Reflections on AS Results
Woodhouse has many students who are celebrating this week with excellent AS results, strings of high grades in line with their expectations. In some cases, students are happy with three of their grades but one is less good – the subject they had already decided to drop and consciously or unconsciously put less effort into. If this is you, you should be reassured that universities don’t really care about that dropped fourth subject, and there is no point thinking about retakes to improve the grade.
But we also have a number of students who are disappointed with their AS grades. Life is not over if your AS grades were less good than you hoped – see below for discussion of UCAS implications. It is not uncommon to underachieve – many students up and down the country do not get the AS grades they hope for. National A level grade profiles are much higher than AS grade profiles. Why is this the case?
It is partly because Year 12 results don’t actually count for as much as those in Year 11 or Year 13, which determine progression options. In the old days, of course, the ‘lower sixth’ was a year in which students took their foot off the pedal and explore other things, and that is still a bit the case.
But at Woodhouse we have two types of students who underachieve, and it is important for students to understand if either of these generalisations apply to them and what to do in response.
‘Last Minute’ Workers
Firstly there are those who just didn’t do enough work through the year. Despite the chivvying from their teachers, despite the progress grades, despite the reports and words at parents evening, they left it to the last minute to revise for their AS exams. After all, that’s what they did at GCSE and it worked for them then. But AS levels are not the same as GCSE, and last minute revision only really works for superficial knowledge-based learning. It especially fails in hierarchical subjects like maths and science and languages, and these students never achieved the depth of understanding to obtain the higher grades.
If this is you, then you know what you have to do differently next year: work hard throughout the year; stay on top of your learning, and make sure you never shy away from difficult or challenging content; test yourself on past paper material; revise as well as you can for every test; ask for re-tests where you don’t do well.
Then there are those who do stay on top of their work, file it all neatly, and everything is highlighted nicely, no homework undone. They do everything they are told to do. But they work well within themselves and often rely on memorizing and other ‘lower’ learning activities. They don’t like taking risks and they aren’t assertive in seeking out challenge to test the limits of their understanding. Such students will often get B instead of A, or A instead of A* at A level. Again, they don’t really understand why because these strategies worked for them at GCSE.
Such students need to remember that if you are not thinking hard, if you are not finding it challenging, then you are not doing the right kind of work. You need to stop re-writing and highlighting notes, which is usually a waste of time, and start seeking out more challenging material, often synoptic or problem solving.
You can retake any AS units that you want to next summer – except coursework units. You don’t have to retake all of an AS subject. Some will be easier to retake than others: for example in maths after you have done C3 and C4 you will find that you are much better at C1 and C2 without having to do much revision for them. Discuss it with your teachers. Too many retakes might take up too much revision time, but it depends how many exams you have and what you are aiming to achieve. You don’t need to decide on retakes until January.
Implications for UCAS
For most students, we will predict a higher grade at A level than you achieved at AS. This might be enough to get the offers from the universities you seek. But if not, don’t worry, anything is still possible.
If you are able to achieve excellent A level grades next year, then even if you have no offers at all (or offers only from ‘lesser’ universities) then you will be able to get a place through clearing or adjustment in the days following A level results. That was the experience this year – even most Russell Group universities had places in clearing for most courses.
There are some courses (like medicine) and some universities (Oxbridge) that won’t have places in Clearing. But if you get the grades, you can always apply again with those grades and take a gap year.
So anything is possible if you get the A level grades at the end of Year 13. But to get those grades, you will need to do something different next year. AS retakes will help, but that is not a sufficient strategy. You need to work out what went wrong this year, and what you are going to change. If you are aiming for an A grade, you need to be an A grade student week in, week out. You need to work like an A grade student. How are you going to use your free periods next year and what work will you do? How will this be different from last year?
How to Get an A* at A Level
Some of you will be applying to universities where you need an A* to get a place. You need to be clear how to achieve an A*.
Technically, in all subjects except maths, you will need to achieve 90% average over your A2 units as long as you have at least a B at AS level. So if you are aiming for an A* and you have a B or A at AS level, there is no point doing AS retakes because it all depends on the A2 units. In maths, you need 90% average over C3 and C4.
But you need to know more than just the technical requirements. You have to be clear on whether the A* just means knowing your stuff and getting everything right or whether it means extra reading and a deeper, wider viewpoint. It varies from subject to subject, and that’s not something you can leave until later in the year.