared to learn what is required they will do fine.
They are not expected to think for themselves in terms of elaborate new information on the subject.
Just make sure they spend time reading and learning the text.

cory Fri 28-Feb-14 09:02:26

morethanpotato, what A-levels would you be talking about?

My dd is doing A-levels in history, English literature and drama, and I don't recognise any of that.

In history, she will be given extracts from various sources (Parliament speeches, private letters etc) and asked to analyse them as evidence of contemporary attitudes to a certain question, or to answer some other set question. It's very similar to what undergraduates do.

In English she is analysing texts. The last one I saw was "discuss whether Much Ado About Nothing has a happy ending". This clearly had to be done with direct referencing of the text, analysis of the different characters and their relationship to each other, and a clear discussion as to what you understand by a happy ending. Again, very similar to what my undergraduates are doing.

For drama, the last task was for her and the rest of the group to choose a method and a play which they direct and rehearse according to their chosen method, explaining exactly what they have done and why. This process also involves organising themselves as a group, deciding on session times and booking a room.

I don't see much regurgitating in this. Obviously by the time she gets to her history exam she will also have to have memorised the facts so that she can build her arguments on them. But the teacher is not going to supply her with those arguments.

wordfactory Fri 28-Feb-14 09:30:26

IMVHO there is a big jump from GCSE to A level. Lots of pupils who have done pretty well in the former, find the later a big fat shocker grin.

Obviously each subject covers a lot more ground at A level and that cursory understanding that got you an A* at GCSE doesn't cut it further on. Also, you're expected to utilize the information in a more in depth way. So whilst a student can just learn the GCSE stuff, he or she will need to understand it properly to get a good grade at A level.

The style of teaching also changes, with students expected to cover a lot of ground themselves.

AtiaoftheJulii Fri 28-Feb-14 10:29:17

I agree with cory, it doesn't really ring true with seeing my dd1 (who is doing Maths, Eng Lit, Drama, and Classical Civ ASs). E.g. Eng Lit coursework - pick a book, choose an extract, and write about how the extract is typical of the rest of the book and what it's trying to achieve. There's certainly no textbook, or even teacher telling you what to say! Drama coursework is about writing up the practical exploration of the plays you are studying - there are no short cuts to a good grade in that.

In maths obviously they're not expected to come up with new material, but the questions are much less signposted than they are at GCSE and unless they know their stuff they will get stuck.

monikar Fri 28-Feb-14 10:53:37

My DD is in year 13 and got all A*/A at gcse without an enormous amount of effort, but has found A levels very challenging - she is doing Maths, Chemistry and Biology (she dropped physics at the end of year 12).

I think the concepts are harder at A level, plus there is so much more in terms of quantity, plus everything is done in more depth. Students are expected to study independently if they want to succeed.

My DD also changed school for sixth form - I would say it took about half a term so settle in.

Martorana Fri 28-Feb-14 10:57:05

"A levels are regurgitating information mainly from a text book in most cases.
If they are prepared to learn what is required they will do fine.
They are not expected to think for themselves in terms of elaborate new information on the subject.
Just make sure they spend time reading and learning the text."

Certainly not dd's experience. I suppose you could get a D if you just did that.............

BaconAndAvocado Fri 28-Feb-14 11:59:49

We found put yesterday that DS1 has got a conditional offer for 6th form at the local grammar.

I'm guessing the pace and pressure is much more intense at grammars so how can I prepare/help for that?

monikar Fri 28-Feb-14 12:30:43

Bacon Well done to your DS, that is great news.

My DD went to a grammar school for years 7-11 and then changed to another grammar for the sixth form, so she was used to the pace and pressure in some respects. What came as a shock though, was the quantity of work and also the fact that some of these students are so super-bright that the lessons go at a very fast pace, meaning that a lot of extra work is required outside of lesson time just to keep up with everyone and the next lesson. Also, the teachers have high expectations. The best piece of advice I can give is to keep up - start assignments when they are given out so that if there is any difficulty there is time to sort it out, and also keep up with the revision as an on-going task, rather than cramming at the end.

TeenAndTween Fri 28-Feb-14 12:36:23

cory and atia (and anyone else). Do you have any view on whether a pupil who has had to work hard to get achieve Bs at GCSEs would cope with any of History / Classical civilisation / English Lit?

(So much on mumsnet is about the A*/A students of the 'lbright but lazy' ones who get easy Bs, not so much about the hardworking B grade pupils.)

BaconAndAvocado Fri 28-Feb-14 15:36:54

Thanks monikar

Yes, I think he will definitely need to keep up!

Bright but lazy can get you a string of A*s at GCSE but it will get Us at A level.
The main difference I have observed is that it's not enough to go to lessons and do the homework, you have to study on your own over and above what is set.

keep up with the revision as an on-going task

^^ Yes to this. DS has a wall planner on which he timetables himself revision tasks in every topic and subject from September to June. Not just a burst of revision before exams.

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