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is north american high school studies easier than uk's?

just curious

for grade 12
from what I understand of the american system ours seems way harder
If by North American, you mean United States, then I think the answer is yes, it probably is easier than the UK but….

Firstly, the UK A level system is intended as preparation for a 3 year university degree. In the US, full degrees are 4 years so one could argue that high school is intended to finish one year earlier and that the first year of a US degree is very roughly equivalent to the final year at high school in the UK. Also, I think that in the US, a higher proportion of students complete high school than complete A levels in the UK. (Around 90% of 25 year olds have completed high school in the US. Not sure what proportion of A levels or equivalent in the UK.) So I think that completing high school in the US is intended to cover a wider range of students.

Secondly the US system is very flexible and much less standardised. So one could finish high school with a very low level of academic rigour or one could have taken many tough courses. In addition, students will have taken a much wider variety of courses in their final two years of high school than is the case in the UK, which is focused on three (or maybe four!) A levels. This flexibility continues at the degree level. With some exceptions, one does not usually apply for a particular course of study. Rather you state your intended major but are not bound to that. You end up “declaring” your major sometime during your first or even in your second year. (I know of someone who started off as a finance major, then switched to medicine and finally settled on Latin. I think there were a couple more in between that I’ve forgotten about.)
The US high school system is also much more about “continuous assessment” than a final set of A-level style exams upon which your final score is almost entirely dependent. This means you get marks for homework, assignments, quizzes, tests, etc, etc. with end of term exams counting relatively little. Your subject total mark counts towards your overall GPA (grade point average) and this is the single most important factor when applying for college in the US. The problem is that every high school has a different way of calculating GPA’s, although universities will usually adjust for this.

When applying for college (meaning university!) in the US, the admissions are very interested in your grades from Grade 9 to Grade 12. In fact your final year Grade 12 marks may count for very little! This is because one applies for college towards the beginning of twelfth grade (before having much in the way of grades for that year) and may have been accepted before the end of the first semester. The student is expected to maintain the kind of marks they had achieved when applying but unless they really bomb out, they are unlikely to be rejected. Hence a lot of twelfth graders suffer badly from “senioritis” in the final semester.

The US does have standardised test. Most college applicants will take either the SAT or ACT (they are run by two different organisations but are very similar), which are mostly multiple choice style tests focussing on maths, English and “reasoning skills”. They don’t require a particular advanced level of either (I’d guess the maths level is around GCSE level?) but can ask some quite tricky questions based on that core knowledge. One will submit SAT/ACT scores when applying for college, although some colleges are “SAT/ACT optional’ meaning they don’t require you to submit a score. There are also SAT/ACT subject tests but far fewer universities require these, although many of the better ones do, especially for the STEM subjects.

In addition, the US also has “AP” (Advance Placement) courses. These are like normal subjects (in that there is the usual “continuous” assessment from your school) but there is also a standardised final exam (i.e. everyone writes the same exam at the end). In the exam, you get a score from 1 to 5. So you could get a very good continuous assessment mark but still do badly in the final exam or vice versa. Many universities offer credit if you get a 5 (or sometimes 4 or 5) for the equivalent first year subject. Getting enough AP credits, could mean graduating a year earlier. However, AP’s are also not equivalent to A levels. A strong, but by no means exceptional, student might take 8 AP’s over the last two or three years of high school, in addition to non-AP courses. In addition, some high schools may offer courses “beyond” the AP level.

AP scores count for almost nothing when applying to US colleges but are the most important thing for US students who apply for UK undergraduate degrees. There are probably a couple of reasons why they are not much considered in the US. Firstly, the number of AP subjects offered by high schools differs enormously many high schools, especially in poorer areas may not offer them at all. So it’s regarded as somewhat unfair to hold it against students who didn’t have the chance to take AP courses. Secondly, although you can take AP courses in any grade, students will typically take the most in their final year, so those results won’t be known before applying to college. (And remember that most colleges give “unconditional” acceptances long before the end of 12th grade.)

So, is the US system easier? It certainly can be but for students taking a rigorous set of courses, I’d say it’s much more debatable. The US system is less focussed but covers a wider scope.
(edited 4 years ago)
Compared to the canadian system im glad i do A levels, since the canadian system requires u to be consistent, but a levels and gcses just need good end of year results. I find the british system easier personally, whenever i visit canada and see the stuff my friends my age are doing in chem i actually get scared , and i do A level chem.
Reply 4
Original post by Switch01
Compared to the canadian system im glad i do A levels, since the canadian system requires u to be consistent, but a levels and gcses just need good end of year results. I find the british system easier personally, whenever i visit canada and see the stuff my friends my age are doing in chem i actually get scared , and i do A level chem.

what do you mean by canadian system requires you to be consistent?
Original post by Anonymous
what do you mean by canadian system requires you to be consistent?

