Tag Archives: UK


If you are a year 12 student about to move into year 13 you will probably be making a UCAS application to universities in the Autumn once you get back to your school or college. You will therefore soon be nailing down your final choice of five universities and familiarizing yourself with the UCAS online ‘apply system’ (https://www.ucas.com/ucas/undergraduate/apply-and-track).


Now we are at the end of July, of next year’s university applicants will have had at least a week and possibly as much as a month or more since the end of the last school term. With a month or so to go before the start of their final academic year before university, it is time to start thinking about how to productively spend the rest of the summer in order to have the best possible chance of making a strong university application.


Time to think: what can I do to help support my application and to add to my personal statement. Think about:


  1. Work Experience – are you intending to apply for a degree that will lead you to a specific career? If so, have you ever had any experience of that career? If you want to be a lawyer, doctor, pharmacist, physiotherapist, architect or accountant – can you get some experience in this field during August and throughout the academic year? I bet you can!
  2. Go and visit – the university or department you want to go to may have an open day in the next month or so (find out at http://www.opendays.com/) but even if they don’t this is a great time to go and visit the university or even just the town or city where you will be living.
  3. Read and research – whatever you want to study at university, you need to be able to convince an admissions tutor that you are able to study that subject at undergraduate level. You will need more than just your A level/IB/Higher (or whatever) knowledge to do this convincingly. Start reading a broadsheet newspaper everyday, subscribe to a popular journal such as The Economist, The New Scientist or The Student BMJ and pick up some back issues from your local library or online. What about a book or two in the field you want to study? Use google to recommend some popular literature and read for an hour or so a day. You’ll learn a huge amount about your subject to write about or discuss at interview and it will give you a real confidence boost before you make your application.


The final deadlines may feel a long way off, but they will be upon us very soon:

15 October 2015 – Oxford, Cambridge, Medicine, Dentistry

15 January 2016 – All other applications


According to the Times Higher Education, A level students are not prepared for results day.
Get ahead of the game and be ready!


If you are an A level student awaiting your results next week you may be starting to feel a little bit nervous. Perhaps you’ve enjoyed a very nice, long, well-deserved holiday. Perhaps you’ve been volunteering, perhaps you’ve been working to save for that late-summer holiday or just to put some money in the bank ahead of university. Whatever, you will be all too aware that results day is next Thursday and the thought of this leaves a slight sinking feeling in your stomach.
Whatever your personal circumstances it is important for you to be in control on results day. You can’t control the numbers and letters that are printed on the page next week, but you can control your response to them.  Make sure you are ready and prepared for results day http://wp.me/p4RGIw-k
What to do if:
You get the grades you need to go to the university of your choice
Jump in the air, hug your teacher, phone your mum and generally feel pleased with yourself! Remember to be respectful to others who may not have done as well as you but otherwise, your work is done and you can start thinking about arranging accommodation, student finance, reading lists and other things students need to do.
You got your grades, but you actually have decided you don’t want to go to the university you have chosen
This is a tricky one. You have technically entered into a contract with your firm or insurance choice university and to tell them now that you don’t want to go is not really fair. In theory you should withdraw from the system and reapply next year.  In practice you can always try and negotiate out of your ‘contract’ and get the university to release you into clearing.  But remember this is a big gamble! Because even if you have your eye on another place at another university, for a period you will have nothing at all, so be sure you are sure before going down this route.
I did better than expected
Congratulations! You are in a privileged position. You have got a place at university in the bag, but you also have the option to aim even higher through the UCAS adjustment system http://wp.me/p4RGIw-i
Before you do this, make sure you are doing so for the right reasons. Is the ‘better’ university actually better for you or would you be better sticking with what you’ve got. Take your time, take advice, don’t rush in and don’t be taken in by the ‘more prestigious’ name of the university.
If your offer was CDD and you ended up with ABB – congratulations! You’ve vastly exceed expectations and adjustment is quite possibly for you. If your offer was AAB and you got AAA – again congratulations! Adjustment may still be for you, but think carefully and make an informed decision.
I just missed out on my offer
Hard lines, but don’t panic. The first thing to do is to contact your firm and insurance universities to see if there is anyway they can take you, even for a slightly different course. Be confident, be pragmatic and present yourself on the telephone as if you are in control of the situation. Tell them that you are happy to write a new personal statement or even to come in and visit (if you are). You might get lucky.  Even with lower grades, it is well worth a try.
I missed out by a long way/I’ve tried the step above and I’m in clearing
No problem!  Clearing presents a fantastic opportunity as long as you are efficient, focused and positive. Many students end up with an even better offer than the one they had before results day through the clearing system. http://wp.me/s4RGIw-clearing
I really don’t want to go through clearing/there’s nothing on clearing that appeals to me/I’ve tried clearing but I just don’t want to go somewhere I’m not sure about
Good decision, you now have the opportunity to build your life in a different direction.
Why not take a year out for example? In the grand scheme of things, taking an extra year before university is no great hardship. Starting university just one year older than your peers will hardly be noticeable and it gives you the opportunity to do something you never thought you’d do and that you might never do again. On your year out, sometimes known as a gap-year, you could do one, some or all of these:
  • Retake your A levels
  • Get some work experience
  • Apply to uni again next year
  • Try something other than university – maybe it wasn’t right for you after all
  • Travel (STA can help http://www.statravel.co.uk/gap-year-travel.htm as can many other organisations)
  • Do paid work
  • Volunteer (these people can help http://www.frontier.ac.uk/)
  • Build your CV
  • Read – don’t underestimate the power and enjoyment of being well-read!
  • Get another qualification
  • Explore a hobby or talent more fully, you never know where it might take you



