back to article More choosing maths A-Level

A-Level results released this morning show that Maths and Further Maths continue to attract more entries. There were 4,526 more entries for Mathematics than the previous year, up 6.2 per cent to a total of 77,001, and 1,209 more entries for Further Maths - an increase of 11.5 per cent to 11,682. Biology, Chemistry and Physics …

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Anonymous Coward

people are realising

that an A level in Community Cohesion or Finger Painting isn't going to set them up for anything other than a lifetime painting road signs (and spelling them wrong).

Maths FTW.

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Amazing isn't it?

What a recession does for people's academic choices.

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Sigh

"It may not be finger painting but it's certainly "If little Jonny has 5 apples, and little Sarah eats one, how many does little Jonny have left?"."

Except that it isn't. If you want to trot out the same tired arguments A Levels being easier, at least do some research to prove your point.

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Have *you* seen A-Level maths nowadays?

Last year I was helping a friend's daughter with some last-minute revision for her Maths A-level (not her favourite subject). I have to say the questions seemed very much on a par with those I remember from my A-level Maths some 40 years ago.

Now, there's more continuous assessment and resits than in my day and the quoted 30% figure for the number of those getting As and A*s in Further Maths doesn't sound right, but to suggest that counting to 10 will get you an A-level is just silly.

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Anonymous Coward

Take a look at the papers

The maths papers are easier: go and have a look from 5, 10, 20 years and you can see the progression as the syllabus is cut back and the questions get easier even for the same course. Application questions reduced to rehearsed implementation of solving procedure. More advanced calculus dropped and replaced with nothing. Even when I did maths and further maths (1994) I could see the papers were simpler than past papers from 10 years back.

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Pint

Why?

"Pics of cute teen girls jumping around go here please"

Why is that?! A level results out cue pictures of young girls throwing bits of paper about! What about the weird goth/emo's down in the art dept who passed their grades with distinction? What about the spotty Herbert in the CS classes who got A's in 15 different subjects?

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Anonymous Coward

judging!

Aren't you judging a bit soon, who knows they gothy/emo types might a) be jumping around b) be cute :P

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Anonymous Coward

RE; Why?

Because that wouldn't fit in with the Media sanctioned image of what an A-level student is.

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someone is already tracking the media obsession...

http://sexyalevels.tumblr.com/

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If you hadn't realized...

That spotty Herbert also wants to see the pictures of the cute girls, too.

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Joke

Disappointed

I am.

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Headmaster

Goal of the UK Department of Education

I have a friend who is a teacher (I really do) and he imparted to me the sage words that the Department of Education apparently tells all new teachers is its main goal: To get above average exam results from all pupils.

With people that good at statistics in charge, it's no wonder the public perceive education as being dumbed down.

Good to see the rise in these subjects though. Now if only we could stop focussing on the misplaced desire for each generation to have higher pass marks than the next...

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why bother?

The whole purpose behind exams, is to differentiate people based on ability, to roughly organise people into categories based on academic abilities, If you all end up in the A grade it's pointless.

If everybody gets high grades, then they might as well not have bothered setting the exam in the first place. Everything should be a good distribution. With most people getting mid-line grades. Only the absolute cream, less than the top 1-2%, should be getting these new A* grades if they want them to mean anything.

When I first went to university, I was really surprised with the concept of 50% being considered an average mark (70%+ was good, 90%+ was genius territory) as before that 80-90% had always been considered "average". I'd never even questioned it, it was that prevalent.

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Anonymous Coward

"no wonder the public perceive education as being dumbed down."

That, and the very real process by which schooling was designed to dumb people down.

By keeping kids isolated in age and attainment graded classes so that they cannot develop anything other than meaningless transient relationships with their peers.

By setting out the school day so that the child is not allowed to pay attention to any one subject for more than about 50 minutes. Forcing them to stop and go on to the next, unrelated, subject is a mechanism by which they are taught that nothing is worth finishing or paying attention to.

By training them to seek the approval of officials (strangers) and grades rather than approval from themselves and their parents/real family. Hello suicidal children.

By ensuring that neither they nor their parents have ANY say in the curriculum. It is vital that they rely on the guidance of authority at all times. The ultimate authority being the test score with which they are graded, determining their value to society and their place in the social construct. Everyone gets good grades because everyone is equally worthless.

By ensuring that the curriculum is narrow in scope and highly compartmentalized. You are NOT given the mental tools necessary to link ideas together into one coherent idea. You must depend on teachers to tell you everything you know. Teaching yourself is not an option.

