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Do A-levels mean that British students at ordinary universities have better preparation?

sattutsattut Registered User Posts: 907 Member
Top 50 or so US schools require or "recommend" SAT IIs. These days, you are also expected to have AP exam scores. However, many students applying to less selective US schools don't submit any SAT IIs or AP exams at all. Does having Bs and Cs on A-levels mean the British students know more?

Replies to: Do A-levels mean that British students at ordinary universities have better preparation?

  • collegemom3717collegemom3717 Registered User Posts: 5,479 Senior Member
    Ah, @sattut, you are taking a stick and poking it into a hornet's nest.

    Better preparation for what? for studying a specific subject at a UK university? most likely. Remember that for English students their typical degrees are 3 years, whereas for US students they are typically 4 years, and the first year usually has pre-requisites for more advanced courses.

    Do British students "know more"? On average, UK students are likely to know fewer subjects to greater depth and US students are likely to know more subjects at less depth. If you take a container that is broad and shallow and another that is tall and narrow they can hold the same volume. So, a UK student with a B on a Geology A-level almost certainly 'knows more' geology than a US high school student, b/c geology is rarely taught as a single subject in US HS, much less as one of 3 2-year subjects. If the UK students does A levels in (say) Geology, Biology and Maths, and a US student does English, History, Science, Math and Foreign Language (typical), who knows "more"?

    And, beyond a discussion of the relative merits of early specialization, I'm not sure that it matters a lot.

  • sattutsattut Registered User Posts: 907 Member
    I understand about the difference in specialization. My question was about students who go to state schools or whatever without taking many AP classes and showing no AP exams or SAT IIs for subject tests. Does the British approach of taking A-levels even not getting A's in them provide a better or more rigorous education?
  • HRSMomHRSMom Registered User Posts: 4,632 Senior Member
    I would say most kids, even at state schools have taken AP classes. Even the next few tiers down are filled with kids who took APs. Even if they "just got B's and C's" as you say.

    That is a fallacy. Do not fall for the myth that the US education system does not prepare kids well. There are thousands of school districts in the US. Some are better than others.

    Are kids that take classes of that nature better prepared? That is the better question.
  • PurpleTitanPurpleTitan Registered User Posts: 11,748 Senior Member
    There are also kids in state schools who have taken CC classes.

    In any case, what is better or more rigorous and compared to what?

    American higher ed isn't nearly as rigid and uniform as the English model and there are wide variations of type, rigor, everything.
    Same goes for HS as well.

    Actually, for that matter, there's a fairly wide variation in rigor among English unis and colleges/grammar schools as well, but it does seem like Americans are more wont to judge in a more holistic fashion (for better or worse) in many/most areas*.

    *One notable exception being law school admissions, and that's because the all-important USNews law school rankings are heavily stats-driven.
  • collegemom3717collegemom3717 Registered User Posts: 5,479 Senior Member
    edited May 2016
    Does the British approach of taking A-levels even not getting A's in them provide a better or more rigorous education?

    Again, it depends on what you mean by 'better', which is the debate between specializing early and learning a set curriculum versus breadth and flexibility. Having a lot of experience with both systems, including studying and teaching in both systems, as well as parenting kids in both systems, the only thing I can say for certain is that for some kids one system is better than the other, and that in general I think more kids benefit by having more options longer. Beyond that, I have seen students flourish in either and both, and don't think that you can say that objectively one is categorically 'better' than the other.
  • lostaccountlostaccount Registered User Posts: 4,638 Senior Member
    The English system is a hold over from the days when students were directed into either trade apprenticeships or A-levels at a very young age.
  • sattutsattut Registered User Posts: 907 Member
    Again my question was not in general on the 2 systems. Obviously, there are some pluses to the US system with students applying to Ivies having AP exams in a variety of subjects, as well as varsity athletics or theater or whatever. It may develop the whole person better rather than just prepare for a career.

    My question was that state schools and such generally look mostly at grades from schools and SAT/ACT aptitude tests. I was wondering whether British students at the same level of school had more rigorous preparation from studying for A-levels, as opposed to just taking tests every week on material in school.

    Personally, I prefer the US systems emphasis on everyone basically studying math, science, English, a language, and history/government/geography to the specialized English system. However, I like the English system of exams better than the US system oriented towards class work.

    The English system seems to pigeon hole people. It also creates "objective" standards, which are biased for "public" school students and others with good preparation. Top US colleges are mostly private, generally require money, give little reasons for admissions decisions, and make no pretense or selecting students strictly on merit.
  • PurpleTitanPurpleTitan Registered User Posts: 11,748 Senior Member
    Top US colleges certainly believe that they select on merit for the most part. But its merit as they define it and subjective.
    Also, for Americans (and internationals at a handful of places), the rich elite US colleges and unis may offer very generous financial aid covering room&board as well as tuition.
    I agree that the British system (like most across the world) is very test-based rather than being heavily assignment-based like it is in the US. For some subjects like CS, there's no question that projects/assignments are better preparation for the real world.
  • PurpleTitanPurpleTitan Registered User Posts: 11,748 Senior Member
    But to get back to your question: why does it matter?
    For the English system, which presupposes a base of knowledge and a course is fairly lockstep over 3 years, the level of preparation certainly matters.
    In the incredibly flexible American system, I don't see why it does.
    Some students come in come in far more or far less prepared than others.
    Some get a degree in 3 years or less. Others take somewhere around 8 years or more.
    Some majors are much harder than others and switching (especially to easier majors) is typically fairly painless.
  • vonlostvonlost Super Moderator Posts: 29,348 Super Moderator
    I think the simple answer is that it's harder for the average good student to get the top grade at a British A-level school than likewise at an American high school. The systems are quite different. Selective US college adcoms will be familiar with the British system.
  • PurpleTitanPurpleTitan Registered User Posts: 11,748 Senior Member
    @vonlost, except that American HS's vary a lot in rigor, quality, and student body composition, so it's not really possible to generalize like that.
  • vonlostvonlost Super Moderator Posts: 29,348 Super Moderator
    Right, add one more "average" I left out! :-)
This discussion has been closed.