Above is a link to an article questioning the rationale of changing the A level system from the modular system we’ve had since 2000 (and which existed in parts before then) back to a system that prevailed for many years until the mid-1990s, of assessing A level students at the end of two years of study.
The article here suggests that the DFE did their research and found that ditching the AS level as an indicator of academic progress is justified by the accuracy of GCSE grades as a predictor of future success at degree level.  Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t.   But, is this really the point?  My understanding was that the reforms proposed by Michael Gove and the coalition government were intended to make the A level “more rigorous” and return it to the “gold standard” it used to be (assuming you believe A levels no longer are a gold standard).
Do poorer results mean that standards have been raised?
One thing is certainly true, assuming that the assessment criteria remain the same, the marking is applied to the new system as it was to the old system and that the course content remains broadly the same (potentially big assumptions, but lets go with it for now), the number of students achieving the highest grades will go down under the new system.  This will then be heralded as a success in certain quarters.  There will be much talk of the “end of dumbing-down” and a “toughening up” of the A level system.  It will make an almost impossible job for university admissions departments a little bit easier as fewer students will make their offers and perhaps fewer students will go to university overall.  This will also be considered a good thing in certain circles, with derisory comments made about degree programmes referred to as “Mickey Mouse” in their content and worthiness.
However to consider what has happened here, is to consider the purpose of education.  One can define “a good education” in many different ways and there will be several different opinions as to what constitutes a “good” education.  Nevertheless, whatever, philosophically, you consider to be a good education, it is a fact that: in schools and colleges throughout the country, students are studying A levels, those A levels have a content, the content is taught to them by teachers and one measure of the success of those students is how well and how much of the content they have managed to learn and apply.
So, again applying the assumptions before regarding assessment criteria, marking standards and content, if students get lower marks in the their exams, one conclusion and certainly the one that I would draw, is that fewer students learned less material on their A level programme, they could express themselves less well and were less well able to apply knowledge learned during their programme of study.  Therefore we have succeeded in “reforming” an education system so that less is learned by fewer people.  In other words we claim to have “raised” standards because our results are worse and our young people don’t know and understand as much.  A somewhat backward conclusion wouldn’t you say so?
Now no doubt there will be noises made about “the cream rising to the top” but this is a flawed argument, yes, the very best students will still do well and they would be rewarded, but the existing system (although not perfect, I will admit) helps students with potential to fulfil that potential and be rewarded for their effort and their learning “journey”.
When you are 16, two years is a long time!
It is a long two years.  A levels are traditionally taught on two-year programmes when children are aged 16-18 and make the step into adulthood.  A very formative time.  At this age personalities, skill-sets, outlooks and motivations are still being developed.  Some very good students will be committed to a steady two-year learning journey.  However some equally good ones will not quite manage this and will delay preparation for exams until those exams are approaching at the end of their two years of study.  As a result, they won’t learn as much!