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@ AC - rant against education

I remember a hell of a difficulty trying to get myself into cookery class. No no, boys learn metalwork and girls do cookery. They relented slightly when I demanded the headmaster provide her name address and phone number so when I'm thirty and single and living off junkfood because I have no idea how to use an oven, I can call her to come cook something for me. And so I was allowed in the class for two weeks. Evidently some random (probably non-existant) girl complained so I was moved back to bleedin' metalwork which was hardasses welding stuff and wimpier kids (such as myself) sitting in the corner watching them. A year of metalwork, I never even touched the welder, not once. It was, essentially, 50 minutes of wasted time.

I also recall in electronics class asking about how thermonic values actually work. I dunno, it just seems easier to grasp the inner workings of something I can see. There's a bit that glows, a little metal rod, and a thing like a radiator. Why? It's somewhat less abstract than the lumpy schematic diagram of a FET. Answer? That is not part of the curriculum (aka "STFU"). It seems to me that education is only half teaching you rote facts, and half teaching you not to question, not to wonder, not to ever dare to think outside the box.

.

AC, you and I both will probably get downvoted, maybe by rich kids that went to private schools filled with teachers who actually liked their jobs. Your description is a bit extreme, but I completely understand where you're coming from.

I'm nearly 37, single (could see that coming when I was a teenager), and taught myself to cook from books and Blumenthal-like epic fails. I eat a lot of junk food because two minutes of my time (unwrap, slam... bing!) is a lot less bother than the time it takes to prepare a real meal. But sometimes I do take time to prepare a linguini meal from scratch (and I mean that in a literal sense - tomatoes from the garden, flour and eggs...). I taught myself about valves and elecrons whizzing around from a dusty old RSGB book I found in a charity shop, dating back to when transistors were fresh on the market and not really trusted to do anything much. And I've *never* needed to do any metalwork. Sometimes I wonder what, exactly, the point of school was.

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Purpose of schooling

To indoctrinate in obedience and reliance on the state and disseminate propaganda. Just one of the many tools used by the elite to remove threats to their hegemony.

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Amidst falling standards...

I guess one way to make yourself stand out when GCSEs have become so easy, is to pick a subject that more people find harder.

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Paris Hilton

Pics of cute teen girls jumping around go here please

Do I actually need a post here?

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Wrong

I think you need to look up the definitions of a) "teen girls" and b) "jumping around"

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Go

Further maths is a doddle

If you are doing maths A level and are pretty certain of getting top marks, then doing further maths is a no brainer - in terms of additional work load, it is no more than 1/3rd of a physical science, and has much much higher respect than some of these nonsense A levels.

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Sylabus slashed that is why...

A few years back the syllabus for the maths A level was slashed as it was seen as being too hard compared to other A levels. The sad fact is now for the work that you needed to put in to get an A level in maths 20 years ago will now pretty well cover everything you need to get a maths and further maths A level today.

That said one of the ways that grades have gone up in all A levels over the years is the reduction in the syllabus. It allows ministers to stand up and in all truth say that the standard of the answers required to get a A grade is the same today as it was 20 years ago, while making it easier to achieve that standard of answer. There are some other measures as well that have helped out on that front.

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Anonymous Coward

It's worst than that....

"the sad fact is now for the work that you needed to put in to get an A level in maths 20 years ago will now pretty well cover everything you need to get a maths and further maths A level today."

Actually A level maths when I did it (1979) would take you a good bit into degree level Maths today. I'm working my way through a Maths degree at 50 years old and I'm amazed, and appalled, at how much of it I have done before in basic A level maths.

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PTR
WTF?

Further Maths

Interesting this one. When I did it (96-98) Futher Maths was the same amount of work as standard Maths, just that it was all of the harder modules.

It certainly wasn't 1/3 of the work of another A Level. In fact, it was probably more difficult than Physics.

More and more people are being forced to do this course, as standard A levels are now practically worthless. If more than 1 in 4 people get an A or A*, how do we know who the best people are?

Add to this that the marks to get each grade are actually fixed using a normal distribution, then its also rediculously easy to see why there is a small inprovement in overall results every year - imagine the outcry if they didn't!

The whole system needs to change, from GCSE to Hon Degrees.

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@PTR

Ah, but you see thats the thing. It may be twice as many exams, twice as many modules, twice as much revision, but it really isn't.

It's just more of the same things and at a slightly faster pace. If you can cope with understanding the maths, then it's nowhere near as taxing on the brain to study 4 different stats modules, each covering a slightly different area of statistics, than it is to study 2 stats modules and 2 chemistry modules, for example.

