DUBAI // Given all the fun Fahar Al-Said gave up this year, his all A* and As report card did not come as much of a surprise.
Brimming with confidence, the 18-year-old high-fived friends as he walked towards his sixth form teacher at Jumeirah College to collect his A-levels results yesterday.
"I was expecting this because of the amount of effort I put in – studying hard and long," said the student who received 3 A*s and an A.
"I now head to Imperial College for a programme in physics as I want to come back to the region to work in the renewable energy sector."
While Al-Said has plenty to celebrate, many others faced disappointment as UK exam boards put a cap on what they term "grade inflation".
According to official reports, the number of students achieving high scores has dropped for the first time in more than 20 years.
There was a 0.4 per cent drop in A grades while those who scored A*s went down from 8.2 per cent last year to 7.9 per cent.
Fiona Cottam, principal of Jumeirah College, found a similar dip in their results.
About 30 per cent of their grades were between A* and A in comparison to 40 per cent achieved in previous years.
"It could be because exams have become more rigorous or because of other systems adopted by the board," said Ms Cottam.
"But the results have still exceeded our expectations and we are very delighted for all the students and their parents."
Several students at the college have been accepted to prestigious universities in the UK, US and Canada.
"But it is getting far more difficult to secure places now," she said.
"Before, you could get a place with two As and a B. Now the stakes are much higher."
Akram Darwazeh, 18, from the Dubai British School (DBS), feels the pressure of not having received the As he had worked for.
"Universities have become very picky and are only fishing for top rankers," said the student, who received Bs in chemistry, physics and maths.
"I was hoping to get As as that would have given me a good start. Getting into a UK university is quite challenging."
Mr Darwazeh now has his sights set on getting into a university in New Zealand for a programme in nanotechnology.
About 91 per cent of the pupils at DBS achieved grades between A* and C, up from 85 per cent last year.
Tanya Drew, head of DBS secondary section, said they also had a marginal increase in the number of pupils who got A*s.
About 65 per cent of the grades at the British School Al Khubairat (BSAK) were between A* and B and 36 per cent fell in the A* and A category. Last year, 75 per cent of grades were between A* and B.
School principal Paul Coackley said many students had been accepted to universities of their choice including Oxford, Cambridge and London School of Economics. "A majority of our students still prefer studying in the UK," said Mr Coackley.
Nadine Sarwat, 18, of BSAK, heads to Cambridge this September to read economics. "I have been working tirelessly to maintain my grades for three years," said Nadine, who got a perfect report card with two A*s and three As.
She got a further A* for an extended project qualification. "We had to submit a university-style research paper which I did on the US economy and recession."
She said universities were not only looking for grades but also passion for the subjects chosen. "For a place like Cambridge, everyone applies with the same grades you have. So you need to prove that you have done wider reading and that the courses they offer excite you."