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Tuesday, 11 June, 2002, 11:04 GMT 12:04 UK
Exam overload complaints persist
exam room door
Teenagers face three years of exams

For a second year there are complaints that teenagers are under too much exam pressure because of the new AS-level exams in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The AS-level is simply far too rushed

Student Matthew Stratford
The introduction of the exams - typically sat in the lower sixth form year or college equivalent - provoked a storm of protest last year.

Students and their teachers said they were swamped, even the Duke of Edinburgh expressed concern about the impact on extra-curricular activities.

The education secretary expressed her regret and asked the QCA qualifications quango to make some changes - but the problems do not seem to have diminished.


Head teachers voiced their complaints at their union conference last week.

I think those who are complaining should just buck up and stop moaning

Student Ee Lin Chiam
In e-mails to BBC News Online, students say they are overburdened and do not have enough time to prepare properly.

Matthew Stratford in Eastbourne called the AS-level timetable "atrociously demanding".

"I had three exams of an hour and a half each in a day on two occasions.

"This happened even after I took three exams early in January 2002 - after just a term of teaching.

"Some of my friends had four exams in a day. That is six hours of examination."

He concludes: "The AS-level is simply far too rushed."

'Rushed syllabuses'

The problem is not only the AS-levels themselves, but the fact that there are GCSE exams in the year before them and full A-levels - now known as A2s - in the year after.

Catherine Moss, 16, is doing four AS-levels in history, English, chemistry and biology.

"I agree with the concerns about the enormous pressure now being placed on pupils in the lower sixth, not to mention the timetabling problems caused for schools," she said.

"This year has been a ridiculous rush to finish syllabuses in record time before exams began, with no breathing space to digest the new work before revising madly for the exams.

"In my school at least - a good independent school - after Easter in the summer term, time was spent revising before the GCSEs began and, looking back on it, this time perhaps could have been put to better uses.


"What if GCSEs were to be done during March and April, i.e. in the second half of the second term, leaving the summer term free to begin AS-levels?

"This would allow a full three terms to be completed before AS-level exams were taken, giving more time and perhaps allowing a fifth subject to be taken, widening breadth."

The idea that students' studies would be broader was one of the main reasons for the introduction of the AS-level.

Nick Wevill
Nick Wevill: Studying up to 18 hours a day
Originally it was suggested people would do five or six subjects in the first year, focusing on three full A-levels in the second.

In practice most do only four AS-levels and say that is a struggle.

Raymond Liu says his art and design technology subjects were "very demanding" in terms of the amount of coursework - which had to be completed at the same time as he was trying to revise.

"Time is really of the essence - there really is no such thing as 'luxury time'," he said.

He raised another concern - that people's AS-level grades might dilute their overall A-level grades.

Charlotte Wevill
Sister Charlotte: GCSEs and two more years to go
"I have been fortunate to have achieved two Bs and two Ds, but I felt that I could have done so much better if the syllabus wasn't so 'tight' on time," he said.

"But I have friends that didn't do so well and they are living the nightmare that even if they get A grades this year, their last year's AS-level grades of Ds and Es will 'cancel' their efforts this year and leave them with Cs and Ds!"

Not everyone is complaining.

Ee Lin Chiam - who calls herself "a very annoyed 17-year-old A2 student in Croydon" - said: "I'm completing my A2s in biology, chemistry, physics and maths, and I am not having any difficulty coping with the papers, even though I was on an 18-month course.


"It's not like I don't have extra-curricular activities either; this year, I was in Young Enterprise, was editor of the college newsletter and am still doing my Duke of Edinburgh award.

"My results have not suffered because of those activities and I think those who are complaining should just buck up and stop moaning. It's obvious that they are not managing their studies properly."

But many students' parents are also worried.

Steve Wevill in Winchester has a son studying for A-levels and a daughter doing her GCSEs.

His son, Nick, regularly puts in up to 18 hours a day - working at home after being at college all day.

If he were doing paid work, it would be against European employment law. As it is he does a part-time job as a hospital porter to save for his university studies.

Steve thinks his son is putting at risk his health and long-term development.

"We've got to give them something to live for," he said.

Steve Wevill:
Steve Wevill: Worried father
"It runs into weekends - they spend a lot of time working on all sorts of things over the weekend, but not relaxing.

"And that frightens me. Where are we going as a nation? Where are our good sportsmen coming from? Our intuitive people?

"They are going to be worn out, burnt out before they even get to be useful in society."

Daughter Charlotte says a number of her fellow GCSE students have given up such things as dancing, singing and playing musical instruments to concentrate on studying.

"It's good to work hard but then you have to go and relax at the end of it," she said.

Instead she faces another two years of constant pressure.

Universities' attitudes

To make matters worse there is a widespread sense that universities are paying no heed to AS-levels in considering students' applications for places.

The general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, David Hart, has now suggested that universities should face financial penalties if they fail to take account of students' AS-level grades.

The evidence is anecdotal because of the fragmented nature of the process - each student is considered by a different admissions tutor's office for each subject department at each university.

There is supposed to be a new, points-based system in which various qualifications count towards a total - so that weight is also given to the other new qualifications, Key Skills.

But Mr Hart says heads have told him that the leading universities in particular are insisting that their offers of places will be conditional on A-level results, with AS-levels being used only to distinguish between equally well-qualified candidates.

The 2001 changes

Latest developments

See also:

08 Jun 02 | Mike Baker
06 Jun 02 | Education
06 Jun 02 | Education
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