I do agree with you on the mark distribution points though. I think in an effort to ensure that more people pass the exams, the mark required for grade E has shifted everything downwards. The people getting the highest marks aren't any smarter or dumber, it's just that band is encompassing more and more of them.

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Further maths, the slackers choice

I see your point in a way. Further Maths A level is easy if your brain works that way, and if you can get a good grade in Further Maths, then Maths is a given. So you could say that it is Maths, rather than Further Maths, which is questionable.

But what are you suggesting, studying twice as long and taking twice as many modules should just get you one A level?

Physics is a lot easier if you do Further Maths. I hope Chemistry isn't, or I would only have one A level.

The fact is, if you pick a set of related subjects which you have an aptitude for, you will have a far easier time than if you pick a bunch of random things you are crap at. Everyone has the choice to do that. I hear Art is a doddle if you are good at it, but I wouldn't fancy taking an A level in it.

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FAIL

pics of cute teen girls...

so where are the pics then? Even the Gurniad had some young blondes (one showing a hint of cleavage) - Fail!!

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More choosing maths A-Level

But seriously, jailbait pics please :)

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Anonymous Coward

Papers running true to form

D**** M*** online

At least 4 pics of lovelies celebrating. But its not all loveliness - pic of one poor youth whose grades weren't as good as he might have expect. Picture of David Willetts!

Oh and a pic of someone who only got three Bs - but she was Miss Newcastle 2009!

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Pirate

sorry, El Reg

but you advertised "pics of cute teen girls jumping around" in your byline, and I fail to see any such pictures in the article. I will withold my complaint to the ASA if you will provide said pics. As well, please make sure the pictures were taken from a PS3 and not an Xbox, as the PS3 has provenly superior graphics.

Thank you for your expected compliance

Pirate Dave

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Happy

For the Google-impaired

Here are some cute teen girls jumping around.

http://www.express.co.uk/posts/view/194170/A-level-students-require-support-

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dodgy percentages

The way the percentages are calculated is screwed.

Due to the amount of coursework a sizable number of students go into the exam knowing they have already passed. Conversly a sizable number of students know that they have failed before the exam and so don't bother to turn up.

And the famous 96.7% pass rate is based on number who pass divided by number who turn up.

What they should do is base the percentage pass rate on numbers who sign up for a levels against those who walk out two years later with a pass. Unfortunately as that would drop the percentage pass rate to c 60% politically that won't happen.

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PTR

Exactly

Nobody fails A Levels, as they know they have no chance of passing BEFORE the final exam - so they either quit, or retake a previous module and extend into the next year before later passing.

Failing a modular course is near-impossible.

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Coat

@AC, Miss Newcastle

You sure she didn't get 34 Bs?

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FAIL

Average results

By definition it is not possible to have everyone achieving above average exam results.

The average result must lay somewhere between min and max.

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Headmaster

Have to put you right there...

While you're right on the "everyone achieving above average" statement, you're wrong on the other.

If you mean the arithmetic mean, then you are correct so long as min and max differ. The mode and median (which are alternate interpretations of the word "average") could be equal to either the min or the max. But then, what do I know? - I've only got a Maths A-Level from 15 years ago. OK, and a Further Maths one.

Averages are nearly always slightly counter-intuitive. Although I have 10 fingers (thumbs being special cases), it is above average...

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Yep . . .

. . . which partially covers my favourite statistic :

The majority of people in the world have an above average number of legs.

Always amuses me.

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Boffin

Re: how thermonic valves actually work.

If you do electronics at school you have to use a 555 timer ic. It's the law.

Anyway valves are back in fashion. There is no finer device for parting audiophiles from their wonga.

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Valves are great

I grew up when "tranny" meant "radio", but older TV sets still used valves. Fixing a broken telly was a matter of looking which valve wasn't lighting up and nipping down to the electronics surplus shop to replace it. A lot more lucrative than a paper round, in my early teens.

Not so sure how having a decorative valve on top of your iPod dock helps to improve the quality of an MP3, though.

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Headmaster

The same old same

Like the first cuckoo in spring we hear every year the same old chorus about the A-level results. Particularly in maths. I can remember the same whinging by the "it was so much harder in my day"-brigade when I was about sixteen (and that is a long time ago!). The interesting thing about that is if it was/is true every year for the last half century or so that implies that if we extrapolate backwards in time that kids must have been doing masters degree level maths in the sixth form in the early sixties......hmm?

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FAIL

Or using your logic...

