x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

For university hopefuls, an A is not enough

A* is new top grade as pupils receive their Advanced Level exam results, which have a cumulative element as well as the final test.

Jess Verdon, 17, discusses her exam results with her mother Nettie Verdon on Thursday at the British School Al Khubairat.
Jess Verdon, 17, discusses her exam results with her mother Nettie Verdon on Thursday at the British School Al Khubairat.

Hundred of pupils at British-curriculum schools received the results of their university qualification tests yesterday, and for some the long-coveted A grade is no longer enough. Noor Khouri, who was picking up her A-level exam results in the British School Al Khubairat in Abu Dhabi yesterday morning, could not hide her disappointment as she was awarded an A for her French examination.

"I wanted an A*," the 16-year-old said. "I have been learning French since I was five years old and I was expecting higher. I guess I could have done more." Miss Khouri was nevertheless pleased with the A* she gained for her mathematics exam. "I want to do engineering at Cambridge, Oxford or Imperial College London and they all ask for A*s, so at least I got that." The A level, or Advanced Level General Certificate of Education, is studied over two years and is the standard entry qualification for UK universities. AS levels are the first part of the qualification and can be taken over one year.

This is the first year the examining bodies in the UK have awarded the A* grade, for pupils who perform exceptionally well over the two-year period and achieve 90 per cent or higher in the end-of-year examinations in secondary schools. The Joint Council for Qualifications, which represents the major examining boards, said that 8.1 per cent, or nearly 70,000 pupils, had achieved an A* in at least one of the exams.

Figures published by examiners showed that another 27 per cent of entries gained an A, up 0.3 per cent on last year.The overall pass rate climbed for the 28th year in a row, to 97.6 per cent of A-levels. Paul Coackley, the headmaster of the British School, said the A* grade was introduced because most of the A levels were now taken over the course of the year in continuous assessment. "It relates back to the modular system," he said. "As students can re-sit modules they have more of a chance of improving, which undoubtedly leads to higher grades. "Universities then have a harder time distinguishing between candidates so they introduced this extra tier. "There's no doubt about it, competition is tough. There is a tremendous demand on places." Hiba Anis, 18, was one of the school's highest achievers. She got three A* grades, in biology, physics and maths, and an A grade in further maths and chemistry. She has been accepted to study medicine at Imperial College London and said she was stunned with the results. "I'm really surprised," she said. "I thought I did the worst in biology but I actually got 100 per cent in two of my papers. I honestly didn't expect these results." Mr Coackley said 73 per cent of pupils at the school scored between a B and A*, up from 71 per cent last year. At The English College Dubai, 85 per cent of pupils were awarded grades A*-C, which the head teacher Allan Forbes described as a "significant increase" from last year's 77 per cent. "We are very pleased with the performance of our students this year," Mr Forbes said. "The vast majority achieved a place at university and over seven per cent got A*s, which I think is very impressive." Mr Forbes did say that with the pressure to perform well and the tough competition for university places, many pupils have had to settle for their second choice of university. "A few years ago if you missed by as much as a couple of grades, you would still often get into your first choice," he said. "But now there is no room for error. It is much more competitive these days." British news reports suggest that this could be one of the most difficult years for students applying to British universities. There was a 12 per cent rise in applications and many universities in England, Scotland and Wales are already full, which means as many as 200,000 young people could be left without a place when the clearing process ends in September. Nettie Verdon, whose daughter Jess is entering Grade 13 and was picking up her AS-level results yesterday, said high grades were a must. "They won't even look at you for Oxford or Cambridge if you don't get A*s," she said. "As a mother you are always frustrated if you feel they don't get what they deserve and to get a good place at university they really have to be top grade." @Email:aseaman@thenational.a