A-levels inadequate for university

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A new report by the Reform group claims the A-level exam has become inadequate preparation for university, and that it undermines independent study and original thought.

Researchers said that today's students have inferior reasoning skills to those who started courses in the 1990s. The report also criticised the introduction of modular A-levels, saying this had broken up the coherence of a course and limiting the ability of teachers to ensure a thorough understanding of the subject.

Dr Dewi Lewis, chemistry admissions tutor at University College London, said frequent assessment favoured shallow learning because candidates are led through the exam in a quiz style, with lots of opportunities to jog their memory.

Professor Bailey, professor of statistics at Queen Mary, London University, sais students were given hints and instructions on exam papers.

"The most important change in exams over the period 1951-2008 is that sitting a mathematics A-level paper now is more like using a sat-nav system than reading a map," he said.

"If you read a map to get from A to B, you remember the route and learn about other things on the way. If you use a sat-nav, you do neither of those things.

"The questions in the 2008 paper are heavily structured in this way and the result is that students will retain very little knowledge and develop very little understanding."

The ability to resit reinforces the mindset that success at A-level is actually about a narrow achievement in six separate mini-courses, said the report, in its criticism of the introduction of modular A-levels.

The Reform group concluded that universities should resume control of public exams to restore their intellectual rigour.

"Historically universities have played a key role in upholding exam standards; in the first half of the 20th Century they took a leading role in setting school examinations," the report said.

"This link has become weaker over time, with academics giving way to teachers and playing a progressively reduced role in the exam setting process."

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