If you believe the improvements are purely down to teachers and our fantastic education system then if we extrapolate forwards they'll be doing a masters in their teens in the next 30 years or so.

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How to debunk . . .

. . . in one easy step.

How many people today, on a normal course (as in, in no way compressed or expedited), can get a degree in less than 4 years ?

If you go back 20 years, it took 3 years to get a degree and a 4th year was only necessary if you wanted to get your batchelors degree (BA, BSc).

Beyond that, I have a number of friends who are teachers, some in maths and science subjects, all of them, without fail, state that the point they finish teaching is far before the point they had to do before going to Uni - first year of Uni is now almost entirely what used to be taught at high school in Highers (Scotland) and A levels (England and Wales).

Further, if the people leaving school today are so much smarter than I was when I left some 20 years ago, how come they cant spell, enunciate, pronounce or otherwise the English language beyond the level of a moron ? How come the Saturday workers in the super-market cant grasp the concept of me changing how much money I give them to arrange for less change in my wallet ?

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@Or using your own logic

I was simply pointing out that much of this kind of comment is based on highly subjective evaluations and a good deal of the "grass wer greener when I wer a lad" kind thinking. That ought to have been reasonably obvious. That fact that this kind of criticism has occurred year in and year out for at least half a century really ought to give you some pause for thought. That which is sadly lacking in any debate of this kind is any attempt at objective analysis, it usually degenerates into the "granny`s body on the roof rack" urban myth.

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I suggest you actually read my post instead....

....of replying to what you choose to believe I meant. Nowhere did I say or imply that pupils today are so much smarter than you were when you left some 20 years ago. I simply tried to illustrate that these "evaluations" we have seen in this thread are VERY subjective. Indeed I get the impression (if I willfully choose to interpret your posting in that way) that you consider yourself LOADS smarter than pupils today. You might of course protest that you did not say that - I did not say that which you accused me of either, but it did not seem to stop you, hmmm?

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Big Brother

@samo samo

Well, you're nearly right: (1) this has been going on for 25 years, not 50, and (2) the extrapolation shows not that kids were very much smarter back in the 60's, but that there are *many* more A grades now.

In fact, the number of A grades was fixed at about 9% for the 20 years before 1985, and then rose linearly over the next 25 years, to the current level of 27%. See, for example, the graph at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-11012369.

It's possible that kids have become linearly smarter over the past 25 years, to the point at which they get 3 times as many A grades, or that the teachers have got better at their jobs. However, I personally prefer to apply Occam's razor, which tells me that someone started a policy of grade inflation back in 1985, and has progressed it relentlessly ever since. And, every single year, they wheel out some fall guy to tell us that they have done no such thing, and that the educashun system is better than ever, and that we have nothing to fear but fear itself.

Gold-standard A levels? My arse.

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@samo samo. On the contrary......

This complaint that standards are lower "than they were in my day" has been a hardy perennial in the education debate (to my certain personal knowledge) since at least the 1960s.

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Whatever happened to

good old-fashioned S-levels? The new A* appears to be a dumbed down version of these.

Over the last 40 years, the maths syllabi for A-level have lost a lot of topics and some of the comments above seem to suggest that the syllabus for A level additional maths has become identical to that for A level maths, which is appalling if true. The maths syllabus has gained just one topic (trivial set theory) to compensate for all those it has lost. I think the narrowing down began about 35 or 40 years ago, but the hard data I have is the papers from the 50s and early 60s (that we used for practise in the A-level courses) and papers from around 1990 (which I used for excercises for a couple of kids I was helping) which contained a much narrower range of questions than had been the case in the 50s and 60s and had quite a few questions questions (particularly on calculus) that were the sort of thing that could have turned up on O-level Maths or O-level Add Maths papers in the 60s.

For example there appears to be nothing on numerical methods now, but at a bog-standard comprehensive in the early 60s I was taught various numerical techniques for solving various problems, and taught to use a rotary pinwheel calculator to excercise those techniques and to discover in practise that the good methods not only were much more efficient than the bad ones but also much more accurate (less rounding error). There's nothing like that in schools today (a modern course would of course need to use a computer rather than a mechanical calculator).

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@MrDent

I think the A* is a belated attempt to select approximately the same percentage of people who got an A prior to 1985. The A* is currently about the top 8 or 9%, while the old grade A was about the top 9%. However, I think the A* rate for further maths this year was close to 30%, so there's obviously a problem there.

My memory is that something a lot less than half the people who got an A at my school also got a grade 1 or 2 S-level, so it would be a lot harder than a new A*.

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