There are tests that you have to do throughout the year to maintain a certain average, so u need to do well in every mini test, whereas with gcses and a levels, theoretically speaking you could get a C in a mock and nothing would happen as long as you get the grade you need in the end
Reply 6
Original post by HedgePig

Firstly, the UK A level system is intended as preparation for a 3 year university degree. In the US, full degrees are 4 years so one could argue that high school is intended to finish one year earlier and that the first year of a US degree is very roughly equivalent to the final year at high school in the UK. Also, I think that in the US, a higher proportion of students complete high school than complete A levels in the UK. (Around 90% of 25 year olds have completed high school in the US. Not sure what proportion of A levels or equivalent in the UK.)

In addition, the US also has “AP” (Advance Placement) courses. These are like normal subjects (in that there is the usual “continuous” assessment from your school) but there is also a standardised final exam (i.e. everyone writes the same exam at the end). In the exam, you get a score from 1 to 5. So you could get a very good continuous assessment mark but still do badly in the final exam or vice versa. Many universities offer credit if you get a 5 (or sometimes 4 or 5) for the equivalent first year subject. Getting enough AP credits, could mean graduating a year earlier. However, AP’s are also not equivalent to A levels. A strong, but by no means exceptional, student might take 8 AP’s over the last two or three years of high school, in addition to non-AP courses. In addition, some high schools may offer courses “beyond” the AP level.

I'm American and second everything this poster said, very well informed and accurately represents the high school system. Yes year 12 is actually pretty relaxed compared to the other years of high school as you will be almost done with applying to university by then.
This isn't exactly what the OP was asking about but wanted to add that with enough AP courses, you can essentially replace your first year of university, making it pretty equivalent to the UK structure. Many high achieving students will take enough AP classes so that they get a full year's worth of uni credits, and then only have to attend uni for 3 years. But like the poster said, this would only be in the case of very high achieving students, whereas everyone in the UK is expected to complete A levels and then do 3 years of uni. Again, in the US this allows for a range of achievement level, which could be why there is a higher high school completion rate.
Also, your SAT/ACT is equally important to uni admissions as your GPA. Lacking in one of the two can be made up for by excelling in the other. University applications are also more holistic by nature. Extracurriculars/involvement during high school is a huge part of the application, and you'll have to list everything you've ever been involved with and write a brief description of that activity on the Common App (which is the UCAS equivalent). Great extracurriculars can also balance out a lower GPA or test score.
the answer is no
Original post by smscku
I'm American and second everything this poster said, very well informed and accurately represents the high school system. Yes year 12 is actually pretty relaxed compared to the other years of high school as you will be almost done with applying to university by then.
This isn't exactly what the OP was asking about but wanted to add that with enough AP courses, you can essentially replace your first year of university, making it pretty equivalent to the UK structure. Many high achieving students will take enough AP classes so that they get a full year's worth of uni credits, and then only have to attend uni for 3 years. But like the poster said, this would only be in the case of very high achieving students, whereas everyone in the UK is expected to complete A levels and then do 3 years of uni. Again, in the US this allows for a range of achievement level, which could be why there is a higher high school completion rate.
Also, your SAT/ACT is equally important to uni admissions as your GPA. Lacking in one of the two can be made up for by excelling in the other. University applications are also more holistic by nature. Extracurriculars/involvement during high school is a huge part of the application, and you'll have to list everything you've ever been involved with and write a brief description of that activity on the Common App (which is the UCAS equivalent). Great extracurriculars can also balance out a lower GPA or test score.

extra-curriculars must be so easy to lie about, are academics at a US college really going to start googling you and phoning up the places you've claimed to be involved in... i doubt it
No. The american high school system is broken. It's stupid, and it's hard. In order to get into a good college (UC level and above) students are encouraged to take a boatload of APs. While APs may not be as difficult as A levels, students here take an ungodly amount. I took 5 my sophomore year and am taking 8 junior year. Furthermore, the us basically requires students to be a jack of all trades, with top colleges requiring you to be a master of everything or an absolute genius at one field. Academically, the US is easier then the UK, easier courses, easier tests. But if you want to go to any college that has a good reputation, the sheer amount of difficult courses and ECs add up. Optimally, a student will have good grades in lots of hard classes, accel at a sport, do community service, intern somewhere, volunteer at an academic environment, and build a good connection with teachers who arent paid enough to give a ****.
Reply 10
No GCSEs and A levels are much easier in comparison to North American exams and SATs, as their university courses are much broader. There have been 8 year olds taking GCSE maths in the news and getting an A*
Original post by A Rolling Stone
extra-curriculars must be so easy to lie about, are academics at a US college really going to start googling you and phoning up the places you've claimed to be involved in... i doubt it


You'd be surprised. They most definitely do, either by phone or email.
Reply 12
Original post by zero_gravity
You'd be surprised. They most definitely do, either by phone or email.

Yup, anything out of the ordinary WILL be checked. They probably won't check your claim to have volunteered at your local pet charity for 2 hours a week for a year (Because plenty of people will have done that anyway) but if you say you've won some award, done something out of the ordinary etc they will check.
Reply 13
Original post by A Rolling Stone
extra-curriculars must be so easy to lie about, are academics at a US college really going to start googling you and phoning up the places you've claimed to be involved in... i doubt it

Yes, that's exactly what they do.
Yes, north American high school and degree programmes are a lot easier.

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