Expat Magazine

A Levels - A View from Afar

By Expatmum @tonihargis
So, I'm aware that there are thousands of British kids waiting for  O (sorry, GCSE*) and A level results. Oh, I remember that time - not very well, since it was so long ago, but the "life-hanging-in-the-balance" period. You don't know which A levels you should take till your O level results come out, and when waiting for A level results, you don't really know what the next three years is going to look like. And isn't it sod's law that they always come out when you're on your long-awaited holidays? For American readers, I must add that these results don't come out till mid-August. Universities don't start till early October, but it's still very late in the day to be hanging around not quite knowing, in my opinion.
A Levels - A View from Afar
I remember when my A level results came out. I was working in a bread factory (oh, the memories and the smells are flooding back). This was before the days of computers and mobile phones (oh yes), so one friend went into school, where the A level results were all up on a large poster. She wrote down all our group of friend's results, went home, then we all phoned her to get the news. Did we have the grades to go to our top choice university? I was OK, I thought, having achieved one better grade than my uni had asked for, one bang on and one lower. If they were going on a point system, I would be OK; and I was. One friend had done a lot worse on one subject so there was much angst in the lunch room that day, followed by her having to take a day off to get herself a place through "clearing". Ugh, the panic.
Over here, it's much more civilized and most kids know where they're going well before the end of the school year (end of May-early June). Entrance to uni is based primarily on the GPA (grade point average) which is an average of your grades over the last few years. A lot of colleges also want a test score, which is either the ACT or the SAT. This is a three hour exam which tests a range of subjects, although nothing like subject-specific A levels. More like an IQ test or the 11+ but harder. The good thing is you can take these tests more than once and send your best score to your colleges of choice. Colleges here also take much more than academics into consideration, which makes for a stressful application period. They want to know what you did outside of school which teams you played on, and why. They also ask for one or more teacher recommendations, and of course at least one personal essay. The application process itself is a lot more complicated than the British version, especially as many kids apply to 5-10 colleges. But as I said, it's all over before they leave school, unless they really tank their last set of grades.
So, good luck to everyone waiting for results in the UK. Wouldn't want to be doing that again.
* - Since it rolls off the tongue, I'll just say "O" level instead of GCSE.

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