“IT’S THEIR OWN FAULT!” People will cry.  “They should have worked hard for two years not just the last three months!”  A good point and one with some merits, but an unrealistic one and one that does not recognise the needs, requirements and different learning styles of today’s young people.  Sixteen year olds need to learn how to learn, they need to make mistakes and learn from them, they need to hear something more than once and have a chance to try new things, including new ways of learning and studying.  The modular system allowed for this perfectly.  If you are tested on something once and get a certain result, then you are tested on it again at a later date and get a better result then a logical conclusion to me is that you have learned something!
My students are wonderful!
As an A level teacher, I see this all the time.  My students develop skills, they build their knowledge, they develop links and understandings between different areas of the A level syllabuses and indeed between their different subjects and quite often, by the time they take their final exam, they have learned an awful lot not only about biology (my subject) but about learning, about education (with a small ‘e’) and about themselves.  I fear that the removal of the modular system will remove much of this subtlety and the best “educated” will be deemed to be those who have crammed best for their final exam and who are good at doing exams rather than those who have learned the most or, dare I say it, those who are the best educated.
RIP January exams
When we lost the January exam session, we lost a big benefit of the modular system.  In my experience, re-sits in January were successful.  Students more often than not did better in January than they had the previous June.  Why?  They were motivated by their previous result, they learned more material, they matured as people they could see a value in working harder to help them on to the next stepping stone towards their ultimate goal.  For some it even established exactly what that goal was, it being absent previously.  The coalition reforms reduced this opportunity with the dropping of the January exam and the new system arriving in 2015 will remove it altogether.
By the way, the re-take system was not just for students who failed first time around.  Many of my students with a “low A” would re-sit papers in January to get a “higher A” that would set them up nicely for their next exam session.  I was always impressed that these young people were prepared to put more pressure on themselves in this way to help them achieve their ambitions.  Now all this pressure will come at the end of a two year programme.  One shot.  One chance.
When the changes come in, teachers, students and universities will adapt, but I fear that, ultimately, standards will fall, not rise and this will be Gove’s legacy to the A level system.


If you are a student in Hong Kong about to find out your HKDSE results, have you thought about studying in the UK if you don’t quite get the results you need? If you get good DSE results but don’t get exactly what you need to go to university in Hong Kong, A levels in the UK may be an option for you.



  1. The UK A level system means that you only have to take 3 or 4 subjects. So you can study only subjects that you like, that you are good at and that are going to help you towards the career you want to take.
  2. Some Colleges will allow you to do you A levels in 1 year instead of the usual 2 years. Although this is a big challenge and it is difficult, it is not impossible and it can be done.  Even if you take two years, it could be worth it.
  3. One year A level means that you will finish A levels at the same age (18 years old) as students in the UK and progress to university at the same time as them.
  4. Getting good A level results could mean that you get into a high ranking university in the UK or elsewhere in the world that is better than the university you might have gone to in Hong Kong with your DSE results.
  5. If you still want to go to university in Hong Kong, you could apply the following year with you’re a levels as a non-JUPAS student.
  6. It will give you the opportunity to come and live in London or elsewhere in the UK.

Education agents in Hong Kong and the British Council can help you make a good choice.